Jul 17, 2019

Freedom of Religion of Unrepresented Peoples in Spotlight


Threats to Freedom of Religion of Unrepresented Peoples to Be Highlighted by UNPO During 2nd Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.

From 16-18 July 2019, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will host the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington D.C. This high-level event brings together government representatives, religious leaders, survivors of religious persecution and members of civil society, and aims to provide encouraging and collaborative conversations addressing the challenges to religious freedom and promoting greater respect for freedom of religion and belief. The UNPO will be heavily engaged in the Ministerial highlighting the particular dangers that Unrepresented Peoples face in being able to freely practice their religion and urging the US government and the international community to focus on unrepresented peoples in their efforts to advance religious freedom worldwide.

Attacks on the freedom of religion of unrepresented peoples occur regularly around the world and occur to peoples of every major faith.

In Vietnam, government control and persecution threatens the ability of the Khmer Krom to practice their traditional strand of Buddhism. For Buddhists in Chinese-controlled Tibet, restrictions are even tighter as any form of distinct Tibetan identity is under heavy government control.

Muslim unrepresented peoples face similar challenges: Sunni minorities in Iran, such as the Ahwazi Arabs, Balochs and Iranian Kurds have all been subject to widespread opposition, repression and discrimination from the Iranian government. Sindhi Sufis in Pakistan face forced conversions as well as the destruction of their religious buildings. It is currently estimated that more than one million Uyghur Muslims are being detained in detention camps in China’s Xinjiang province in an effort to eradicate the Uyghurs’ religious identity.

Many Christian unrepresented peoples have also been affected by such repressive policies. Christian Assyrian communities in the Middle East have been systemically repressed, especially given the presence of ISIS over the past years. In Laos, Catholic Hmong communities suffer from extreme violence at the hands of the Laotian military, adding to their already marginalised position in society. West Papuan communities in Indonesia also suffer from government-sponsored violence and are facing treason charges for practicing religious activities.

Sindhi Hindus are facing increased violence including kidnappings for extortions, forced abductions, conversions of Hindu girls and forced servitude.

 

Because they are not properly represented at the national or international level by the government system in the state in which they reside, Unrepresented Peoples are particularly vulnerable:

  • Without adequate representation at the national level, national policy is often created without the needs or rights of unrepresented peoples in mind. In the worst cases, they may face extremely high levels of persecution.
  • Internationally, unrepresented peoples struggle to have their voices heard. Repressive regimes bend the rules of the international system and exercise violence and intimidation to keep them from being able to speak and seek accountability.
  • Even where gross violations of the right to freedom of religion are clear, the rights of unrepresented people are marginalized because of geopolitical strategies, preventing effective international pressure being levelled against the state perpetrators.

The UNPO will be highlighting these three systemic concerns during the Ministerial through three side-events, each focussing on one of the issues identified above, and urging the US government and the international community to focus on unrepresented peoples in their efforts to advance religious freedom worldwide.

 

The first side event, ‘The Mass Destruction and Desecration of Uyghur Mosques by China’, will discuss the destruction of thousands of Uyghur mosques by the Chinese Communist Party as a systematic campaign to wipe out Uyghur religious devotion, teaching and education, as well as community life and Uyghur identity itself. The Chinese government's bulldozing, closure, and other forms of desecration of sacred spaces is accompanied by the wholesale imprisonment of Imams, religious scholars and their families, as well as widely documented mass atrocities against millions of Uyghur men, women and children throughout East Turkestan. As the situation continues to deteriorate, the Ministerial event will address the determined effort that is necessary to ensure the right to religious freedom of Uyghur Muslims and end the extreme human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The second side event, ‘Compromised Space: How the UN is Becoming an Ever More Dangerous Place for Representatives of Religious and Other Minorities’, will focus on the enormous challenges that international human rights defenders face when engaging with international forums such as the UN on behalf of unrepresented peoples. Of particular concern is how restrictive the UN has become for representatives of religious minorities. The event at the Ministerial is held in the context of the recently launched Compromised Spaces: Bullying and Blocking at UN Mechanisms report, which emerged from the Unrepresented Diplomats project (2015-2017), a collaborative effort of the UNPO, the University of Oxford, the Tibet Justice Center and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Echoing its main findings, the Ministerial event will particularly address the harassment and intimidation that representatives of religious minorities face when carrying out UN advocacy work.

The third side event, titled ‘Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA): What Now?’, brings together policy makers, advocates and religious minority representatives to discuss how the international community can encourage tolerance and respect for religious freedom in Pakistan in light of its recent designation as a Country of Particular Concern. Religious minorities in Pakistan, including UNPO member peoples from Balochistan, Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan, all continue to face systematic violations of their freedom of religion. In particular, the abusive enforcement of Pakistan’s stringent blasphemy laws and the entry of fundamentalist religious parties into national politics has aggravated an already dire human rights situation of these religious minorities. Accordingly, the event at the Ministerial addresses these challenges to religious freedom in Pakistan, as well the impact of the CPC designation on US policy to Pakistan and its potential implications for EU policy with regards to Pakistan’s GSP+ preferential trade access regime.

 

Picture Courtesy of Indigenous Struggle

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The Mass Destruction and Desecration of Uyghur Mosques by China

16 July | 16:00 - 17:00

Second Stage, Marvin Center, George Washington University

Room 309, 800 21st Street NW, Washington, DC 20052

 

 

Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA): What now?

17 July 2019 | 10:00 - 11:00

Second Stage, Marvin Center, George Washington University

Continental Ballroom (3rd Floor), 800 21st St. NW, Washington, DC 20052

 

 

Compromised Space: How the UN is Becoming an Ever More Dangerous Place for Representatives of Religious and Other Minorities

 17 July 2019 | 11:00 - 12:00

Second Stage, Marvin Center, George Washington University

Continental Ballroom (3rd Floor), 800 21st St. NW, Washington, DC 20052

 

 

All three side events are open to the general public. RSVP/INFO: f.burges@unpo.org

 

The full program of the Ministerial and the program of all Second Stage side events can be found here:

 

Full program of the Ministerial

Program of all Second Stage side events