Attacks on places of worship in the
Central African Republic (CAR) are not a new phenomenon.
In March 2013, the predominantly Muslim rebel alliance, Seleka, seized power, and in the crisis that followed, there were reports of looting and attacks on worshipers in churches initially, spreading to mosques and other places of worship as the conflict assumed an increasingly religious dimension.
Even after the election of President
Faustin-Archange Touadéra three years later, attacks on places of worship
continue at a disturbing rate.
In the capital city Bangui, tensions flare periodically near the KM5 district. In May 2018, at least 15 people, including a clergyman, were killed and 100 injured in an attack on the Our Lady Fatima Catholic Church. On 7 February 2017, three churches were burned and a pastor killed in the same district.
Attacks such as these have taken a new and alarming turn since November 2018.
The Ladies in White are a Cuban peaceful
protest movement comprising the wives and other female relatives of jailed
dissidents. Last year CSW interviewed their leader, Berta Soler, about her
experiences, and the challenges facing Cuba:
“My activism really
got started in 2003 when the government took [imprisoned] 75 men and one woman just
because they defended the Declaration of Human Rights.
I and the other Ladies
in White are women who are prepared, very well prepared, and aware that we are
in a struggle for the freedom of political prisoners and for respect for human
rights in my country. And we, the Ladies in White and I, are very conscious
that in my country we need freedom and rights, especially for the men and women
who are in prison just for demanding this and promoting and defending the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
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.
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.