A church in Bartella, a town near the Iraqi city of Mosul, after Islamic State militants left the area in October 2016. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
A church in Bartella, a town near the Iraqi city of Mosul, after Islamic State militants left the area in October 2016. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

A “Commentary on the Current State of Freedom of Religion or Beliefpresented by a group of British parliamentarians today, 10 December, highlights 27 countries where people’s religious freedom has been denied and abused in the past year.

The report, presented by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), is “a key step in raising awareness about violations of Article 18 [of the UDHR]”, the APPG said in a press release.

“The commentary provides a pithy analysis of the state of FoRB [Freedom of Religion or Belief] in the past year. It is designed to support a better understanding of, and in turn, better responses to, the tensions and drivers of conflict or violence in the countries in question. It is for use by all those working in the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] and more widely in the field of human rights, including the right to FoRB,” the parliamentary group said.

“The scale and intensity of violations worldwide has meant that FoRB has emerged as a critical issue of our time,” said Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, in a foreword to the report, adding: “There is growing recognition that FoRB is significant for achieving the UK’s policy and strategic goals of building sustainable peace and a bulwark against injustice.”

The 27 countries with “significant FoRB violations” mentioned in the APPG report are: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.

All of these countries can also be found on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian, other than Russia, which is on Open Doors’ Persecution Watch List of countries beyond the top 50.

In July the UK appointed Lord Tariq Ahmad as its Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief and in November it announced a commitment of £12 million ($15.5 million) to championing freedom of religion of belief worldwide.

“The connection between religious tolerance and stable societies is another reason why we think promoting freedom of religion or belief is so important,” Lord Ahmad said in January. “There is clear evidence to suggest that tolerant and inclusive societies are better equipped to resist extremism. And most importantly, by ensuring that everyone can contribute, it makes society as a whole better.”