FoRB on the Frontlines: In the face of government opposition

 In the run-up to Human Rights Day on 10 December and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on 9 December, CSW has been speaking with HRDs across South Asia to find out what it means to be a FoRB defender in the region.

Fatima Atif is a human rights defender working in Pakistan:

“Pakistan has a population of over 210 million people, with a wide range of ethnic, religious, sectarian and tribal identities. This diversity makes Pakistan a challenging place to live, particularly for those who are in minority and have limited say and access to decision and policy-making forums.

I have worked as a human rights defender in Pakistan for 15 years. I have regularly faced bullying and online harassment for my work, as well as for being a female Hazara activist. (Editor’s Note: The Hazara are a minority community in Pakistan who adhere to the Shi’a branch of Islam).

The security situation in the country is volatile and there are multiple rival armed opposition groups fuelling armed conflict in different regions of the country. In this tug of war, only innocent citizens have been brutally killed and victimized.

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#FREELEAH

A guest blog by the Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP. 

The Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP is Conservative Member of Parliament for Meriden and Second Church Estates Commissioner. In May 2018 she met with Rev Yunusa Nmadu, CEO of CSW Nigeria and CSW UK’s Parliamentary Officer, Alice Braybrook to discuss freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria.

Today is the 15th birthday of Leah Sharibu. But, unlike most young girls around the world, she will be spending her birthday in captivity.

On 19 February 2018, Leah was among 110 girls who were abducted from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, north eastern Nigeria, by the al-Barnawi faction of Boko Haram. The oldest abductees were 18 years of age; the youngest were 11.

On 21 March 2018, over a month after their capture, Boko Haram returned 105 of the girls to Dapchi, following negotiations with the government. Five had reportedly died during the arduous journey to Boko Haram’s hideout.

However, returnees confirmed that Leah Sharibu, the sole Christian among them, remained in captivity due to her refusal to convert and wear a hijab. Her friends said they begged her to feign conversion so they could all leave together.  However, a tearful Leah is reported to have informed them she could not live with herself if she did so. She also asked them to tell her mother, Rebecca Sharibu, to pray for the will of God to be done in her life. In a comment to Nigerian media her father Nathan Sharibu said: “They gave her the option of converting in order to be released but she said she will never become a Muslim. I am very sad… but I’m also jubilating too because my daughter did not denounce Christ.” 

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The Refugee Crisis: “What caused them to flee in the first place?”

On World Refugee Day, CSW explores one of the major root causes of the refugee crisis.

Syrian refugees cross from Turkey to land on a beach on the Greek island of Lesvos. Image shot 06/2015. Exact date unknown.
Syrian refugees cross from Turkey to land on a beach on the Greek island of Lesvos.

The current refugee crisis has become a major news story with much of the focus placed on asking, “Where will they go?”

A seeming backlash against the unprecedented influx into Europe in particular has led some to respond: “Anywhere but here”, and has unleashed what UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has termed  “widespread anti-migrant rhetoric”, which in turn has fostered “a climate of divisiveness, xenophobia and even… vigilante violence.”

Yet very few people have asked, “What caused them to flee in the first place, and how can we best address this?”

One key reason is the increase in violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) around the world. *Persecution and violence targeting religious communities is resulting in exceptionally high levels of population displacement, contributing to the worldwide refugee crisis.

Persecution and violence targeting religious communities is resulting in exceptionally high levels of population displacement, contributing to the worldwide refugee crisis.”

These violations often take place in societies where other human rights are being abused and in situations generally characterised by an absence of rule of law, corruption, economic disparity and authoritarian rule.

Issues of race, ethnicity, political opinion and gender usually intersect with religious persecution; consequently, religion-based asylum claims often include other grounds as well.

Religious persecution takes many forms

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Beyond Boko Haram: Child Abductions in Nigeria

In March 2016, two female minors who had been kidnapped and subject to forced conversion and marriage in Northern Nigeria were returned to their families after unprecedented public pressure. Their plight has put the spotlight on an issue that goes largely unremarked outside of northern Nigeria.

#FreeEse: The Abduction and Return of Ese Rita Oruru

Fourteen year-old Ese Rita Oruru from Bayelsa State in the south of the country, was allegedly abducted on 12 August 2015 by a man called Yunusa Dahiru, also known as “Yellow”. A regular customer at her mother’s food store, he transported Ese, then aged 13, over 800km away to Kano State in the predominantly Muslim north of the country, where she was obliged to change her religion and name, and was “married”.

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