UN day commemorating victims of religious persecution

Aug 22nd is the UN Day commemorating victims of violence based on religion or belief.

This year’s International Day for religious freedom, 22 August, highlights how the Covid-19 pandemic is aggravating the vulnerabilities of Christians and other minorities under pressure for their faith or belief. 

In May last year, the UN General Assembly established the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. The UN said it was a response to an increase in religious-freedom violations. The resolution stated that “States have the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights, including the human rights of persons belonging to religious minorities, including their right to exercise their religion or belief freely.” 

Since January, the Covid-19 pandemic has placed great pressure on governments around the world, sending whole nations into lockdown. It has also exacerbated the ongoing vulnerabilities of minorities, including those of Christians under pressure for their faith. 

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In Nigeria’s Middle Belt and northeastern region, attacks by Boko Haram and other Islamist groups, including ethnic Fulani militants, have continued unabated and with impunity. Restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus increased people’s vulnerability, said an Open Doors’ spokesperson: “People were not only ordered to stay at home, the place where they are most vulnerable to attacks. They were also restricted in finding refuge somewhere else.” 

Christians in India, a country in the Open Doors World Watch List top 10 of the most difficult countries to live in as a Christian, have faced increasing levels of religious intolerance in recent years. In the majority-Hindu nation, they are often targeted for their faith; family and communities accuse their Christian faith of bringing misfortune, and of “forcibly converting” others. As a result, they are often socially boycotted or driven from their village.

The Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated their vulnerability, often isolating them even further. Many Christians are poor day laborers, belonging to the lowest Dalit caste. During the pandemic, they have lost their jobs or had to work in unprotected circumstances. Both Christians and Muslims — also a minority in India — are sometimes accused of spreading the virus, and sources within the country have told Open Doors’ partners that the intensity of attacks had increased where this was the case.  

Since the start of the pandemic, Open Doors has ramped up its emergency response programs to meet the needs of Christians affected by Covid-19 in Nigeria, India, and other places. This year’s annual day commemorating the victims of religiously motivated violence is a reminder that the need for protection of vulnerable religious communities is greater than ever, the Open Doors spokesperson said. 

“Violence based on religion or belief can no longer be ignored and the price paid by men, women, and children whose human dignity is crushed because of their faith, is too high,” the spokesperson said. “It’s time for states to take on that primary responsibility to protect the individual’s rights and ensure that their faith does not cause them to be vulnerable to violence and attacks.”

 

*Names changed for security reasons 

 

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