Even COVID-19 couldn’t halt Cuba’s severe violations of freedom of religion or belief

In most countries around the world, 2020 saw the suspension of at least some communal religious activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuba was no exception. For several months, religious groups were unable to gather in public spaces and house churches, and the Ladies in White protest movement suspended their weekly marches after Sunday Mass.

Restrictions on aspects of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) such as these are permitted under Article 18 of the ICCPR, provided they are “prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” However, what is particularly concerning in Cuba’s case is that, even with the permitted activities of religious groups severely curtailed, the authorities continued to target such groups with routine and systematic violations of FoRB.

Business as usual amid unprecedented circumstances

CSW’s latest report on the situation of FoRB on the island finds that “despite social unrest and economic crisis during an unprecedented global pandemic, the government continues to target members of the religious sector and abuse human rights.”

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For Sri Lankan Muslims, the coronavirus isn’t the only thing they’re hoping to see the back of in 2021

As the world enters a new year, and one in which many will be hoping to see the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka’s Muslim community will surely be hoping that promising vaccines are also enough to bring an end to a policy which has violated a core tenet of their Islamic faith.

Since 31 March 2020, Sri Lankan government guidance has required all victims of COVID-19 to be cremated. This practice goes against the tradition of the Muslim community and infringes on their right to manifest their religion or belief, as protected under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Under Islamic law, a deceased Muslim should be buried in an individual grave, and the dignity of the dead must be preserved at all times. Cremation is prohibited ‘because it is considered a violation of the dignity of the human body.’ In addition, as the burying of the dead is considered a collective obligation, known as Fard Kifaya, the entire Muslim community is guilty if they fail this communal duty.

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Burma elections: This Sunday, the country needs a miracle

By Benedict Rogers

Five years ago, the overwhelming election victory of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma heralded the dawn of a new democratic era after over fifty years of brutal military dictatorship and civil war.

After a total of 15 years under house arrest and more than a quarter of a century of courageous struggle for democracy, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate known to everyone as “The Lady” was poised to head her country’s government. And although the military had deliberately drafted a constitution that excluded her from becoming President, her advisers ingeniously created a new role that circumvented that restriction – the position of State Counsellor, de facto prime minister. With the exception of the three key ministerial roles given to the military under the constitution – home affairs, defence and border affairs – she has absolute oversight of the civilian government.

Yet five years on, it’s a very different picture. Burma approached the crossroads of democratization, peace-building and national reconciliation – and went into reverse.

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The COVID-19 pandemic could be an opportunity to save North Korean lives, if Moon Jae-In takes action

By Benedict Rogers

North Korea is ruled by the world’s most repressive, most brutal regime – one which does not allow any freedom whatsoever, one which violates every single article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights every day. It is also the world’s most closed nation – extremely difficult to get in or out of. Those who do visit – as I have done once – are tightly monitored and controlled, while those who try to leave the country without permission face imprisonment, torture and even execution if caught.

The COVID-19 pandemic has served to tighten the restrictions on access even further. Like many countries dealing with coronavirus, North Korea has sealed its borders. Britain’s embassy in Pyongyang has been closed since 27 May, with Ambassador Colin Crooks stating on his Twitter page: “Working from London pending my return to Pyongyang.” And last week, the North Korean regime warned its citizens to stay indoors over fears that a “yellow dust” blowing in from China could bring coronavirus with it. The so-called “hermit kingdom” has become the “hermetically sealed” nation.

And yet this offers a rare opportunity to save lives, because due to its COVID-19 restrictions, North Korea has told China it will not receive repatriation of North Korean escapees. In normal times, China has a policy of forcibly returning North Koreans who escape across its border, sending them back to face certain torture, detention and in some cases execution – in flagrant breach of the international principle of ‘non-refoulement.’ Now, Kim Jong-Un’s regime says it does not want them.

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