U.S. House Committee Holds Hearing on Persecution of Christians Worldwide
The U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health,Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing today on “The Worldwide Persecution of Christians.” The hearing was chaired by Rep. Christopher H. Smith.
The following persons gave testified at the hearing:
The Honorable Elliott Abrams, Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Mr. John Allen, Associate Editor, The Boston Globe
Ms. Tehmina Arora, Attorney, Alliance Defending Freedom-India
Mr. Benedict Rogers, Team Leader for East Asia. Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Mr. Jorge Lee Galindo, Director, Impulso 18
Khataza Gondwe, Ph.D., Team Leader for Africa and theMiddle East, Christian Solidarity Worldwide
His Excellency, the Most Reverend Francis A. Chullikatt, Permanent Observer, The Holy See Mission at the United Nations
The following are excerpts of the testimonies given at the hearing.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith
Good morning. We are here today to focus attention on the persecution of Christians worldwide, a topic which has been neglected by our media and world leaders including those in the United States.
Today’s focus on anti-Christian persecution is not meant to minimize the suffering of other religious minorities who are imprisoned or killed for their beliefs: as the poet John Donne wrote, “Any man’s death doth diminish me.”
We stand for human dignity and respect for life from the womb to the tomb, and this subcommittee has and will continue to highlight the suffering of religious minorities around the globe, be they Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, Ba’hai in Iran, Buddhists in occupied Tibet, Yazidis in Iraq or the Muslim Royhinga people in Burma.
Christians, however, remain the most persecuted religious group the world over, and thus deserve the special attention that today’s hearing will give them. As one of today’s witnesses, the distinguished journalist John Allen has written: “Christians today indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often their martyrs suffer in silence.”
Researchers from the Pew Center have documented incidents of harassment of religious groups worldwide, a term defined as including “physical assaults; arrests and detentions; desecration of holy sites; and discrimination against religious groups in employment, education and housing,” and has concluded that Christians are the single most harassed group today. In the year 2012, Pew reports, Christians were harassed in 110 countries around the world.
This is particularly true in the Middle East where, as one of those we will hear from today, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, has said, “flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages… even as we meet.”
Archbishop Chullikatt was the papal nuncio to Iraq, where we have seen repeated violent assaults on Christians, such as the as the October 31, 2010 assault upon Our Lady of Deliverance Syrian Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad in which 58 people were killed and another 70 wounded. Attacks such as this have led the Christian population of Iraq, whose roots date back to the time of the Apostles, to dwindle from 1.4 million in 1987 prior to the first Gulf War, to as little as 150,000 today, according to some estimates. Much of this exodus has occurred during a time in which our country invested heavily in blood and treasure in seeking to help Iraqis build a democracy. As we witness the black flag of al-Qaeda again fly over cities such as Fallujah, which we had won at the cost of so much American blood, we wonder how it is that for Christians in Iraq, life appears to be worse now than it was under the vicious dictator Saddam Hussein.
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The Honorable Elliott Abrams
Religious freedom is enshrined with other rights in international treaties and understandings, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Freedom of religion or belief also encompasses other freedoms, including expression, association, and assembly. As it often is the first right taken a way, religious freedom serves as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, warning us that denial of other liberties almost surely will follow.
Supporting religious freedom abroad is not just a legal or moral duty, but a practical necessity that affects the security of the United States because it builds a foundation for progress and stability. Research confirms that religious freedom in countries that honor and protect this right is associated with vibrant political democracy, rising economic and social well-being, and diminished tension and violence.
By contrast, nations that trample on religious freedom are more likely to be mired in poverty and insecurity, war and terror, and violent, radical extremism.
Simply put, violations of religious freedom often lead to violent religious extremism. Unfortunately, all too many governments either perpetrate or tolerate religious freedom abuses.
The U.S. signaled its intent to strengthen its championing of religious freedom overseas with the passage in 1998 of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), which created the commission on which I serve.
IRFA mandated the promotion and protection of religious freedom around the world as a central element of American foreign policy.
The Act was a response to the growing concern about religious persecution worldwide and the perception that religious freedom was an orphan human right on which the U.S. government was in adequately focused.
IRFA put into place several mechanisms to counter religious persecution abroad, including an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom within the Department of State and the bipartisan and independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
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Mr. John Allen
There are a n estimated 2.3 billion Christians in the world today, some two-thirds of whom live outside the West. That makes Christianity the largest religious tradition on the planet, representing one-third of the human population.
The zones of Christianity’s greatest expansion are in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. While the overall Christian population of Latin America has remained fairly constant, there has been tremendous movement from the majority Catholic tradition to Evangelical and Pentecostal churches.
Although the traditional Arab Christian population of the Middle East is in decline, there has been striking Christian growth in the Gulf States among expatriates drawn to work in the oil and domestic service industries. Note that Christianity’s expansion is thus occurring primarily in neighborhoods not always distinguished by a robust respect for religious freedom, which is one factor fueling what I’ve described as the “global war” on Christians.
The high-end estimate for the number of Christians killed for their faith every year in the early 21st century is 100,000, a number that comes from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, a Protestant institution with its main campus in Hamilton, Massachusetts.
Thomas Schirrmacher of the World Evangelical Alliance considers an estimate of 20 fatalities per day more realistic, which adds up to 7,300 a year.
American scholar Rodney Stark offers a lower estimate still, suggesting that pegging the total at a few hundred such deaths a year is probably the most realistic figure. The truth of the matter is that because motives for violence are often complex, and because it’s difficult to get independent observers on the ground in the most intense killing zones, the exact body count is impossible to establish. Note well, however, that the low-end estimate pegs the number of victims at one per day, while the high-end puts it at one per hour.
Note, too, that the threats are not confined to any one region or any one protagonist, but are global in scope and complex in origin.
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Ms. Tehmina Arora
India, in spite of its long tradition for religious tolerance, finds itself in the throes of religious fundamentalism and violence against religious minorities for the past few decades.
Reports by faith-based rights agencies show that Christians in India have suffered about 150 violent attacks on an average in the past few years. These attacks include physical and sexual assaults, murder and desecration of places of worship and graveyards.
Over the past five years, attacks have been reported across the country, though primarily concentrated in the states where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in power and where groups associated with his party have been active.
Violence is fuelled primarily by non-state actors who are guided by the Hindutva ideology, which sees India as a Hindu nation, where religious minorities are second class citizens.
To give you a recent example of violence, on January 10 (2014), a Christian pastor, Orucanti Sanjeevi, was brutally beaten in his home in Vikarabad near Hyderabad in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. According to media reports, Hindu extremists knocked on the door of the pastor’s house at about 8:30 p.m., claiming they wanted to pray with him. When his wife, Pramila, opened the door, they hit her with an iron rod and then stormed into the house. They stabbed the pastor, beat him with clubs and hit him on the head with the iron rod. His wife managed to run out and call for help. The pastor sustained severe injuries in the liver, intestines and spleen. He was rushed to a hospital but finally succumbed to his injuries on Jan. 13. The police later arrested some members of the Hindu Vahini group on charges of killing the pastor.
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Mr. Benedict Rogers
Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, Distinguished Members: may I firstly thank you very much for holding this hearing on this critically important subject, and pay tribute to your many years of leadership and activism, both on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world and for freedom of religion or belief for all.
My areas of expertise are Burma, Indonesia and North Korea, and I oversee the work of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in China, Vietnam and Laos. In the limited time available today, I intend to concentrate on Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos.
The first point I wish to emphasise is that in Christian Solidarity Worldwide, we work for freedom of religion or belief, as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for people of all faiths and none. Freedom of religion is indivisible and is a basic right to which all people, of all beliefs, in every country are entitled.
Secondly, it is important to note, in the context of the specific subject we are focusing on today, that other religious groups face severe persecution, including the Ahmadiyya and Shi’a Muslims in Indonesia, and the Rohingyas and wider Muslim community in Burma.
Nevertheless, it is absolutely the case that Christianity is the most widely persecuted religion in the world today, facing threats from a wide range of sources in almost every corner of the globe.
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Mr. Jorge Lee Galindo
Latin America is often overlooked in discussions of international religious freedom, yet serious violations of religious freedom regularly take place in the region, most notably in my own country, Mexico, but also in countries like Cuba and Colombia.
To understand the situation in Mexico, one must first understand the history of the country. Mexico was conquered by Spain in 1521. The different cultures which comprised what is known today as Mexico were made up of indigenous groups who practiced polytheistic religions.
The Spanish, for their part, were Catholic and believed in one God. Aside from the physical co nquest, this was also a religious conquest. The conquistadors attempted to turn the indigenous people to Catholicism, however many of the indigenous peoples held onto their beliefs and customs, fusing them with the Catholic religion that was imposed upon them.
This is why, in many communities in Mexico, the people are governed by what is termed ‘uses and customs’, taking precedence over civil law.
As protestant Christianity began to spread in the twentieth century, many people began to change, rejecting the festivals and pagancelebrations. This left the village authorities disgruntled because the spreading conversions brought with them a reduction in economic profits generated by the festivals.
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Khataza Gondwe, Ph.D.
The majority of Christians in sub Saharan Africa experience hostility, harassment, repression, restrictions or violence on account of their faith suffer as a result of two main sources. Firstly, there is a seeming proliferation of militant Islamist insurgencies that have taken advantage of pre-existing local issues, weak application of the rule of law, or vacuums caused by the chronic failure of state structures to establish strongholds. They temporarily appear to offer a dysfunctional form of stability, a religiosity underlined by violence to those in occupied areas who adhere to the vagaries of their restrictive interpretation of faith. Secondly, Christians suffer in countries led by authoritarian regimes whose governing political ideology or religious dogma includes an underlying hostility to pluralism in any form. An atmosphere where the slightest diverge nce from the official orthodoxy is interpreted as a challenge, and encourages the abuse of human rights in general and freedom of religion in particular.
The Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram and its off shoot Ansaru, provide the clearest example of the former trend. From its inception in 2002 when it was known locally as “the Taliban” or Yusufiyya after leader, Mohammed Yusuf, the group made it clear that Christians and symbols of the federal system were its primary targets. It was also made clear that the group’s aims were to be accomplished by violence. During 2003 and 2004, Boko Haram’s abortive uprisings directed violence at Christian and federal targets in Yobe State.
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