The event was hosted by Lord Alton, and there were contributions made by Baroness Nicholson, Jim Shannon MP, Jeremy Hunt MP, Archbishop Angaelos, the Bishop of Truro and Rehman Chishti MP, who is the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief.
It was also announced that in September a newly-formed UK FoRB Forum would be established.
The review,made 22 recommendations intended to improve the lives of persecuted members of all faiths, beliefs, and those of no belief. The Foreign Office states that Implementation has already begun on half the recommendations, while work is ongoing to deliver the rest
Rehman Chishti leads on the implementation of the Truro review and championing freedom of religion or belief for the Government internationally. In his speech he briefly outlined the progress that had been made.
Lord Alton’s closing remarks (not shown at the event)
UK Government Action on Persecuted Christians – Positive Progress, But a Mountain to Climb
“Religious persecution is alive and well… and foul.” So said Baroness Nicholson at a special event this week to mark the first anniversary of the publication of the Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review of Foreign Office Support for Persecuted Christians.
The speeches were a reminder of just how far we have come – globally and nationally – in the pursuit of positive action on international Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB). They were also a sober reminder of how much needs to be done: there is a mountain to climb.
Internationally, 27 countries (including the UK) joined together in the International Religious Freedom Alliance in February this year. This aims “to bring together senior government representatives to discuss actions their nations can take together to promote respect for freedom of religion or belief and protect members of religious minority groups worldwide.”
The US and the UK now have individuals dedicated to this same task, championing international FoRB issues within their own governments and on the international stage. And this week the EU finally renewed the mandate for its own Special Envoy for the promotion of FoRB outside the EU.
There is more commitment and more resources in terms of people and finance being dedicated to this issue than ever before. This is enormously encouraging.
Rehman Chishti MP is the individual charged by the Prime Minister to take forward the recommendations of the Bishop’s report – which have repeatedly been accepted by the UK government. In his speech at the anniversary event he rejoiced to be able to announce that progress had already been made on 11 of the 22 recommendations: many of them are scarcely earth-shatteringly significant, but nevertheless they are important steps forward.
It was also great to hear him salute the 110 Parliamentarians who attended the launch of the Open Doors World Watch List research into the 50 most dangerous countries to be a Christian which took place in January this year. Open Doors is delighted to have played a part in raising the profile of persecuted Christians within Westminster, of encouraging supporters to engage positively with their MPs and raise their voice on behalf of those with no voice – and not least, to have contributed to the Bishop of Truro’s report.
This effort – along with others – has not been in vain. It is good to see the commitment of so many in Parliament to ensure it bears fruit for our persecuted church family.
But we remain painfully aware that the mountain that has to be climbed gets higher by the day. The Bishop underlined how the current COVID19 pandemic has created a new situation in which the forces driving persecution can flourish. The attention given by the authorities to combatting organised crime and the terrorists of religious fundamentalism is distracted as they focus on trying to contain and resist the virus. At the same time authoritarian governments take more powers to control the disease which they can – and do – use to clamp down on religious minorities. Nationalist ideologues delight in pointing the finger at Christians and other minority groups as the carriers of the disease.
So action, more action, is still needed. It is a great encouragement to hear the announcement that in September a new UK FoRB Forum will be launched, chaired by the Bishop of Truro, to bring all the relevant stakeholders together to ensure progress is made.
At the very time when many fear that the merger of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development might reduce the focus on human rights, and FoRB in particular, there will be a new Forum where the voice of the voiceless can be heard and amplified to the UK government.
In the Afterword of his report, the Bishop of Truro wrote “The freedom to think for oneself and to choose to believe what one chooses to believe, without fear of coercion, is the most fundamental human right, and is indeed the one on which so many others depend… And yet everywhere in our world today we see this right questioned, compromised and threatened. It is a grave threat which must be resisted… And how grave does this situation have to become before we act?”
We have come a long way, but there is a mountain to climb. In our churches and in our Parliament there is still a need for greater awareness of the reality of global persecution; and that awareness has to be turned into action, action that turns the tide of hate, discrimination and violence.
Report and comment written by Open Doors