Violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief, including in their most egregious manifestations, whether crimes against humanity, war crimes or even genocide, are not issues left behind in 2022, or in the past. Early days of 2023 already show that such violations will continue. This is because the perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity. Equally, because we still do little, if anything, to address the drivers of such violations and act to prevent.
In Afghanistan, religious or belief minorities are disappearing. Many members of religious or belief minorities were evacuated from Afghanistan as the Taliban were taking over the country in August 2021. Many religious or belief minorities, including Afghan Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, Baha’is, and nonbelievers had to flee as they were unable to express their faiths or beliefs openly as doing so meant certain death, if discovered by the Taliban. Those who remained had to go underground. Religious minorities such as the Hazara Shias are subjected to constant attacks, including bombings of predominantly Hazara districts, schools, and places of worship. In September 2022, the Hazara Inquiry published a report warnings about the serious risk of genocide and elements of the crime already being present. In 2023, and as nothing has been done to address the serious risk, the situation of the Hazara will only deteriorate posing an existential threat to the community.
In Iraq, over 2,700 Yazidi women and children are still missing ever since they were abducted by Daesh from Sinjar. Some are reportedly in Syria, some in Turkey. Until now, there have been no joint international effort to locate, rescue and reunite them with their families. In Iraq, to this day, there are laws which are detrimental to religious or belief minorities, and laws which prevent Yazidi and Christian women and girls from seeing justice being done - for their abductions, enslavement and sexual abuse. Genocide is still not criminalized in the country.
In Myanmar, the military, the very perpetrator of the genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, rules the country and silences any voice expressing opposition to their violent rule. The Rohingya Muslims continue to be under threat as long as the military stays in power.
In Nigeria, Christians are targeted by Boko Haram and other militias with the attacks moving from the north, through the Middle Belt, to the south of the country. Perpetrators enjoy impunity, and as such, further atrocities are highly likely.
In China, religious or belief communities are under constant attack. The atrocities against Uyghurs are considered to meet the legal definitions of genocide and crimes against humanity. Falun Gong practitioners are said to be subjected to forced organ harvesting. Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and others are subjected to severe restrictions of their freedoms and other pressures that prevent them from practicing their faiths.
In Ukraine, Russia continues to target places of worship and religious leaders.
This is only tip of the iceberg. Indeed, research suggests that almost 80 percent of the world’s population live in countries where there are high levels of governmental or societal restrictions on religion. Such restrictions are said to have been increasing for several years affecting every area of life.
While governments around the world have been building alliances, including the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, an alliance of 37 States (and also five friends and three observers), the issue of violations based on religion or belief is so severe that only a truly global response can make a difference to the lives of those affected.
In order to accommodate further conversation on the topic, on January 31 and February 1, 2023, the IRF Summit will convene yet again in DC to bring together politicians, experts, survivors and those working with them. As emphasized by the organizers, the IRF Summit is to “raise the profile of international religious freedom on a wide variety of issues using an array of mechanisms best suited for each circumstance (...), connect resources and advocates interested in religious freedom and highlight the personal testimonies of survivors of religious persecution and restrictions on religious freedom.”
To turn the tide on violations based on religion or belief, joint and truly global actions are needed that respond not only to the aftermath of such violations, but address the drivers of such violations. Indeed, prevention of such violations is the only way forward. States and international actors must invest in mechanisms enabling them to identify early warnings signs and risk farces, but also follow up with decisive and early action to prevent the materialization of such risks and warnings. There is no other way.
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