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There is a global war on Christians, thousands are killed each year

And hundreds of thousands are threatened with death

“It is estimated that one third of the world’s population suffers from religious persecution in some form, with Christians being the most persecuted group,” a report for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has determined.

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Religious persecution is on the rise, the report says and citing a Georgetown University study, Christians continue to be the main target.

“If one minority is on the receiving end of 80 per cent of religiously motivated discrimination, it is simply not just that they should receive so little attention.” – Bishop Mounstephen

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt (currently one of the two final contenders to be the next British PM) commissioned the Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen to report on the FCO’s support for persecuted Christians. Mounstephen believes they should do more. Much more. And they also should realise this issue is not about white people.

Mounstephen writes” to understand why this Review is justified we have to appreciate that today the Christian faith is primarily a phenomenon of the global south – and it is therefore primarily a phenomenon of the global poor. Despite the impression those in the West might sometimes have to the contrary, the Christian faith is not primarily an expression of white Western privilege.”

“If it were we could afford to ignore it – perhaps. But unless we understand that it is primarily a phenomenon of the global south and of the global poor we will never give this issue the attention it deserves. That is not to patronise, but it is to be realistic. Western voices that are quick to speak up for the world’s poor cannot afford to be blind to this issue.”

The Report “is not about special pleading for Christians”, Mounstephen writes. “Rather it’s about ensuring that Christians in the global south have a fair deal, and a fair share of the UK’s attention and concern. So in that sense it is an equality issue. If one minority is on the receiving end of 80 per cent of religiously motivated discrimination it is simply not just that they should receive so little attention.”

Mounstephen urges the FCO to also support other vulnerable groups such as the Rohingya community in Myanmar and the Yazidis in Iraq.

The report gives cases studies of the effects of the persecution of Christians, including genocide.

“In 2016 various political bodies including the UK House of Commons, the European Parliament and the US House of Representatives, declared that ISIS atrocities against Christians and other religious minority groups such as Yazidis and Shi’a Muslims met the tests of genocide. Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod of the Syrian Orthodox Church called it ‘genocide – ethnic cleansing’.”

“Whilst Release International had been informed that the numbers of Christians who were killed for their faith by ISIS was not high although very large numbers were dispossessed and forced to flee, Aid to the Church in Need argued that ‘in targeting Christians, Yazidis and Mandaeans and other minorities, Daesh (ISIS) and other fundamentalist groups are in breach of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide’.

“The recent defeat of the ‘Islamic State’, has strengthened the influence of other Islamist groups who continue to persecute Christians. Furthermore dramatic political changes continue to severely impact the situation of many religious minority groups, including Christians, in the region.”

“Some of the most egregious persecution of Christians has taken place in Sub-Saharan Africa.” – Bishop Mounstephen

The report recounts the tragic results of the wars in Iraq. “Christians in Iraq have highlighted the threat of hostile militia, saying it is too unsafe to return to their homes in the Nineveh Plains. As of February 2019, ‘fewer than a third’ of Christians in the Nineveh town of Bartella living in the town before the August 2014 invasion of Daesh (ISIS) had returned following the military defeat of the extremist militants.

“A journalist visiting Bartella in early 2019 stated: ‘Most [Christians] remain afraid, amid reports of intimidation by Shabak, who dominate the Shiite militias now controlling the town.’

“However, in Nineveh as a whole, the rate of return of Christians has been far greater. A comprehensive survey of the entire region showed that, as of 16th March 2019, just over 45 per cent of the 19,832 Christian families living there before the Daesh invasion, had returned. According to this research, the numbers returning were linked to the rate of repair of homes damaged by Daesh, which had also topped 45 per cent.

“Nineveh bucks the trend, with reports that Christians in Iraq have fallen from 1.5 million before 2003 to less than 150,000 today.”

Another key example is found in sub-Saharan Africa. “Some of the most egregious persecution of Christians has taken place in Sub-Saharan Africa, where reports showed a surge in attacks during the period under review. Evidence from across the region points to the systematic violation of the rights of Christians both by state and non-state actors. While the 2014-19 period saw renewed government crackdowns on Christians in some countries, notably Eritrea, the most widespread and violent threat came from societal groups, including many with a militant Islamist agenda.

“The most serious threat to Christian communities came from the militant Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, where direct targeting of Christian believers on a comprehensive scale set out to ‘eliminate Christianity and pave the way for the total Islamisation of the country’. Extremist Muslim militancy was also present in other countries in the region, including Tanzania and Kenya, where Al Shabaab carried out violent attacks on Christian communities. Elsewhere, extremist groups exploited domestic conflicts and unrest in countries such as Somalia where violence against Christians took place against a backdrop of popular uprisings, economic breakdown and endemic poverty.

“The single-greatest threat to Christians over the period under review came from Islamist militant group Boko Haram …” – Bishop Mounstephen

“The threat to Christians from Islamist militancy was by no means confined to societal groups. Sudan continued to rank as one of the most dangerous countries for Christians; destruction of church property, harassment, arbitrary arrest initiated by state actors remained a problem and non-Muslims were punished for breaking Islamic Shari‘a law.

“Reports consistently showed that in Nigeria, month after month, on average hundreds of Christians were being killed for reasons connected with their faith. Whilst the reasons for this are complex there is no doubt that Christian faith was an integral, and sometimes central, component. An investigation showed that in 2018 far more Christians in Nigeria were killed in violence in which religious faith was a critical factor than anywhere else in the world; Nigeria accounted for 3,731 of the 4,136 fatalities: 90 per cent of the total.

“The single-greatest threat to Christians over the period under review came from Islamist militant group Boko Haram, with US intelligence reports in 2015 suggesting that 200,000 Christians were at risk of being killed.”

Mounstephen argues that religious freedom is “intersectional” – to improve treatment of those suffering persecution involves lifting up other human rights as well, with clear examples being the right of free speech, assembly and the right not to be discriminated against.

He believes that First World attitudes need re-adjustment. “In the Western mind-set FoRB [Freedom of religion or belief] is often perceived to be in opposition to other rights, notably rights around sexual identity. However there is significant evidence that a concern for FoRB actually intersects (rather than conflicts) and indeed underpins other rights and issues that are of major concern to Western governments.

“The impact of violating a person’s religious freedom frequently means a violation of other key human rights such as freedom of assembly or association, freedom of expression (for cases where religious manifestation is denied), the right to life and the right to freedom from torture (for where people are being tortured), etc.”

This FCO report is extremely well documented with extensive footnotes. The Interim and final reports are available here.

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