The second anniversary of the Truro Review this month has been marked by a webinar hosted by the Bishop of Truro himself. The Truro Review, commissioned by Jeremy Hunt in 2018 as an independent review into the global persecution of Christians, presented 22 recommendations for the UK Government for changes in policy and practice to protect freedom of religion and belief around the world.
Since its publication, the Government pledged to adopt all 22 recommendations. This anniversary event served as a moment to measure what has already been achieved and to take stock of what remains outstanding before a formal independent review due next year.
The meeting was overwhelmingly positive, with Archbishop Angaelos commenting that the Truro Review was “one of the most historic reviews of our time” and the Bishop of Truro stating the response of the UK Government “wildly exceeded” his expectations. However, there was also criticism of the UK’s response to genocide, recent cuts to UK Aid and the prosecution of Daesh (also known as ISIS) perpetrators of sex crimes against Yazidi and Christian women.
The Bishop of Truro hosted the meeting, laying out why the implementation of the Truro Review matters and highlighted the worsening abuse of FoRB globally. Special mention was given to Uighur Muslims in China, the Rohingya in Burma, the Bahá’í community in Iran and Ahmadi’s in Pakistan.
He stated that the review called for the Government “to make FoRB central to our operations and culture on the world stage. I am proud as a country we have achieved this.”
Fiona Bruce MP
Fiona Bruce, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, reiterated that “defending this right is a priority of the UK government”. In the last two years the FCDO has implemented 18 recommendations and she “felt confident” that all 22 recommendations will be implemented by the time of the independent review next year.
She highlighted the creation of the UK FoRB Forum, the addition of FoRB into the annual Human Rights and Democracy Report, and FoRB being included in the G7 leaders’ communique for the first time. She also highlighted the actions the UK has taken on the world stage with sanctions against China, the recent election to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the work of UK Diplomats around the world. FoRB has also been included within the Foreign Secretary’s Force for Good agenda and was a key theme in the recent Security, Defense, Development and Foreign Policy Review.
The FCDO has also made internal changes following the Truro Review. This includes the creation of a training unit focusing on Religion for International Engagement and the John Bunyan fund.
During his address, Lord Alton, Vice Chair of the APPG on International FoRB, highlighted the failure to fully adopt Recommendation 7 which focuses on creating a legal route to respond to genocide, a criticism that was also made by Baroness Cox later in the meeting. Lord Alton drew attention to the 1948 Genocide Convention and a ruling in 2007 by the International Court of Justice saying that the UK isn’t doing enough to prevent or act against genocide.
Describing the UK Government’s approach as “too fluffy” Lord Alton stated that there are no national or domestic mechanisms in place for a legal response to genocide and that early warning systems with the FCDO for identifying genocide were secretive and not transparent. Lord Alton re-stated the conclusion from a Foreign Affairs Select Committee that morning, that the persecution of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang needed a stronger response. At the start of the year, Lord Alton championed the Genocide Amendment to the Trade Bill which had overwhelming support from Parliamentarians: in February 2021 the government used parliamentary procedure to prevent a vote on the amendment.
Lord Alton also highlighted failings in upholding Recommendation 21C which calls for the prosecution of Daesh (also known as ISIS) perpetrators of sex crimes against Yazidi and Christian women. In Iraq and the UK, prosecution has focused on terror-related charges and no one has yet faced charges of sexual abuse. This is running the very real risk of justice being delayed or denied to these victims.
He concluded by stating that these two recommendations should be high on the agenda for the independent review in 2022.
Impact of the John Bunyan Fund
The creation of the John Bunyan Fund (Recommendation 9) has funded 15 organisations over the last two years with a focus on FoRB. During the meeting, a panel of two recipients of the fund presented their work. It was also confirmed that the fund will continue to provide grants for research to create country-specific recommendations to promote FoRB.
Andrew Copson, CEO of Humanists UK, highlighted how the fund allowed them to conduct research into the discrimination of Humanists and others of non-religious beliefs. Focusing on eight countries, the fund allowed for the creation of country-specific recommendations for policymakers. Their research also highlighted common themes such as blasphemy and apostasy laws and the lack of separation between state and religion contributing to pressures faced by Humanists.
Archbishop Angaelos had used a grant to research the spread of persecution between minority groups. Key findings showed that attacks on one minority group will spread to others and highlighted the double vulnerability of women, persons with disabilities, IDPs and refugees. Bishop Angaelos stated, “this is one of the most historic reviews of our time”, however, he also criticized the cuts to UK Aid.
Countries of Concern
The meeting concluded with a second panel highlighting three areas of concern with recommendations for the UK Government.
Baroness Cox, Co-Chair of the APPG on International FoRB, highlighted the crisis facing Armenian Christians in Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite the possibility of ethnic cleansing the risk is dismissed or underplayed by the British Government. Baroness Cox called for effective action to safeguard Armenian Christians and protect religious and cultural heritage sites and the need for the UK Government to better respond to genocide.
Padideh Sabeti, director of the Office of Public Affairs of the UK Bahá’í community, spoke about increasing persecution in Iran. Despite the long term targeting of the Bahá’í community, the Iranian state has become more sophisticated in its approach and 2021 has already seen a 44% increase in incidences of persecution.
Fareed Ahmad, National Secretary of External Affairs for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK, described the rising pressure Ahmadis face in Pakistan. Ahmadi Muslims have faced generations of persecution but there has been a recent increase in pressure against the community. This has included a spike in attacks from authorities, instead of individuals, with the destruction of mosques. Fareed called on the UK Government to put pressure on Pakistan to restore the right to vote for the Ahmadi community and prevent blasphemy laws from silencing Ahmadi voices online. He also called for greater international pressure on Pakistan to help protect Ahmadiyya Muslims.