Shifting Alliances in Northwest Syria Make a Political Solution More Remote

In northwest Syria, religious minorities have suffered multiple attacks on their properties, places of worship and unknown numbers have been killed. The rights of small Christian and Druze communities that remain are likely to be further restricted by the rapidly changing political and military landscape in the area.

Talks in Astana, Kazakhstan

The Kazakh capital, Astana, has been the site of several rounds of talks organised by Russia, Iran and Turkey aimed at finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis. However, shifting power play between the different armed groups that constitute the rebel movement continues to throw up hurdles in the path towards peace.

Read More

Advertisements

Remembering Kandhamal: a legacy of institutional failure

Orissa September 2009

Minasi (75) and his wife Sartabati (68) have seen their church in Mukundipur village attacked on five occasions, in 1966, 1975, 1998, 2007 and 2008. They said they did not think they could cope with another attack. Gajapati District, Orissa. Marcus Perkins/CSW 2009.

25 August 2016 is the eighth anniversary of India’s worst instance of communal violence against Christians. Many of the victim-survivors in Kandhamal, Odisha State, continue to wait for justice.

It is estimated that over 90 people were killed, 600 villages ransacked and 5,600 houses looted and burned in the 2008 attack. Approximately 54,000 people were left homeless, while 295 churches and places of worship were destroyed. Furthermore, an estimated 13 schools, colleges and philanthropic institutions for the sick were looted and burned. Approximately 2,000 Christians were forced to renounce their faith during the violence and 10,000 children were robbed of their education.

At every stage, the response of government, law enforcement and the criminal justice system to this tragedy has been woefully inadequate, undermining justice for the victim-survivors.

Two initial government reports into the incident were heavily criticised by civil society  activists as riddled with inaccuracies. They were later overturned by the findings of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), which reported that the violence was communal and that the Christians were attacked purely on the basis of their religion.

Read More

Interview with a Sri Lankan Human Rights Advocate – Part 2

Part 2: Circular 2008

CSW spoke to a human rights advocate in Sri Lanka whose identity for security reasons has been withheld. This post has been edited for clarity.

 

Q: Would you be able to share with us what groups like yours – and other civil society organisations based in Sri Lanka – are doing at the moment to address freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) violations?

A: There are various strategies. One of the core things that we do is to document incidents. We do a lot of advocacy at a local level by meeting government officials and ministers. We also lobby with some of our international partners as well. We file cases on behalf of victims who are religious minorities, and we take up different legal interventions. For example, when there is an attack, we will not file a case immediately but we try first to send out legal letters; working with the national police commission, working with the relevant ministries, and so on. If that does not work out, then of course we will file a case against the authorities in the Supreme Court.

In most instances, we support cases that have been filed against Christians. We also do a lot of other projects where we work on broader human rights issues and we form local networks with community leaders, with pastors. We have consultation processes with them, we train them, we have advocacy seminars – making them aware of their legal rights and teaching them good practices. We also work with the media and journalists, bringing together journalists and the media on good reporting for religious violence.

Q: What can international organisations do to echo the concerns you’ve identified?

Read More

Dare I speak? Defending freedoms in Bangladesh

The voices of extremism and violence infiltrating Bangladesh’s society have delivered a clear and frightening message: independent expressions on religious issues will not be tolerated.

A pattern of appalling attacks that began in 2013 and took the lives of four secular bloggers in 2015 shocked the nation and caught the attention of international media. The stream of violence reflects a forceful assault on freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, theoretically enshrined in Bangladesh’s secular constitution and ratified international conventions.

The need for a clear counter-narrative to fundamentalism

If the values of a secular democracy are to be protected, fundamentalism must be met with a positive counter narrative from governing authorities. Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, neither political leaders nor members of the police force have succeeded in articulating a message of tolerance safeguarding the human rights and freedoms of its citizens.

On 8 August 2015, Niloy Chatterjee was the fourth blogger to be brutally murdered that year following the killings of Avijit Roy on 27 February 2015, Washiqur Rahman Babu on 30 March 2015 and Ananta Bijoy Das on 12 May 2015.

Commenting on Chatterjee’s case, Bangladesh’s police Inspector General, AKM Shahidul Hoque failed minority groups by refusing to condemn the actions of extremists:

“Those who are free thinkers and writers, I request them, please make sure that they don’t cross the line. Anything that might hurt anyone’s religious sentiments and beliefs should not be written.”

Challenged by many, defended by few

The wave of threats and sporadic attacks has led to the exile of many bloggers and social activists who are forced to seek asylum in fear of their lives. Pluralism and secularism are under threat in Bangladesh as the space for diversity and multitude of opinions is challenged by many and defended by few. On 15 February publisher, Shamsuzzoha Manik was arrested after he produced a book deemed offensive to Islam, another case that reveals the government’s accommodation of hard line Islamist groups (in this case Khelafat Andolon, who demanded the detention of the publisher).

In the face of extremism that threatens social order and the personal security of so many – who are often singled out in public threats – the government must respond with clarity and consistency. However, the ruling Awami League Party has remained worryingly ambiguous, a response neither protects nor reassures minorities living under fear of attack throughout the country.

Promise of protection remains unfulfilled

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was elected into office in 2014 on a manifesto pledging that ‘religious rights of every people would be ensured and the state would treat equally with every citizen irrespective of their religion, culture, gender and social status [sic].’ With these words, she assured minority communities that her term would secure them full protection and rights.

However, in recent months, the initially promising pledge has been coupled with contradictory warnings from the government that action would be taken against all who ‘hurt religious sentiment,’ as per the provisions provided in Section 295A of the Criminal Code and the oft misused Article 57 of the Information, Technology and Communication Act (2013).

Reservations in supporting free speech rights of minority groups

The Prime Minister’s son and advisor, Sajeeb Wazed, revealed to some extent the contradictory stance held by the Awami League when he admitted “we are walking a fine line here…we don’t want to be seen as atheists, it doesn’t change our core beliefs. We believe in secularism.” Fearful of perceptions from the broader audience in Bangladesh and the wider Islamic world, the government is allowing pressure from certain groups to take precedence over the security of individual lives and freedoms.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina must continue to encourage and protect the precious freedoms promised to her citizens in the Constitution of Bangladesh with constructive efforts to nurture an atmosphere of tolerance and healthy debate inclusive of a plurality of voices, views and visions.

By CSW’s Bangladesh Desk Officer