A review of the human-rights situation in 159 countries during 2017, published by Amnesty International yesterday (22 February), shows that religious persecution continues in the form of threats, attacks, extrajudicial killings and even genocide, while harsh sentences continue to be handed out – sometimes even death sentences – for changing religions or being adjudged to have committed blasphemy.
Amnesty’s ‘Annual Report 2017/2018’ suggests a link between austerity across the globe and how government-spending cuts have an impact on how they follow through on their commitments to human rights.
“In the absence of appropriate social safety nets, such measures risk violating governments’ human rights obligations as well as commitments under the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals,” the report says. “Looking ahead, even in the short term some commentators are forecasting an ‘austerity apocalypse’.”
The impact of austerity measures in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, mean that “subsidies for the poor and social welfare have all been cut at a time when consumption taxes such as Value Added Tax (VAT) have been increased, often hitting hardest those living in poverty”.
On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the report concludes that “discrimination remained rife in all regions of the world, and at times had deadly consequences for the victims. Governments of all persuasions continued to crack down on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly… Yet there are also glimpses of hard-won progress, demonstrating that the defence of human rights does yield positive developments”.
How did it affect Christians?
Amnesty’s report includes several references to the difficulties experienced by Christians in various countries, especially when they are the minority. A few examples include:
“In Cuba, large numbers of human rights defenders and political activists continued to be harassed, intimidated, dismissed from state employment and arbitrarily detained to silence criticism. Online and offline censorship undermined advances in education. Prisoners of conscience included the leader of the pro-democracy Christian Liberation Movement, Eduardo Cardet Concepción, who was jailed for three years for publicly criticizing former president Fidel Castro.”
“The right to change or renounce religious beliefs continued to be violated. Christian converts received harsh prison sentences, which ranged from 10 to 15 years in several cases. Raids on house churches continued.”
Security forces are accused of “gross human rights violations” in the fight against the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, including “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and torture and other ill-treatment, which, in some cases, led to deaths in custody”.
Violence unleashed by Boko Haram in 2017 caused whole communities to flee. According to Amnesty the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa alone had approximately 1.7 million internally displaced people (IDPs), with 39 per cent living in camps and 61 per cent in host communities.
On Monday (19 February), Boko Haram fighters targeted a girls’ boarding school in Yobe and it is feared that, as in Chibok four years ago, more than 100 girls have been abducted.
Earlier this month Amnesty confirmed that fighter jets sent by the Nigerian Air Force fired rockets at villages where Fulani herdsmen were attacking Christian residents. “Such reckless use of deadly force is unlawful, outrageous and lays bare the Nigerian military’s shocking disregard for the lives of those it supposedly exists to protect,” Amnesty said. According to the new report, clashes between farmers and herdsmen in 12 states last year killed more than 549 people and displaced thousands more.
“People were prosecuted after being accused, particularly over social media, for alleged breaches of vague and broad blasphemy laws, which criminalized peaceful expression if deemed to offend religious sensibilities. In June, Taimoor Raza was sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in Punjab, southern province, for allegedly blasphemous posts on Facebook. In September, Nadeem Masih, a Christian, was sentenced to death by a court in Gujrat city for sharing a “blasphemous” poem over WhatsApp. Accusations of committing blasphemy triggered the execution-style killing of Mashal Khan, a university student, in Mardan city. In April, a mob of students stormed his hostel, stripped him naked and beat him repeatedly before shooting him. Then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to take action against those who ‘misuse’ the blasphemy laws.”
“In the Philippines, a five-month battle in Marawi between the military and an alliance of militants aligned with the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS), caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, dozens of civilian deaths, and widespread destruction of homes and infrastructure. The militants targeted Christian civilians for extrajudicial killings and mass hostage-taking, and the armed forces detained and ill-treated fleeing civilians.
“The conflict ended in October when the military killed several militant leaders. Militants allied with IS targeted Christian civilians, committing at least 25 extrajudicial killings and carrying out mass hostage-taking and extensive looting of civilian property, which may have amounted to war crimes.”
“…saw a rise in Buddhist nationalist sentiment, including attacks against Christians and Muslims.
“Police failed to take action in response to continued threats and physical violence against Christians and Muslims by members of the public and supporters of a hardline Sinhala Buddhist political group.
“In June, the then Minister of Justice threatened to have human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias disbarred if he did not apologize for speaking publicly about reported attacks against Christians.”