As of 31 January, the UK has officially left the European Union, and while the exact nature of what a post-Brexit Britain will look like remains hotly debated, one thing is imperative: the UK must not relinquish its role as a leading voice in the promotion and protection of human rights around the world, including the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).
According to a report published by the Pew Research Center in 2019, both government restrictions on religion and social hostilities motivated by religion saw a marked increase between 2007 and 2017. It is estimated that 52 governments impose “high” or “very high” restrictions on the right to FoRB, and that people experience high levels of social hostilities involving religion in 56 countries of the198 countries that were monitored.
Continue reading “Brexit is not a time for the UK to step back from the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief”
Against this backdrop, it is vital that the UK demonstrates a firm commitment to protecting this right. The government must speak boldly when challenging FoRB violations, raise FoRB in multilateral fora and sufficiently resource the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to raise FoRB in bilateral and multilateral meetings.
During an address to senior Buddhists leaders at the Vibhajjavadi Dhamma Symposium and Maha Tripitaka Pooja on 4 January, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that the defence of the Buddhist order is central to ensuring unity and the protection of religious freedom of Sri Lankans who profess other faiths. Just one day prior, his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged his commitment before parliament to protect and nurture the Buddha Sasana as part of his government’s policy. In the Sri Lankan context this is often understood as the ‘physical bounds of the land consecrated by the Buddha.’
Buddhism is enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Article 9 states: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana,” while assuring the freedom of thought, conscience and religion to everyone. Furthermore, with a 2003 Supreme Court ruling which affirms that only Buddhism should be protected by the state, Sri Lanka established in law that there is no constitutional guarantee that other religions will receive similar protection.
Continue reading “Abandoning human rights for identity politics in Sri Lanka”
No case highlights the fervour and frustration associated with blasphemy more than that of Asia Noreen (better known as Asia Bibi), the Pakistani Christian woman who was falsely accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 2010.
Throughout Bibi’s protracted legal case, the worst instincts of certain sections of Pakistani society were brought to the fore and played out in national and international media as Islamist groups staged violent demonstrations calling for her execution on multiple occasions, even after her conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2018. Following a nine-year ordeal, Asia Bibi and her family were eventually taken to Canada to start a new life, but for many other victims their fate is less hopeful, and they are left languishing under long jail sentences, prolonged when cases are adjourned without hearing.
Continue reading “Long read: The forgotten faces and hidden history of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws”
Over the past month CSW has been speaking with HRDs across South Asia to find out what it means to be a FoRB defender in the region. Today, International Human Rights Day, we present a guest blog post by Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders.
“Human rights defenders are those community and religious leaders, journalists, activists, lawyers, trade unionists and others who take on the plight of the most marginalised in their society. These defenders of human rights represent people in the face of oppression, violence and harassment, doing what they can to hold perpetrators to account, and uphold the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), among many other resolutions that states across the world are committed to upholding. Many of these defenders face the same intense persecution as those they seek to defend, with many facing threats and risks of violence, torture and even death on a daily basis.
That is why, this year, I joined calls to award the Nobel peace prize to the global community of human rights defenders – especially as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on 10 December.
As the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, I believe that this declaration must be given foremost importance amongst the international community moving forward, with regards to the protection and sanctity of all human rights worldwide. Indeed, this year the recipients of the Nobel peace prize were human rights defenders Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, further proof that the work of HRDs worldwide helps to bring about lasting change, peace and reconciliation.
Continue reading “FoRB on the Frontlines: It’s Time to Defend the Defender”
In 2008, the Christians of Kandhamal District in Odisha state in India experienced the most severe outbreak of anti-Christian violence in the country’s history. The attacks claimed over 100 lives, forced 56,000 people to flee their homes and saw the destruction of 5,600 homes and 300 churches. Father Ajaya Kumar Singh, a survivor of the tragedy in Kandhamal, sought to equip himself with the ability to advocate for fellow survivors following the attacks, and has campaigned tirelessly for compensation and justice.
On the 10th anniversary since the outbreak of the attacks, Father Ajaya spoke to CSW about the current situation in Kandhamal, and about what can be done by both the government of India and the international community to help bring justice, and to ensure that an event like the one which took place in Kandhamal never happens again.
Continue reading “Never Again: Reflections on ten years since the Kandhamal Tragedy in India”