Remembering the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

There have been numerous case examples of acts of violence based on religion or belief from every corner of the world – but one that repeatedly stands out for me is the incident that occurred back in 2008, in Kandhamal district, Odisha, India.

Kandhamal is home to some of the poorest and most marginalized communities in Odisha. On 25 August 2008, it was the epicentre of widespread communal violence targeting the Christian community. Local monitoring groups estimate that over 90 people were killed with at least 54,000 displaced, over 300 churches destroyed, and unknown numbers of women brutally sexually assaulted by groups belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that espouse Hindutva ideology. More than a decade on, and most of the victims are yet to receive justice. In addition, attacks on religious minorities and on freedom of expression continue, and a lack of official condemnation towards acts of intimidation and violence has further empowered these groups. 

International Day Commemorating Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

In 2019, in an effort to recognise, respond to and prevent such acts from occurring, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), designated 22 August as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

The resolution establishing the international day does not highlight any specific religion or belief group, but refers to all victims, regardless of creed. It strongly deplores all acts of violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief specifically, and “any such acts directed against their homes, businesses, properties, schools, cultural centres or places of worship, as well as all attacks on and in religious places, sites and shrines that are in violation of international law”.

Remarkably, the resolution received broad support and recognition from UN Member States across the world. It was tabled by Poland alongside Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan and the USA, and subsequently cosponsored by over 80 states, including the UK. However, with global recognition comes global responsibility; both the responsibility to commemorate victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief, and the responsibility to protect and promote the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all.

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The promise of an inclusive India?

As Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) starts its second innings in government after one of the most bitter, vicious and polarising election campaigns India has witnessed, he has been speaking of an aspirational and inclusive India.

The BJP-led coalition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) secured 350 seats of the 542 seats in the Lok Shaba (parliamentary) elections, with their majority growing from 25% in 2009 to 45% in 2019. Given the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda, this success gives rise to concerns that BJP-controlled areas may be subject to increased FoRB violations.

With exceptions in the south, for example in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry, the BJP made fresh progress in West Bengal and Odhisa, and continued to tighten its grip on existing stronghold states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.  Despite the Southern states remaining largely free from the BJP, FoRB monitoring in the South will need to be stepped up, particularly with the party’s win in West Bengal and Odhisa, states that have recorded a rise in FoRB violations.  

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Indonesia’s elections reveal a nation at the crossroads between pluralism and intolerance

When the official results confirming the re-election of Joko Widodo as President of Indonesia were announced on 21 May, supporters of his rival, former General Prabowo Subianto, took to the streets. Riots led to carnage in the capital, Jakarta, with at least six people dead. The divisions unleashed by the election campaign were exposed in their ugliest form.

Until that point, Indonesia’s elections had been peaceful and orderly, despite what almost all observers describe as the most divisive campaign in the country’s recent history. On 17 April, over 190 million people cast their votes for the presidency and the national, regional and local legislatures, in one of the world’s biggest and most complex democratic exercises in recent times. To conduct such a poll, in the world’s third largest democracy and fourth most populous nation, across the world’s largest archipelago of 17,508 islands stretching from the Indian to the Pacific Oceans, is a significant feat.

I spent three weeks in Indonesia during the election period. I witnessed the final week of the campaign, election day itself, and the first twelve days after the elections. I travelled to four cities – Jakarta, Medan in North Sumatra, Surabaya in East Java, and Pontianak in West Kalimantan – where I met civil society activists, religious communities and government advisers. I left Indonesia with profoundly mixed feelings.

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Central African Republic: is justice being sacrificed for the illusion of peace?

On 21 May, over 26 people were killed and dozens injured when an armed group attacked two villages in the north west of the Central African Republic (CAR). The attacks were reported by the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, MINUSCA, which confirmed that twelve people were killed in Koundjili village and 14 in Djoumjoum village. 

Whilst reports of violent and devastating attacks on civilians in CAR are not new, these attacks represent a new challenge for the recently re-constituted government following the latest peace agreement between the government and armed groups.

The alleged perpetrator of the attacks on the two villages is the rebel group known as 3R (Return, Reclamation and Reconciliation). The group was formerly part of the Seleka alliance that took over the country following a coup in March 2013.  The alliance was subsequently disbanded, but armed groups fragmented and seized territories outside of the capital, Bangui.

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Burma’s identity crisis

The forced closure last week of three temporary Muslim prayer sites in Yangon is just the latest in a litany of abuses inflicted on Burma’s religious minorities by ultra-nationalist Buddhists. Add this to the decades-long persecution by the Burma Army of non-Burman ethnic minorities, many of whom are also non-Buddhists, and you get a nationwide cocktail of religious intolerance and conflict.

Muslims, Christians, and indeed Buddhists, who oppose the extremists are increasingly living in fear, in a country where ethno-religious nationalism has led to hate speech, intolerance, discrimination, persecution, crimes against humanity and, in one particularly egregious case, genocide.

That is the picture presented by CSW’s new report, Burma’s Identity Crisis: How ethno-religious nationalism has led to religious intolerance, crimes against humanity and genocide, published today. The report is the result of over three years’ work, involving first-hand front-line research, supplemented by information provided by CSW’s contacts in Burma and by other organisations working on these issues. It tells the human stories, it analyses the legislative framework, it assesses the international community’s response and it provides a call for action.

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