In June and July, the United Nation's (UN) Human Rights Council’s 41st session took place in Geneva, which provided the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) with an opportunity to highlight recent challenges to the right to freedom of religion or belief. Specifically, the WEA shed light on increasing restrictions put on Christians and other religious minorities in the following countries:
Algeria | In May 2019, Algerian authorities forcibly closed one additional church, and brought several court cases against Christians. On behalf of our member alliance, the Protestant Church of Algeria, we called on Algerian authorities to guarantee freedom of worship to churches and religious institutions that are closed or threatened with closure, and to suspend and revise the February 2006 ordinance setting out the conditions and rules for the exercise of non-Muslim religions.
India | The 2019 elections in India were plagued with political discourses of religious intolerance and rhetoric that incited hatred against religious minorities. On behalf of our WEA member, the Evangelical Fellowship of India, we called on the authorities of India to cease their incitement, and to hold accountable those who commit violence and incite violence against religious minorities, affirming that a democracy where minorities are scapegoated is not a democracy.
Iran | Together with the World Council of Churches, we appealed to the Iranian authorities to return the Tabriz church building and property to the Evangelical Presbyterian Synod, and to allow it to re-open. We also called on the Iranian authorities to put an end to the campaign of intimidation of church leaders, and of confiscation of church property.
Consequent to our advocacy efforts and that of other stakeholders, we learned that Iranian authorities reinstated the cross on the Tabriz church, that they had previously removed. However, the keys of the church have yet to be to handed back to Evangelical Presbyterian church leaders. We continue to press Iranian authorities to allow for freedom of religion for its religious minorities, and to cease the criminal prosecution of Christians.
Nepal | Together with the Baptist World Alliance and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, we submitted a written statement to the Human Rights Council appealing to the Nepalese authorities, inter alia, to amend the Criminal Code, removing Articles 156, 158 and 159 which criminalize legitimate religious activities, and to stop arresting or intimidating members of religious minorities on the false charge of attempting to “convert” others. In our statement, and in our meeting during the Council session with Nepalese diplomats, we raised the case of the detention of four Christians in April 2019, including Mr. Dilliram Poudel, the Secretary General of the Nepal Christian Society, a WEA associate member.
Sri Lanka | Together with the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, we submitted a written statement calling on Sri Lankan authorities to withdraw the circular issued in September 2008, which restricted the churches’ ability to construct places of worship. We also called on authorities to ensure that the newly introduced Emergency Regulations do not adversely affect the religious freedom of citizens, and to ensure judicial accountability for violators of religious freedom and instigators of religiously motivated violence.
In an oral statement, we called on the Government of Sri Lanka to avoid a repetition of the mistakes of the past, to actively protect and promote the status of minorities, and to ensure equality for all its citizens. And we reiterated our support to the efforts of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to strengthen the rule of law and ensure respect for human rights in Sri Lanka.
Vietnam | Vietnam’s 2016 Law on Belief and Religion is not in conformity with international human rights standard. In an oral statement read before Vietnam’s deputy foreign minister Mr. Le Hoai Trung, we appealed to the government of Vietnam to review the way it treats its religious minorities, and to modify this recent legislation to align it with international human rights standards.
Central African Republic | Together with Caritas Internationalis, we urged both the Central African Republic’s (CAR) government and the international community to work to ensure that the commitments of the Khartoum Agreement are respected and do not remain a dead letter. In view of the elections in 2020, we urged the government to ensure the full participation of all components of its population, recalling that freedom of expression and association are prerequisites for democratic processes. We also voiced similar concerns and recommendations in our meeting with CAR diplomats.
Advocating Religious Freedom through the Universal Periodic Review
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a peer-review process where countries make recommendations to those undergoing review, aimed at improving the human rights situation in those countries. Organizations like the WEA submit UPR stakeholder reports in order to inform the countries of what to recommend.
In May 2019, Bhutan was among 14 countries undergoing their periodic human rights review. We are grateful that five countries including the Netherlands, Estonia, Canada and the United States echoed our own report’s recommendations, including the need to amend the Law on Religious Organizations to protect the free practice of religion and the ability of religious organizations to obtain legal status. The government of Bhutan has until September 2019 to respond to these recommendations. Please join us in prayer that Bhutan will accept all religious freedom related recommendations, to advance the protection of religious minorities including the evangelical churches.
Between 20 and 31 January 2020, Turkey, Sweden and Spain will be among the 14 countries who will undergo their Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council. Ahead of this review, our office contributed through the submission of the following reports:
The first report is on the Freedom of Religion or Belief in Turkey, submitted jointly with our member alliance in Turkey, the Association of Protestant Churches, and the Baptist World Alliance, relaying the findings, concerns and recommendations of our member alliance in Turkey.
The second report is on Sweden, submitted jointly by the WEA, the Swedish Evangelical Alliance, the European Evangelical Alliance, and the European Centre for Law and Justice. The report addresses: (1) targeted hatred and violence against vulnerable groups, including the rising number of Christianophobic attacks; (2) the need for protection of asylum seekers who converted to the Christian faith; and (3) the right to conscience objection of nurses who do not want to partake in abortion.
The third and final report is submitted jointly by ADF International, the WEA and the Spanish Evangelical Alliance. In this report, we will call for an end to the discrimination Protestants face in pension treatment in Spain, and appeal for the protection of places of worship of all religious communities, following the closure of Evangelical churches in the Catalonia region.
Let’s meet in Jakarta!
Two of our office members, Michael Mutzner and Wissam al-Saliby, will be in Jakarta for the WEA General Assembly on November 7-13. Feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com to schedule a meeting to discuss how our office can be of help to you in advocating religious freedom, rule of law and human rights in your countries.
Help us strengthen and sustain the work of WEA's efforts at the UN!
By praying: Please lift up our office’s efforts in your prayer, so that our reporting and advocacy bear fruit in His Kingdom, and in the lives of Christians suffering discrimination and persecution.
By giving financially:
Our office needs to raise USD 50,000 to pursue and sustain our advocacy in 2020 and 2021 on behalf of the 130 Evangelical Alliances around the world, and to respond to the ever-increasing threats to religious freedom. Your partnership and support, with small or big donations, will help us sustain our Geneva-based advocacy efforts.
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