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.
Nehemiah Christie is a human rights defender working in India:
“My experience as a human rights and FoRB defender in South India has worsened ever since the Modi government came to power. With the BJP relying on the backing of Hindu fundamentalist groups, the threat to minorities has increased, especially with regard to Christians in India. In Tamil Nadu, where I and many others work on the front line defending people’s right to freedom of religion and belief (FoRB), we have faced extreme hostility.
HRDs here have been shot, raped, and threatened by both state and non-state actors. Threats are often perpetuated by police and other authorities trying to silence our voices by labelling us as anti-national elements working against the interests of India. Read More
16 year-old Khalida, lying paralysed on the floor of her bamboo hut. She had been shot multiple times in her leg during a Burma army attack on her village.
On 25 August last year, the Burma army unleashed its attack on the Rohingya people of northern Rakhine state, precipitating the country’s most severe human rights and humanitarian crisis since independence in 1949. The United Nations’ outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, described this crisis as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, warned of “the hallmarks of genocide”. After the genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica the world lamented with the words: “Never again”. But a year ago in Burma, “never again” happened all over again.
“They made it impossible for us to stay – how could we survive?”
In March this year, I travelled to the refugee camps on the Bangladesh-Burma border, to meet survivors. Almost everyone I talked to had seen loved ones killed and villages burned. Accounts of mass rape were widespread. I met Rohingyas whose eyes had been shot out and limbs blown off, and heard of others whose eyes had been gouged out, throats slit and limbs hacked off.
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.
It has been two months since Persia Jacob was repeatedly kicked in the face when she resisted a mob of Hindu extremists who tried to snatch her Bible away from her. She wakes up with a heavy head every morning, having to take medication to relieve her of the trauma, even if temporarily, so that she can get on with her day.
The 38 year-old Christian remained persistent that she would die and couldn’t be without the Bible as they pushed and slapped her, stripping off her saree as they tried to grab it [the copy of Bible] from her. The Bible was then set ablaze along with several other copies of Christian literature.
As well as attempting to force her to convert to Hinduism, the mob of men raided four other prayer halls in Madurai District of Tamil Nadu state, as Christians gathered for Sunday worship.
Recent years have seen a worrying, increase in attacks against religious minorities in India. Even as the country marks the 68th anniversary of the constitution, which guarantees the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion, there is evidence that there has been a dramatic rise in tensions between religious groups, due in large part to the validation of Hindu nationalism propagated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party, guided by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its ideological wing.
Recent video footage obtained by CSW of a physical attack against two Christians portrays the stark reality for many religious minorities in India today.
VIDEO: Two church leaders from Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Kadamalaikuntu, Tamil Nadu are seen here being threatened, ridiculed and forcefully detained by six men on motorbikes as they attempted to leave a village after distributing Christian tracts. They also had sacred ash forcefully applied on them.
Kandhamal district is among the poorest and most marginalised in Odhisa (formerly Orissa) state, India. On 25 August 2008, it was the epi-centre of communal attacks against the Christian community in India. Local monitoring groups have estimated that over 90 people were killed with at least 54,000 displaced and over 300 churches destroyed by groups belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that espouses the Hindutva ideology.
Ten years on, attacks on religious minorities and on freedom of expression by groups belonging to the RSS continue. The lack of official condemnation towards acts of intimidation and violence has further empowered these groups. As with recent attacks against religious minorities in India, the carnage that unfolded in Kandhamal was not a one-off isolated incident devoid of a historical narrative.
Next week the United Nations’ (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) is holding a high level dialogue to assess the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). The last time the HRC considered the situation of CAR was in September 2017, when President Faustin-Archange Touadéra made an unexpected appearance, and addressed member states, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and human rights mandate holders.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) was present during this address and noted the positive engagement CAR maintains with the UN’s human rights mechanisms, including by granting access to the Independent Expert on CAR, Ms. Marie-Therese Keita Bocoum.
End of transition was not the end of the security crisis
During his speech, President Touadéra noted that the end of the transitional government and the return to democracy did not bring an end to the security crisis in CAR. Since November 2016, armed groups that were once part of the Seleka Alliance have clashed in the north and eastern regions. This violence has been characterised by the targeting of civilians and destruction of civilian infrastructure leading to mass displacement.
The recent decision by the United States (US) to lift two decades of sanctions on Sudan has been welcomed by some international actors, but received criticism from human rights organisations, campaigners and Sudanese opposition politicians.
The significance of this achievement for the government of Sudan cannot be understated.
Sudan has invested heavily in efforts towards the lifting of sanctions, including bringing the African Union on board and supporting the appointment of the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. The mandate holder is tasked with investigating the human rights impact of economic measures applied by one State to change policy of another State. After the creation of the role, the Special Rapporteur’s first visit was Sudan, where he advocated for the lifting of US sanctions.
“The Gujarat Carnage 2002, is certainly one of the bloodiest chapters of post-independent India. The painful reality is, that those responsible for it, are now at the helm of power in India” – Father Cedric Prakash (Human Rights Activist)
Confronting past crimes is unsettling, particularly when the perpetrators continue to enjoy political immunity. Fifteen years ago on 28 February 2002, violence in Gujarat, India covered the news headlines as an estimated 2,000 Muslims were massacred over several months across 16 districts in the country.
“The culture of impunity can’t go on or violence will increase.” – Ajoy Roy
The words of Ajoy Roy, the frail father of the late Avijit Roy hit us hard. We listened in silence as he shared his despair and disappointment at the lack of judicial process following the murder of his son in 2015. The murder of Avijit Roy, a blogger, made international news and became a case representative of the situation facing not just bloggers but journalists, lawyers, religious leaders and religious minorities in Bangladesh; these members of Bangladesh’s civil society are vulnerable to threats, harassment and attacks.