Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
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By Matias Perttula

11/02/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In June of this year, while protests and violent riots ripped apart some cities across the United States, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Advancing International Religious Freedom. The landmark order accomplished a number of necessary objectives in prioritizing international religious freedom in foreign policy objectives. The directives of the order include streamlining foreign assistance to communities in need and training the diplomatic corps of the United States, giving significant teeth to the United States’ promise to keep countries that persecute their religious minority communities accountable to the universal standards of human rights.

The executive order is a much celebrated step in the right direction towards securing this fundamental freedom as a foreign policy priority. Beyond that, the order itself was a timely decision point for the administration as nearly all activists, relevant NGOs and other governmental entities tend to agree on the concerning levels of increasing religious persecution around the world. This persecution is a driving point for the growing need of humanitarian aid on a global scale.

US leadership is desperately needed in this space as too many governments around the world have for too long ignored or downplayed the ongoing and worsening reality for many of the world’s religious minority groups. Across the world, religious minorities are facing ever increasing hardship because of their chosen religious identity.

Nigeria, for example, has witnessed the ongoing massacre of Christians in the Middle Belt region of the country. Militant extremist members of the Fulani, a predominantly Muslim ethic group, have devastated the region with egregious violence and continue to operate with near complete impunity. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration regularly ignore the violence and fails to provide necessary security to the areas that are most affected by the targeted attacks. Tens of thousands of Christians have been displaced in the region and are in need of significant aid and assistance. While the conflict is not solely based on religious lines, ignoring the religious themes of the conflict produces a significant lack of understanding to the true reality of the conflict. While the lack of resources caused by open grazing from Fulani herders certainly contributes to the tension, the reality remains that the predominantly Christian farmers bear by far the brunt of the violent attacks.

In the Middle East, historically Christian communities have been decimated. From an estimated population of 15 million Christians in Iraq and Syria at their peak, only an estimated 150,000 remain in the region. Most have been killed, murdered or forced to flee as refugees to surrounding areas. The devastation of these communities is undeniable and has created immense humanitarian need in the form of economic development, education, societal redevelopment and a number of other areas. The targeting of religious minorities, especially Christians, was a pronounced agenda of the Muslim extremist group ISIS that sought to eliminate the entire region from all targeted religious minorities and even fellow Muslims.

In Pakistan, religious minorities like Christians and Hindus as well as several other groups, live in extreme abject poverty with little to no hope for a prosperous future. Christians are limited to dangerous and extremely undercompensated sanitation work. Laws like the country’s notorious blasphemy law keep a muzzle on Christians and religious minorities. Workplace discrimination of Christians is rampant. While much of the persecution faced by these minority groups is deeply religiously driven, much of it is a derivative of now supposedly outdate caste system. Pakistan’s constitution sets forth guarantees of religious freedom, but the actualization of these liberties falls subject to the supremacy of the ruling Muslim community.

While these are not exhaustive descriptions of how the lack of religious freedom produces the need for vast amounts of humanitarian, they do offer a global snapshot of how the need is perpetrated regionally.

While Western governments continue to turn a blind eye to these realities, the US government has shone a light to these issues. Partnering with NGOs and civil society elements, the ongoing engagement has brought to light the atrocities that are continuously perpetrated against religious minorities and creating a growing systemic need for humanitarian aid.

However, not all have remained silent; one country that has joined the United States in engaging with this issue is Hungary. The Hungarian government has implemented an aid program to bring direct assistance to persecuted Christian communities around the world. Aptly named “Hungary Helps,” the program continues to make a difference in the lives of persecuted peoples in a very meaningful way.

Though many countries have joined the US-led Alliance to Advance International Religious Freedom, the fact remains that more governments should take note of all the need that is created by the lack of religious freedom and should take note that when this freedom is celebrated and expanded, the economic and societal growth is unmistakable. Poverty levels decrease when religious freedom is supported through aid programs and legal measures in countries. In short, the country prospers when religious freedom is guaranteed and encouraged.

It is time for the rest of the world to wake up and join the United States in championing this freedom with greater enthusiasm and energy than ever before. Governments should consider aligning portions of their foreign aid to begin directly targeting at-risk and/or devastated religious minority communities around the world. They should work in concert with likeminded nations to hold governments that persecute accountable for their actions and demand change. Above all, governments should openly declare this freedom as a universal freedom for all people no matter what country they call home, and condemn any form of marginalization of people based on their chosen faith and religious practice.

Matias Perttula serves as the Advocacy Director for International Christian Concern where he leads the government relations efforts to mobilize the US government to address issues of persecution in countries where religious minorities are oppressed and the freedom of religion is in decline.