Teachers in north-eastern Kenya demonstrated in February 2015, asking to be reassigned following the killing of 20 colleagues in an attack by Islamist militants. (Photo: Getty Images)










The question of the UK’s Lord Alton on a new UN Day recognised for only the second time this year, the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, 22 August.

Until 2019, there has been no UN-led day focused exclusively on religiously motivated violence (or any other aspects of freedom of religion or belief).

It follows the Day commemorating Victims of Terrorism.

For the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Prof. Ahmed Shaheed “This is an important coincidence, especially in a world when attacks on individuals or groups that are carried out in the name of religion or belief, or on the basis of religion or belief, are politically motivated and are designed to instil terror and fear amongst populations”.

There are thousands of families who’ll be ‘officially’ remembering loved ones on both days (as if they didn’t every other day of the year). In Nigeria, terrorist-designated group Boko Haram alone has killed 27,000 people over the past 10 years, based on its extreme radical Islamist beliefs and agenda.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said yesterday the UN stands by all those who grieve and those who “continue to endure the physical and psychological wounds of terrorist atrocities.

“Traumatic memories cannot be erased, but we can help victims and survivors by seeking truth, justice and reparation, amplifying their voices and upholding their human rights”, he stressed.

22 August is intended to provide a focus on addressing the ever-growing issue of violence solely based on religion or belief. The latest research by the Pew Center (covering 2017), shows that India, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria, CAR, Pakistan, Israel, Yemen and Bangladesh have ‘very high’ social hostilities involving religion.

Countries in which Pew reports ‘Government hostilities’ are very high include China, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Indonesia. Eritrea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Mauritania, Sudan and Pakistan and the Central Asian ‘Stans’.

The focus is limited to violence based on religion or belief, rather than the broader concept of religious persecution that may include “intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights” (likely because ‘religious persecution’ is not defined unequivocally; some definitions are very broad). But the focus on acts of violence sends a very clear message that no act of violence is acceptable, whether a single incident or acts of violence that are systematic and perpetrated on a mass scale.

The woman who masterminded the process of getting the day recognized, Ewelina Ochab, said “Poland and other states have to be commended for recognizing the issue of violence based on religion or belief as a contemporary issue that can no longer be neglected….We owe this to past and present victims and survivors of violence based on religion or belief. We owe it to the generations that come after us”.

Pew has shown that, of all global religions, it is Christians who experience the most hostility, a point emphasised by the UK’s independent 2019 Truro Review commissioned by then UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Acknowledging 22 August this year, the Foreign Office’s Lord Ahmed repeated his promise that the UK would carry out all of the Review’s 22 recommendations. Eleven have been acted upon so far.

In latest research on the global persecution of Christians, the 2020 World Watch List published in January by Open Doors (an annual survey of 150 countries monitoring how difficult it is to live as a Christian), the overall trend is that almost half (73) showed extreme, very high or high levels of persecution, the same as the year before.

Nationalistic governments such as India and Myanmar continue to deny freedom of religion for their sizeable Christian minorities, sending the very clear message that to be Indian, one must be Hindu, or to be Burmese one must embrace Buddhism. This means mobs often attack and kill with impunity.

Extreme persecution also comes at the hands of radical Islamic militias, such as in in Mali, Chad, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Libya and Somalia. There are also reports of a resurgence of the Islamic State ideology in parts of Iraq and Syria, under cover of the COVID19 lockdown restrictions.

Asia saw suicide bombers in Sri Lanka attack several churches on Easter Sunday, killing almost 250, including 45 children (some families lost all their children).


(October 27 is marked as the day on which the US signed into being the International Religious Freedom Act, IRFA, but this is not a universally recognized annual day and has no equivalent within the UN system).