Faith Matters

Freedom of religion is being `significantly restricted', report finds

The annual Report on Freedom of Religion or Belief considered 53 countries in detail

Freedom of religion is being significantly restricted throughout the world, a European Parliament study has found.

The annual Report on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) considered 53 countries in detail.

The report was the work of the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance.

This group brings together like-minded members of the European Parliament dedicated to ensuring that the EU, in its external actions, promotes and protects the right to religion.

Its publication provides a situation report concerning the state of FoRB in a selection of countries "where FoRB is seriously under threat".

On the basis of this descriptive research, the group has categorised some of these as "failed states". These include Somalia, Central African Republic, Libya and Syria.

The group said these countries showed great instability in many aspects, including the absence of the rule of law, strong internal political, social and/or economic pressures, violence, almost no legitimate authority to make collective decisions and inability to provide public services.

This had the overall effect of leaving minorities unprotected by the state's rule of law; and thus entirely exposed to violence. Warlords and armed groups determined everyday life, the report said.

According to the International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic, a predominantly Christian country, more than 80 per cent of the Muslim population had been driven out by December 2014, and the UN estimates that 36,000 Muslim civilians remain trapped in areas besieged by anti-balaka militia.

In Somalia, the report found, anarchy remained in the areas outside of the control of the government.

"Al-Shabaab violently imposes its dogma by harassing, maiming, or killing people who are suspected of converting from Islam or who are failing to uphold the principles of Islam.

"Since 1993, Somalia has been of particular concern in terms of Christian persecution following a policy of religious cleansing and has declared it `wants Somalia free of any Christians'."

The report added that in Syria, "brutal ethnic and religious cleansing by Daesh of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, as well as the targeted actions of the Assad government against Sunni Muslims persist as emergencies in the country".

In each failed state, the report recommended that basic security was the immediate priority. For this reason "the EU must cooperate in ensuring that no weapons are delivered to one of the parties in the internal conflict, unless this is directly related to UN-backed peace-building initiatives".

"We encourage the EU to be generous and careful with its delivery of humanitarian aid to failed states," it added.

The report, launched by the two chairmen of the intergroup, MEPs Peter van Dalen and Dennis de Jong, also addressed the suffering of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS/Daesh.

The day before the report was presented, ADF International launched its new book Never Again - Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East. The book documents the genocide of Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, highlights the failings of the international community in ending the carnage, and provides a blueprint for applying international law on genocide to adequately respond to terrorist groups including ISIS/Daesh.

"ADF International and our allies are using our full-time presence at major international institutions to shine a light on the systematic persecution faced by Christians around the world," said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International.

"The freedom to live according to one's religion is a fundamental human right, but is one which is under increasing pressure, whether at the hands of governments seeking to protect one particular group to the serious detriment of others, or terrorist groups like ISIS/Daesh.

"Publications like the annual Report on Religious Freedom or Belief and our book Never Again provide the essential evidentiary basis for concrete action by those institutions charged with protecting fundamental rights."

Sophia Kuby, Director of EU Advocacy for ADF International, said it was unacceptable that people today were being killed, tortured, or oppressed, simply because of their religious convictions.

"The annual Report on Freedom of Religion or Belief is an important instrument to promote religious freedom both inside and outside the EU," she said.

"It will effectively help us to address religious persecution throughout the world and ensure that the European Union uses its political and financial power to safeguard the fundamental rights of religious minorities in all countries."

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