Defence of Western Values and Civilization in 2017

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Western civilization has entered a dangerous period of disarray. It is weakened internally by overindulgence and self-doubt, and besieged by forces hostile to its bedrock values of liberty and tolerance. The West can reverse the decline, though, by resolutely returning to its Christian roots

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If Western Christian civilization collapses, a brutal and pitiless world will take its place Western humanism has religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself. This civilization’s very survival now hangs on its ability to rediscover Christian truth and the values which it represents – and enable that truth to renew its eviscerated politics and tarnished institutions

Published by Geopolitical Intelligence Services https://www.gisreportsonline.com/

Defence of Western Values and Civilization in 2017  – David Alton   

Every generation faces new challenges – and as Europe gazes at the horrors of Aleppo and Mosul, or considers the challenges posed by resurgent nationalism – we are surely right to think of Flanders, Dresden, and Stalingrad.   

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Just one century ago, in humanity’s deadliest conflict, largely played out on Europe’s soil, 17 million lost their lives and another 20 million were wounded.     

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In 1919 the Irish Poet, W.B.Yeats, wrote his poem The Second Coming.    

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He describes a brutal, disintegrating, and chaotic world in which the falcon, the hunting hawk, loses touch with its keeper.       In place of Christianity, the agnostic Yeats asks “what rough beast, its hour come round at last/ Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”  

With Western values and Western civilisation caught in a pincer movement between radical Islam and hollowed-out secular liberal institutions, have we, too, lost touch with the keeper?  Are rough beasts slouching towards us, dressed in the garb of new nationalisms?   

In 1919, Yeats foresaw a pitiless much harsher world which will replace Christian civilisation. A world in which “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;     Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.  The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned”    

Looking back at 2016 we see a world of rough beasts, where things are falling apart, and where the centre has failed to hold. From the rhetoric of Donald J.Trump to the rise of new nationalism – expressed by the likes of Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders and Beppe Grillo – the evidence is all around us.

And, like Yeats’ rough beasts, this xenophobia has found its point of entry because the centre failed to understand the depth of disaffection felt by millions of people and has failed to renew itself.

The battle is afoot but it is not yet lost and in 2017 the task of safeguarding civilised values will pass from liberal elites to Angela Merkel and François Fillon – and to their English cousin, once removed, Teresa May. All three are shaped by Christian faith and all three (despite and because of Mrs.Merkel’s handling of mass migration) understand the dangerous levels of alienation.

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On becoming British Prime Minister, Mrs.May, a Vicar’s daughter, said she had a “mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone”.

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In eschewing class warfare, Marxist economics, and Statist elitism, they are heirs of Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman, all Christian Democrats winnowed by the horrific events that had calamitously befallen Europe for a second time.

maritain

In turn, those post-war leaders had been shaped by the ideals of Jacques Maritain, the French Catholic philosopher. Maritain’s lodestar is captured in the title of one of his greatest works: “The Person and the Common Good” (1947). Maritain reflected that “Western humanism has religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself…Not only does the democratic state of mind stem from the inspiration of the Gospel, but it cannot exist without it.”

Maritain knew that a radical self-centredness, that elevated the individual or the State, rather than the person made in God’s likeness, would corrupt Europe. He held that we do not need a truth to serve us, we need a truth that we can serve. In these cavalier “post truth” days, the ninth commandment is honoured daily in its breach.

Think of the untruths routinely trotted out in the British referendum campaign or the US election: little wonder that people have lost confidence in the political classes. Discourse has been reduced to personal attacks; argument over ideas to banal sloganeering; complex questions, ranging from migration, refugees, and freedom of movement to xenophobic nationalism and the scapegoating of difference.

Disinformation, propaganda and false news fill the echo chambers of the anti-social media. Worse still, everything has to be said sound bites or in 140 characters – or it isn’t worth saying. This is re-enforced by a media which distorts, dishonours and revels in people’s failings. When we hack down all the trees, from where are the birds supposed to sing in the future? Disillusionment and the breakdown of trust in the political classes has led to voters – from Brexit to Clinton/Trump – making it clear that they do not trust “expert” opinion. 

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In the UK, the serial banking failures, such as HBOS and HSBC, the failure of managers to take responsibility for shocking lapses, the phone hacking scandal, the collapse of trust in MPs and many others, all points to why the centre is not holding. Instead of ethical leadership we are confronted by poor governance, lack of accountability, regulation found wanting, insufficient boundaries and the connivance of those in authority, who should have known better. Little wonder folk feel betrayed.

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Edmund Burke laid great emphasis on the transmission of values from one generation to the next, talking of a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”.

How many feel part of such a partnership? How many know the story of how Western civilisation was formed? Do we know the price that was paid for what we enjoy? Do we cherish and hold in trust what we have been given? Do we pass on our values and beliefs with a mother’s breast milk? A year after Maritain wrote “The Person and the Common Good” Eleanor Roosevelt helped bring to birth the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust this was a landmark annunciation of what western civilisation believed it stood for. But from what well was this water drawn? Its radical attempt at universal application was rooted in the Pauline injunction that “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one”.

Meanwhile, as angry, intolerant atheists seek to purge all public reference to religious faith, Maritain’s belief that our civilisation has “religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself” is just as hotly contested.

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In the nineteenth century, Émile Durkheim questioned how a society can remain cohesive when traditional social and religious ties can no longer be assumed. Whether, in these years of disillusionment and crisis of civilisation, we can rediscover and defend Christian truth and the values which it represents – and enable that truth to renew our eviscerated politics and tarnished institutions (from banks to legislatures) – is surely the question for our time: especially in a world caught between these twin dangers of radical Islam and hostile atheism. Many atheists work to tear Christianity from the fabric of our societies. But they should be careful about what they wish for – and of what will be lost.   

As The Guardian newspaper correctly observed in May of this year: “The idea that people have some rights just because they are human, and entirely irrespective of merit, certainly isn’t derived from observation of the world. It arose out of Christianity, no matter how much Christians have in practice resisted it. Although human rights have become embedded in our institutions at the same time as religious observance has been in decline, they could become vulnerable in an entirely post-Christian environment where the collective memory slips from the old moorings inherited from Christian ethics.”

Along with the development of human rights the Christian faith has also radically shaped politics, governance, and social activism.  For much of the last seventy years Christian Democracy – whether called by that name or not – has informed the best of our politics.

christian-democracy

It defied Nazism and Communism and with its emphasis on social justice, subsidiarity and solidarity, has offered an alternative to unfettered market economics and hedonism. Today it represents the best hope of defeating resurgent nationalism and safeguarding western civilisation. Indeed, for most of the last two millennia Christianity has underpinned the whole edifice of Western culture and, notwithstanding some of the things done in the name of religion, Christianity has been a stabilizing and unifying force, demanding better of us, and safeguarding tradition. Combined with Hellenistic ideals and Roman law, Judaeo-Christian beliefs have shaped our western civilisation.

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The Oxford historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, rightly says that religion is “a force that shaped the English soul” – a sentiment that has applicability throughout Europe.

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In November, speaking in Paris, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt.Revd.Justin Welby, said: “Values emerge from histories of interaction and are rooted in stories of virtue, above all in Europe the stories of the Judaeo Christian tradition”. 

It is not too great a claim to say that this tradition and the efforts of the Church, both as an intermediary and as an institution, have provided the glue for many of our democracies. At its best the Christian faith gave birth to some of our most important centres of learning, to the upholding of God-given Commandments, to a belief in the dignity of man, to social solidarity, to the cultivation of the virtues, and to the promotion of the common good. In the UK, in the nineteenth century, significant Christian men and women, such as William Wilberforce, in galvanising the opposition to slavery, Lord Shaftesbury, in demanding an end to the exploitation of children in factories, Elizabeth Fry in promoting prison reform, and Cardinal Henry Manning and William Booth, by reaching out to the masses, used their values to shape their deeds and to improve the common lot.

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In the twentieth century, Christianity produced the courageous defiance of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Claus Graf von Stauffenberg, and Maximillian Kolbe. It gave us the Christian Democratic leaders who reconstructed Western Europe and, later, the dissenting Christians of Eastern Europe – such as John Paul II and Lech Walesa – whose actions ushered in radical change.

john paul IIdietrich-bonhoeffer

 

By contrast, in the twenty-first century, we are far more likely to say that Christians should remain silent about their faith – or risk ridicule or dismissal from their workplace. And to what does this lead? Instead of upholding the sanctity of every life we are, for instance, far more likely to dismiss a midwife (as happened in Scotland) for refusing to abort a baby; or tell a mother with a Down’s Syndrome child that she should abort it, rather than provide love and practical support; far more like to say to a Dutch alcoholic that he should be euthanized rather than help him conquer his addiction.

Paradoxically, the liberal elites who promote eugenics and are so hostile to religious beliefs, drive people – many of whom live in the “rust belt” urban communities of Europe and who refuse to accept this paradigm – into the hands of the very forces they claim to avowedly oppose. And in these circumstances, as Yeats foresaw, “the centre will not hold.”

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As these neo-pagan values take a grip, and attempts are made to deliberately de-Christianise Europe, we step into the unknown. Perhaps not entirely the unknown. Marx, after all, denounced the opiate of religion while Lenin said that to even postulate the existence of God was “an unspeakable abomination and a detestable plague”. Nietzsche pronounced God’s funeral rites: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? ….Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Those Marxist-Leninist societies shaped on God’s funeral pyre are hardly a hopeful indicator of life without Christianity or God. Nor are the attempt to make men into gods rather than by cultivating a relationship between God and humanity or by building a bridge between faith and reason.

The obligate, symbiotic nature of the relationship between society and Christianity is well illustrated by Einstein’s famous maxim about science and religion: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”  Today we are more likely to echo Christopher Hitchens:  “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory…To ‘choose’ dogma and faith over doubt and experience is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid…. God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was quite the other way about.”

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Yet, many people instinctively see the burial of God as a loss – both to us as individuals and to society as a whole. They comprehend the truth of the remark in Dostoyevsky’s great novel The Brothers Karamazov that “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” Whilst, to make a point, that may be over-stating the case, it has a certain resonance today – especially in the virtual world of the internet – where you can incite hatred and promote everything from suicide sites to bomb making.

With our failure to mind the gaps in society this is spawning a crisis of confidence and a crisis of values. The hollowing out of our institutions and our loss of identity is leading to a crisis of civilisation. All around us we can hear the distress calls but too often we stay silent rather than jeopardise our economic or political interests. And into this crisis of Western Values now steps radical Islam and Jihadism. Inspired by Judaeo-Christian ideals, the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is emblematic of what the West stands for. Smell the coffee, its values are not the values of the Islamists or Jihadists.

In 1948 Saudi Arabia declined to sign the Declaration stating that it was incompatible with Sharia law –detecting both its Judaeo-Christian inspiration and its acceptability to a secular world. Countries like Pakistan (influenced by its far sighted leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and Iran did sign.

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M.A.Jinnah – Pakistan’s Founder, who called for a State which respected and protected its minorities and gave them equal rights.

But by 1982 Iran’s representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, said the Declaration was “a secular understanding of the Judaeo-Christian tradition” which Muslims could not implement without being in conflict with Sharia. 

So, despite the conflict between Sunnis and Shias, Saudi Arabia and Iran, here is something that unites them. And what kind of world does this create? Last year Iran’s brutal theocratic regime executed 1,000 people. Iran’s values can be characterised by executions, stonings, torture, restrictions, arrest, conviction, imprisonment, harassment, interrogation, solitary confinement, floggings, and by the denial of political, social and religious freedoms. Hundreds of human rights defenders and political prisoners continue to be detained in Iran.

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Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, a young female Iranian author and human rights activist is languishing in jail having been given a six year prison sentence for writing an unpublished novel about stoning. A Christian Pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, and three others, have been arrested on charges of action against national security. Three of them face charges related to consumption of alcohol for drinking wine during a communion service.

They were each sentenced to 80 lashes—a barbaric and inhumane punishment. Iranian theocracy and Saudi Wahhabism both threaten western civilisation and values today. Their ideologies underpin every Islamist group, with devastating consequences for millions of people worldwide.  In Saudi, Wahhabism determines the value placed on a woman’s evidence in a Sharia court; refuses to accept a person’s right to change their religious beliefs (or to be atheists); uses barbaric punishments; publically flogs and beheads citizens.  Honour killings, enslavement, arranged marriages, and such like, that follow in its wake, are all incompatible with western values.

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These practices also run counter to the beliefs of many Muslims and Islamic supremacism is not, of course, the only way of interpreting Islam – and is rejected by millions of Muslims. Yet it does lead to jihadist violence. Yet, instead of understanding the catastrophic consequences of Saudi’s spending of almost $100 billion on exporting global Wahhabism, we go on feeding the crocodiles.

The idea that ISIS, Boko Haram, and the rest, are nothing to do with Wahhabi Islam is a blatant lie. Yet we are wilfully ignoring this axis and are told that great progress is being made because Saudi Arabia might one day let women drive a car and may remove some of its hate mongering from school text books.

Even more dangerously, we continue to naively suggest that Saudi is our key counterterrorism ally. Recall that fifteen of the nineteen jihadists involved in the slaughter of 9/11 were Saudis. Here is a Janus face that feigns moderation when talking to the west but promotes fundamentalism; that says it opposes terror while exporting its ideology.

Saudi warns the West that we will be far worse off if Jihadists take control of their wealth and oil but then does precious little to challenge or reform the precepts that give rise to this threat.   What is driving this foolishness? Here’s one clue.

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Britain alone, in the period since the conflict in the Yemen began, has sold £3.3 billion of arms to Saudi. This is a world in which everything has a price and where values count for nothing. 2017 will continue to throw these contested views into sharp relief.

Western civilisation is clearly under threat from those who, by force, wish to promote Islamist supremacism. That in turn threatens our values of mutual respect, coexistence, democracy, diversity, equality, human rights, and the rule of secular law. To defeat this threat we urgently need to remember who we are and what made us who we are. And, in the presence of Yeats’ rough beasts, and a centre that has not held, we might pause and reflect for a moment on how things will turn out unless, in our generation, we learn to defend our Western values and our civilisation.

Professor David Alton is an Independent Crossbench Peer

Church Silence, The Nazis, And the BBC.

https://cruxnow.com/commentary/2016/12/11/bbc-owes-us-truth-church-nazis/

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/12/09/bbc-admits-it-underestimated-the-churchs-opposition-to-hitler/

http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/6509/0/bbc-admits-it-was-wrong-to-claim-catholic-church-stood-silent-as-nazis-attempted-to-eradicate-jews-from-europe-

 

The BBC and A Question of Truth

David Alton

In a significant finding, the British Broadcasting Corporation has conceded that in their main evening news bulletin, seen by millions, it falsely described the Church as being ‘silent’ in the face of Nazism and that it has not reported correctly on the Church’s opposition to Hitler.

The finding was made by the BBC’s internal watchdog after Fr.Leo Chamberlain and I jointly lodged a complaint. Fr.Chamberlain, a Benedictine, is a historian and former headmaster of Ampleforth College.

The broadcast was made last July during a visit to Auschwitz by Pope Francis. The reporter stated as fact that Silence was the response of the Catholic Church when Nazi Germany demonised Jewish people and then attempted to eradicate Jews from Europe”. 

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After several unsuccessful attempts to seek a correction we felt that we had no choice but to make a formal complaint to the Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU). We presented a dossier of material – all of it publically available to any reporter.

Having studied this, the ECU said that, in their judgment, the news report had not given “ due weight to public statements by successive Popes or the efforts made on the instructions of Pius XII to rescue Jews from Nazi persecution, and perpetuated a view which is at odds with the balance of evidence.”

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Ironically, part of the BBC report came from St Maximilian Kolbe’s cell at Auschwitz. St Maximilian, was executed after taking the place of another prisoner. He had been arrested for publishing a denunciation of the Nazis in his magazine, Knight, which had a circulation of around one million people. Hardly silence, then.

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Nor was silence the response of the 6,066 Poles (overwhelmingly Catholic) who have been officially recognised in Israel as Righteous Among the Nations, for their role in saving the lives of Polish Jews.

One charitable interpretation of the Auschwitz report was that it was a sloppy, lazy, throw-away remark – indicative of the sort of religious illiteracy that can cause so much offence; and part of a blurring between the straightforward reporting of news and the desire to add some melodrama to spice it up. Don’t let facts or truth spoil a good story.

Less charitably, the BBC report may be seen as the simply latest example of a long running attempt to rewrite history.

To put this falsification right the BBC should now commission a documentary examining where the rewriting of history had its genesis.

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They should start with The Deputy, published in 1963, by the German writer, Rolf Hochhuth and which set out to trash the reputation of Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church.

As Fr.Chamberlain points out, Hochhuth was an unknown figure from East Germany who was increasingly seen as an instrument of KGB disinformation. The umbrella tip murder, in London of a Soviet dissident, the poisoning of  Litvinenko  with polonium; the attempted assassination of St John Paul II by a Bulgarian agent working for the KGB; and the increasingly accepted revelations in 1978 of General Ion Pacepa, Romanian Securitate and defector, are hardly the stuff of paranoid conspiracy theories.

 

Pacepa stated that reports that General Ivan Agayants, Chief of the KGB’s disinformation department, created the outline for the book characterizing the Pope as a Nazi sympathizer.

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The Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev, authorised Operation Seat 12 as a Cold War disinformation campaign designed to discredit the moral authority of the Vatican. Of Pius XII, Operation Seat 12 said “Dead men cannot defend themselves.”

 

The Cold War may be over but fortunately, careful and objective research does provide plenty of evidence in the case for the defence.

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Dr.John Frain, an academic, and one time constituent of mine, provided a meticulous account in his book “The Cross And The Third Reich – Catholic Resistance In The Nazi Era”, for which I wrote the introduction.

 

Here are the stories of Erich Klausner, the General Secretary of Germany’s Catholic Action, who was shot dead; Adelbert Prost, Director of the Catholic Youth Sports Association, also murdered; Fritz Gerlich, a Catholic journalist murdered at Dachau (known as “the priests’ camp “because 2,670 priests from around 20 countries were held there: 600 died at Dachau and another 325 died during “transport of invalids”.

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We are reminded of the arrest of Catholic politicians, the suppression of Catholic political activity, the confiscation of church property and the suppression of over 200 Catholic publications.

 

In 1931 there were around 21,000 Catholic priests in Germany and over 8,000 of them, one third, clashed with the Reich and several hundred were eliminated by the Reich.

 

As Dr.Frain once said to me: “how can any of these facts ever be made to sound like complicity?”

 

Page after page of his book refutes the libel that the Church was silent, docile or indifferent when confronted with Nazism.

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Of the cottage industry of detractors which has grown up around Pius XII recall that it was Rabbi David Dalin who describes such books as “Best sellers made out of bad history”.

 

Rabbi Dalin says that “The truth about Pius XII must be restored.”

Pinchas Lapide

Pinchas Lapide, an historian and Israeli consul, said that Pius XII “was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands.”

 

After the War, Pius was thanked by survivors of the Holocaust and tributes included one from Israel’s first President, Chaim Weizmann and Isaac Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Israel. Rome’s Chief Rabbi, Israel Zolli, became a Catholic and took the Pope’s name as a tribute to him.

 

At the time of his death, in 1958, Golda Meir said “When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims.” The Jewish Chronicle recorded: “Confronted by the monstrous cruelties of Nazism, Fascism and Communism, he repeatedly proclaimed the virtues of humanity and compassion…many hundreds of fugitive Jews found sanctuary in the Vatican by the Nazis. Such actions will always be remembered.”

 

One of the most telling refutations of Vatican indifference to the rise of Nazism and the appalling events of the Holocaust came from Albert Einstein who had escaped from Nazi Germany. In 1940 he said: “only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth…I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.”

 einstein

Some may not be able to bring themselves to Einstein’s conclusion – but they – and especially the BBC and other broadcasters – should at least examine the whole story rather than endlessly repeat the one they may wish to be true.

 

The BBC has always seen itself as an upholder of truth. The report that it has now judged to have been false came from the very place where Maximillian Kolbe was executed. He had written that “No one in the world can change truth, and beyond the hecatombs of the extermination camps, of what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are defeated in our innermost personal selves”.

 

In this “post truth” era perhaps every broadcaster and reporter should have Fr.Kolbe’s words placed above their desks.

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Alfred Delp

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For speaking in open opposition to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime from his position as Rector of St George Church in Munich, Alfred Delp (1907–1945) was arrested and condemned to die. The words that emerged from the prison cell of this condemned Jesuit priest, in letters and meditations smuggled out of the prison or distributed to other prisoners, exhort readers to maintain their Christian faith through action. This, Delp points out, is the only remedy against future reigns of terror. Knowing that his execution was imminent, Delp revealed through his writings his struggles and fears, his quest for true peace and trust in the will of God, and his great confidence in the virtue of defending the right even in the face of death.  Delp’s words serve as an inspiration and guide to Christians today not only to find a deeper relationship with their Maker, but also to display fruits of this relationship in their daily lives. This Advent reflection appears at

http://www.plough.com/en/topics/culture/holidays/christmas-readings/the-shaking-reality-of-advent

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alfred-delp-quote

 

 

 

Iran Today – Executions, Stonings, Torture, Restrictions, Arrest, Conviction, Imprisonment, Harassment, Interrogation, Solitary Confinement, Floggings, Denial of Political, Social and Religious Freedoms – all raised during Parliamentary Debate.

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

02 February 2017


Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

My Lords, in addition to the cruel and manipulative treatment of this family by the Iranian authorities, which were responsible for more than 1,000 executions in one recent year, including women and teenagers, is the Minister aware that predatory attempts have been made to extract money from Nazanin’s husband Richard by so-called intermediaries preying on their sense of desperation? Can the Minister add to what she told us a moment ago and say when our consular officials last saw Nazanin and also tell the House what she can about the other three British citizens who are being held in Iranian jails?

My Lords, I have read newspaper reports of the appalling attempt to gain money from the family, which the noble Lord has just described, but they are newspaper reports—I personally do not have details of that. It is a fact that those who are dual nationals face significant problems if they are detained in Iran, because we do not have consular access to them. We can ask, but we cannot insist—although it does not stop us continuing to ask. As recently as this Tuesday, my honourable friend Tobias Ellwood met Mr Ratcliffe to update him on what happened when Tobias visited Tehran earlier in January. Officials met the family recently and Tobias also met the family when he was in Tehran. Those meetings will continue, because our only intent is to resolve this issue in a positive way for the family.

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To read to full debate, go to:
https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2016-12-08/debates/1117FCF0-EE8C-4A7A-BED2-DE9108AD65DC/IranHumanRights

http://ncr-iran.org/en/news/human-rights/21762-uk-parliament-condemned-the-wave-of-executions-in-iran

Speech made in the House of Lords….

 4.48 pm December 8th 2016
Human Rights Violations in Iran

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Afshar has set the scene powerfully and eloquently for today’s important debate, not least because her own deep personal experiences and knowledge of Iran equip her so admirably to do so.

On 17 November, a symposium was held in your Lordships’ House, looking at the human rights situation in Iran. It was organised by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. During that symposium, I pointed out, as my noble friend has just done, that Iran had been one of the 48 countries that voted for the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights—although notably, not least in the light of the Foreign Secretary’s recent speech, Saudi Arabia did not. But, by 1982, Iran’s representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, said that Iran had come to see the declaration as a,

“secular understanding of the Judaeo-Christian tradition”,

which Iran could not implement without being in conflict with sharia law.

Today, Iran is in breach of most of the declaration’s 30 articles. But here is the hopeful thing: many Iranians do not want these egregious violations of human rights to continue. A 10-point manifesto published by the NCRI’s president, Maryam Rajavi, sets out a programme which would transform Iran.

Maryam Rajavi

In it she states her commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to other international instruments. She calls for the abolition of the death penalty, the creation of a modern legal system and the independence of judges. The manifesto says:

“Cruel and degrading punishments will have no place in the future Iran”.

Madam Rajavi would end Tehran’s funding of Hamas, Hezbollah and other militant groups and is committed to peaceful coexistence, relations with all countries and respect for the United Nations charter.

All this matters because it is clear that this ancient nation, a cradle of civilisation, should not be caricatured as being wedded to the fanaticism, intolerance and hatred promoted by many of Iran’s present leaders. An Iran that upheld respect for difference and promoted toleration, democracy, diversity, equality, human rights and the rule of secular law would be an Iran respected and honoured throughout the world. Instead of which, let us be clear about the nature of a brutal regime, which last year executed 1,000 people.
iran-stoning-and-execution

The Home Office country guidance published in March is a damning indictment. It says:

“Human rights defenders in detention are subject harassment, interrogation, solitary confinement, denied access to adequate medical treatment, face and torture … Freedom of speech is limited … and those critical of the government may be subject to arrest, harassment, monitoring, detention, unfair trials, death threats and torture”.

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office report notes that:

“Hundreds of human rights defenders and political prisoners continued to be … detained in Iran”.

In February 2015, the United Nations Secretary-General reported that:

“Human rights defenders, lawyers, students and women’s rights activists, journalists and trade unionists … continue to face restrictions, arrest, conviction and imprisonment for exercising their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression and opinion”.
Just over a week ago the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, pointed to what he called “the unspeakable suffering” of the country’s children, with 10,000 children now dead in Syria

In October, Ban Ki-moon delivered a further damning assessment, highlighting the “alarming rate” of executions, and saying that little progress had been made under President Hassan Rouhani. The US State Department’s annual report on human rights practices notes:

“The law limits freedom of speech, including by members of the press”,

and that individuals were not permitted to,

“criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion”.

Freedom House says in its 2016 annual report:

“The judicial system is used as a tool to silence critics and opposition members”.

iran-human-rights2
The position of LGBT and women’s rights activists, who are treated as “enemies of the state”, is downright appalling. In August, it was reported that the Iranian authorities had intensified their repression of women’s rights activists in the country, carrying out a series of harsh interrogations and likening any collective initiative relating to women’s rights to criminal activity. Women in Iran are subject to pervasive discrimination in both law and practice, including in areas concerning marriage, divorce, child custody, freedom of movement, employment and access to political office. Women and girls are inadequately protected against domestic and other violence, including early and forced marriage and marital rape. Compulsory “veiling”—hijab—laws empower police and paramilitary forces to regularly target women, including through harassment, violence and imprisonment.

iran-golrokh-ebrahimi-iraee

In October, the Independent reported on the case of Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, a young female Iranian author and human rights activist who has been jailed for six years for writing an unpublished novel about stoning.

iran-mansoureh_behkish2iran-maryam-akbari-monfared

Then there is the case of Maryam Akbari Monfared, who is serving a 15-year sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. She is being denied access to medical treatment and is facing reprisals after filing a formal complaint that seeks an official investigation into the mass killings of political prisoners, including her siblings, in the summer of 1988, evidence of which has been seen by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Simultaneously, the human rights defender Mansoureh Behkish is facing trumped-up national security charges for peacefully defending the right to truth and justice concerning those mass killings of political prisoners, including her siblings and brother-in-law.

iran-women
Think, too, about the massive violations of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to believe, not to believe or to change your belief. On 30 November, a group of 19 human rights organisations called on the international community and United Nations to particularly protect the rights of Christians in Iran. This reinforces the findings of the Westminster all-party inquiry into Article 18 issues in Iran, in which I participated last year. After taking evidence and witness statements, the committee concluded:

“Sadly, we have been disappointed that”,

Hassan Rouhani’s,

“positive promises and moderate language have not translated into any meaningful improvement”.

Many of the report’s recommendations apply to Iran’s other suffering religious minorities, such as the Baha’is, Sufi dervishes and Sunni Muslims.
iran-sufi-dervishes

That the situation has not improved in the intervening 12 months is illustrated by the cases of Ramiel Bet Tamraz, Mohamad Dehnay, Amin Nader Afshar, Hadi Askary and Amir Sina Dasht.

iran-five-missing-christians-in-iran

 

During the summer they went fishing and to have a picnic with their wives and friends. Security officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security raided the picnic and arrested the five men, detaining them in the notorious Evin prison. One is an ethnic Assyrian but the other men are Iranian converts from Islam, and it is believed that their arrest and detention relates to their Christian faith. Vast sums of money are required for bail and two of them remain incarcerated awaiting trial, unable to raise the bail money.
iran-christian-pastor-youcef-nadarkhani-and-his-familyiran-christians-threatened-with-flogging-for-drinking-holy-communion
Take also the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and three others, all arrested on charges of action against national security. Three of them face charges related to consumption of alcohol for drinking wine during a communion service. After a court hearing on 10 September, they were each sentenced to 80 lashes—a barbaric and inhumane punishment. Their appeal hearing is scheduled for 9 February.

iran-bahaisiran-farhang-amiri
Take, too, the position of Baha’is. Repression against them has accelerated in the past few months, not least during the celebration of their religious festivals. The Iranian state has recalibrated its long-standing tactics in pursuit of its ideological goal of extirpating a viable Baha’i community in the land of its birth through economic means. Can the Minister comment when she comes to reply on the closure of Baha’i businesses and on the hate crimes that led in September, in an appalling act of violence, to Farhang Amiri, aged 63, being murdered outside his home. A Baha’i, he was stabbed to death by two men, who admitted they had attacked him because of his religious beliefs.

nazanin-zaghari-ratcliffe
Finally, what about the case that my noble friend raised, of the Iranian-British charity worker, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. In September, the Iranian regime sentenced her, as we heard, to five years’ imprisonment. On 6 September, I raised her case on the Floor of your Lordships’ House. Indeed, many other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Beith, who is in his seat, the noble Lords, Lord Cotter, Lord Bruce and Lord Campbell, have also made representations on her behalf. I ask again today about her physical and mental health and that of her little daughter and, as my noble friend Lady Afshar asked, about consular access. Can the Minister tell us what progress we are making in securing her release and say something more generally about the position of dual nationals in Iran?

To conclude, contrary to promises of reforms and a more open society made by Hassan Rouhani when he took over the presidency almost four years ago, the human rights situation in Iran continues to deteriorate on very many fronts. Britain has restored diplomatic relations with Iran. My noble friend’s question enables us to ask today: how are we using that leverage, and what priority are we giving, to promote human rights in this deeply repressive country?

iran-silencedietrich-bonhoeffer

December and January – Questions Raised in Parliament – Pakistan/Burma’s Rohingyas/Sudan/North Korea/ Hong Kong/ Egypt/Saudi Arabia/ Murder in Aleppo/ 25 Killed Outside Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral/ – Petition to protest at UK’s Banning of Bishops. #RedWednesday -House of Commons Debate and House of Lords Questions on Genocide. The ‘Religious Freedom in the World’ 2016 report’ launched at Westminster – Bipartisan approval of new religious Freedom Law in the US – “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil…not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

 

 

Burma – Ministerial relies on Rohingya – click here:

 

 

PAKISTAN

Pakistan

Lord Bates, the Department for International Development, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4306):

Question: Lord Alton of Liverpool


To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Bates on 5 December (HL3360), what consideration was given by the Department for International Development to other international and local assessments of the implementation of the 2006 national curriculum by the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. (HL4306)

Tabled on: 20 December 2016

Answer:
Lord Bates:

The Department for International Development has taken into consideration a number of reports over recent years which have looked, in part, at implementation of the 2006 national curriculum. These include the November 2011 report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, ‘Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan’. The Department is currently supporting the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to review its textbooks with the aim of improving overall quality and reducing all forms of bias. This work will be completed by March 2018.

Date and time of answer: 05 Jan 2017 at 16:00.

Lord Bates, the Department for International Development, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4307):

Question: Lord Alton of Liverpool


To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Bates on 5 December (HL3360), whether, as part of the independent assessment, Urdu books were studied by speakers of Urdu; and if so, which books. (HL4307)

Tabled on: 20 December 2016

Answer:
Lord Bates:

The independent assessment completed in 2013 by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, ‘An Overview of Curriculum Reform’, looked at the policy implications for government stemming from the new 2006 curriculum. It did not focus specifically on textbooks. The November 2011 report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, ‘Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan’, looked in more detail at textbooks, including Urdu textbooks for Grades 1 to 10 across Pakistan. The Sustainable Development Policy Institute, a Pakistani think tank organisation, which carried out this review of textbooks for the Commission, used a team of Pakistani Urdu-speaking nationals.

Date and time of answer: 05 Jan 2017 at 15:59.

Lord Bates, the Department for International Development, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4309):

Question: Lord Alton of Liverpool


To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Bates on 5 December (HL3360), what assessment they have made of reports that the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has offered Rs 150 million of British aid funding to the Islamic religious seminary Darul Uloom Haqqani. (HL4309)

Tabled on: 20 December 2016

Answer:
Lord Bates:

The Islamic religious seminary Darul Uloom Haqqani receives funding from the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Department of Auqaf and Minority Affairs, however, no UK funding has been provided to that Department. All UK financial support to education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is made through the Elementary and Secondary Education Department in support of the government’s five-year Education Sector Plan.

Date and time of answer: 05 Jan 2017 at 15:58.

Lord Bates, the Department for International Development, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4308):

Question: Lord Alton of Liverpool


To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Bates on 5 December (HL3360), what assessment they have made of the impact on the education of students from religious minorities of reductions by the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the budget reserved for religious minorities. (HL4308)

Tabled on: 20 December 2016

Answer:
Lord Bates:

DFID has not undertaken an assessment of the impact of budget cuts by the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on the education of students from religious minorities. Cuts were reported to have been made by the Department of Auqaf and Minority Affairs for the financial year 2016/17, reducing the funding available for textbooks and fees for pupils attending Christian schools. All UK financial support to education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is made through the Elementary and Secondary Education Department in support of the government’s five-year Education Sector Plan which supports government schools attended by pupils of all religious backgrounds. No UK funding goes to the Department of Auqaf and Minority Affairs.

Date and time of answer: 05 Jan 2017 at 15:35. Lord Bates, the Department for International Development, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4305):

Question: Lord Alton of Liverpool


To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Bates on 5 December (HL3360), which organisation or agency independently assessed that the implementation of the 2006 national curriculum by the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was based on the values of democracy, pluralism and peace. (HL4305)

Tabled on: 20 December 2016

Answer:
Lord Bates:

The assessment was provided in the review undertaken by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit. This is a German development organisation, commonly known as GIZ and owned by the German government. The September 2013 review, ‘An Overview of Curriculum Reform’, examined the implementation of the 2006 national curriculum across Pakistan.

Date and time of answer: 05 Jan 2017 at 15:32.

 Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Pakistan following reports of a raid on the Ahmadi community headquarters in Rabwah.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We are aware of reports of the raid on the Ahmadiyya office in Pakistan. The Government strongly condemns the persecution of all minorities, including the targeting of people based on their beliefs. Our concerns are reflected in the latest update to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office annual human rights report.

The Government regularly raises our concerns about the protection of minority communities, including religious minorities, with the Pakistani Government at a senior level. During his visit to Pakistan in November, the Foreign Secretary, my Rt Hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Mr. Johnson) raised religious tolerance and the importance of safeguarding the rights of all Pakistan’s citizens. The Government continues to urge Pakistan to honour in practice its human rights obligations, including those related to religious minorities, and to uphold the rule of law.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the attack on 12 December on the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Dolmial, in the district of Chakwai, Pakistan; and what representations they have made to the government of Pakistan about the treatment of Ahmadiyyas.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We condemn the attack on the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Chakwal on 12 December. The Government strongly condemns the persecution of all minorities, including the targeting of people based on their beliefs. Our concerns are reflected in the latest update to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office annual human rights report.

The Government regularly raises our concerns about the protection of minority communities, including religious minorities, with the Pakistani Government at a senior level. During his visit to Pakistan in November, the Foreign Secretary, my Rt Hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Mr Johnson), raised religious tolerance and the importance of safeguarding the rights of all Pakistan’s citizens. The Government continues to urge Pakistan to honour in practice its human rights obligations, including those related to religious minorities, and to uphold the rule of law.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answers by Lord Bates on 17 November (HL2963, 2965, 2966, 3010 and 3077) concerning religious freedom and education in Pakistan, what assessment they have made of the policies implemented in the Khyber Province in this regard.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The DFID-funded Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Support Programme is assisting the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to develop policies to address inequality and improve educational outcomes for all children in the province. The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa implements the 2006 national curriculum which has been independently assessed to be based on the values of democracy, pluralism and peace. DFID is also supporting the government to revise its textbooks which will include replacing any content that promotes prejudice and discrimination against religious or other minorities.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have discussed with the government of Pakistan the incidence of children from minority backgrounds failing to complete their education and leaving without qualifications as a consequence of discrimination and negative attitudes towards minorities and its impact on poverty in Pakistan.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

According to UNESCO Pakistan has the second highest number of out of school children globally. DFID Pakistan’s education programmes work with the provincial governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to increase enrolment and reduce the number of children out of school. We are concerned about every child that is out of school, whatever the reason for them being out of school. The Governments that we work with are committed to ensure that every child is able to go to school and to stay in school and we work with them to make that happen. Since 2011 UK Aid has benefitted 6.8 million children in primary education. DFID’s national education campaign, Alif Ailaan, highlights and campaigns on key educational issues such as out of school children and learning outcomes for the poor and most marginalised.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have raised with the government of Pakistan their duties under Articles 22 (1) and 25 (1) of the Constitution of Pakistan concerning freedom of religion in schools and equality, and whether British aid to Pakistan is being used to strengthen these legal protections for minorities.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The UK Government strongly condemns the persecution of all minorities, including the targeting of innocent people based on their beliefs. The UK Government raises human rights issues and the rights of religious minorities on a regular basis at the highest levels in Pakistan and we ensure our development assistance targets poor women, men and children, regardless of race, religion, social background, or nationality. One of the four principles set out in the Partnership Principles Assessment is a commitment by Pakistan to respect human rights, including the provisions of non-discrimination and protection for freedom of religion as laid out in its own constitution. The Assessment provides the basis for regular bilateral assistance talks between the UK and PakistanDFID’s education programmes in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces support the implementation of Pakistan’s 2006 reformed curriculum which teaches religious tolerance and respect for diversity.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether Pakistan is a signatory to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; whether they consider that the government of Pakistan is fulfilling its duties under Article 18 of that Declaration; what role British aid to Pakistan plays in promoting respect for diversity and difference; and whether they will reconsider their policy of making none of the British aid programme to Pakistan available for the promotion of Article 18 obligations.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The UK Government remains firmly committed to promoting and protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief, as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are concerned about reports of abuses against religious minorities in Pakistan. The UK Government strongly condemns the persecution of all minorities, including the targeting of innocent people based on their beliefs. The UK’s concerns are reflected in the latest update to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s annual Human Rights Report, which is publicly available. The UK raises human rights issues and the rights of minorities on a regular basis at the highest levels in Pakistan and we ensure our development assistance targets poor women and men, regardless of race, religion, social background, or nationality. Although DFID does not fund programmes that directly promote Article 18, we do help to foster tolerance and social cohesion between different religious groups through our AAWAZ voice and accountability programme. Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of studies, including those undertaken by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and the Catholic Church’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, which have highlighted material in Pakistani text books portraying negative views toward other religions and countries.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the role played by Pakistani textbooks in promoting extremism and intolerance against minority faiths such as the Christian, Hindu and Sikh religions and minorities such as Ahmadis not considered to be Muslims.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what Department for International Development funds are currently being provided to improve educational standards in Pakistan, including the Punjab Education Support Programme; and whether the support given to the Punjab Curriculum Text Board to ensure positive gender portrayal can be expanded to include positive portrayal of Pakistan’s minorities.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they last discussed with the government of Pakistan the inclusion of religious hate material in Pakistani text books.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the decision of the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board of Lahore to include positive affirmations of the role of minorities in the creation of Pakistan and the 1947 speech of the founder of Pakistan, and of the extent to which affirmation of the rights and equality of minorities is being replicated in other provinces across Pakistan.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what mechanisms and safeguards the Department for International Development has in place to ensure that British aid distributed in Pakistan is not used by provinces or schools to purchase textbooks which contain material indoctrinating against minorities.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Education Fund for Sindh takes into account the curricula being taught to students when making funding decisions, and what steps they are taking to ensure that children supported by the Fund are not taught an intolerant view of religious and non-religious minorities through the textbooks used in schools.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The UK Government remains firmly committed to promoting and protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief, as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are concerned about reports of abuses against religious minorities in Pakistan. The annual report of US Commission on International Religious Freedom identified ‘discriminatory’ content against minorities in provincial textbooks in Pakistan as a particular concern but did not note the progress made where DFID is providing provincial governments with support.

Since 2011, UK aid has benefited more than 6.8 million children in primary school education. The programme is an £800 million investment from 2011 to 2020 undertaken in partnership with the provincial governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and focussed on the poorest, especially girls. Our investments support improving access to education and raising quality, improving learning outcomes, increasing teacher and student attendance and improving school facilities. We are providing £420.5 million from 2013 to 2019 to the Punjab Education Support Programme II, working with the provincial government to ensure more children in Punjab have access to a good quality education.

The UK has worked alongside these two provincial governments including through supporting the Punjab Curriculum Textbook Board which have taken significant steps to update textbooks and replace any content that promotes prejudice and discrimination against religious or other minorities. Independent evaluations in 2007 and 2013 confirmed this curriculum to be based on values of democracy, pluralism and peace aimed at educating students to be able to think critically about these issues. This has included introducing girls as central characters, showing girls participating in stereotypically male roles, and making the illustrations more representative. They have also worked to remove any overt bigotry linked to minority groups and continue to consider these issues.

The pilot Education Fund for Sindh (EFS) programme came to an end in 2016. The new Sindh Education Non State Actors (SENSA) Programme is following on from EFS. School providers in both EFS and now SENSA follow the 2006 Pakistan national curriculum. Independent evaluations of the reformed curriculum have confirmed it to be based on values of democracy, pluralism, and peace. All textbooks which enter into schools have to be approved by the provincial government, in this case the Sindh Textbook Board, to ensure they meet the requirements of the 2006 National Curriculum. This is a legal requirement. Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 16 September (HL1729), whether the Department for International Development is planning to fund any programmes that directly promote freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

Through our AAWAZ voice and accountability programme (aawaz means “voice” in Urdu), DFID works to foster tolerance and social cohesion between different religious groups in 4,500 villages across 45 districts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It reaches directly over 3 million poor men, women and minority groups including religious minorities (Christian, Sikh, Hindu and others) to address issues of inequality and discrimination, and to prevent violence. Communities identify potential sectarian and inter-faith based conflicts, mapping out where and when they might take place and identifying who is best at a local level to pre-empt or resolve conflict. This has enabled communities to work across sects and faiths to prevent 193 interfaith/sectarian conflicts and resolve 1,097 community conflicts (water/land and other disputes) through negotiation and compromise, benefitting 4,314,685 people. A successor programme to Aawaz is planned for 2018 onwards, building on successes and learning lessons from this programme.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have discussed with the government of Pakistan point 5 of Pakistan’s National Action Plan of 24 December 2014, and the steps taken to implement this provision.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The UK and Pakistan have a shared interest in addressing and reducing the threat of terrorism. We are committed to working together to combat the terrorist threat and the extremism that sustains it, in a human rights compliant manner. This helps reduce the threat to the UK and UK interests.

Part of that work involves tackling extremism and developing narratives to tackle the extremist ideology that is the root cause of terrorism. We frequently raise this at the highest levels with the Pakistani Government, as well as providing assistance.

Countering the extremist threats to Pakistan also requires investment to improve education, tackle poverty and help develop the civilian institutions that can deliver rule of law. We help to provide this investment through our bilateral aid programme.

EGYPT

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what offers of help or advice they have made to the government of Egypt about the improvement of security of the people attending places of worship following the bombing of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St Mark in Cairo; and what assessment they have made of the levels of persecution and discrimination against the Coptic minority.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Following the attack against El-Botrosiya Church on 11 December, the Prime Minister, my Rt Hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) wrote to the President of Egypt to express her deep condolences and reiterate the UK’s support for Egypt in its fight against terrorism. The Foreign Secretary, my Rt Hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), Her Majesty‘s Ambassador to Egypt, and officials in London have also expressed their condolences to the Egyptian authorities. The UK Government continues to work closely with the Egyptian authorities on security and counter-terrorism, including through training Egyptian officers in countering improvised explosive devices and close protection.

The UK Government has been clear that freedom of religious belief needs to be protected and that the ability to worship in peace is a vital component of a democratic society. We are concerned about recent reports of sectarian violence in Egypt, and welcome President Sisi’s consistent calls for peaceful coexistence and the government of Egypt’s expression of support for the rights of Christians and for religious tolerance.

 

SYRIA AND IRAQ

 

Question: Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the remarks by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on 20 April (HC Deb, col 996) concerning the gathering and preservation of evidence that could in future be used in a court to hold Daesh to account for its crimes against Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and other groups, what steps they are taking to ensure that genocide committed against Christians is included in their proposals for the prosecution of Daesh. (HL4319)

Tabled on: 21 December 2016

Answer:

Baroness Anelay of St.John’s

The Government is committed to ensuring there is no impunity for these heinous crimes committed by Daesh, as shown by the Foreign Secretary, my Rt Hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson)’s launching of the global campaign Bringing Daesh to Justice. As a first step in this campaign, we are working with the government of Iraq to bring a proposal before the UN on evidence gathering and preservation in Iraq. It is vital that this is done now, before evidence is lost or destroyed. This campaign is about justice for all Daesh victims and we expect it to cover all violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of international human rights law by Daesh including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Date and time of answer: 05 Jan 2017 at 16:47.

 

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4304):

Question: Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether evidence of atrocities committed by individual UK citizens as members of Daesh is being collected; if so, whether this is being done as part of an investigation into sexual violence in the Middle East; and who is collecting this evidence. (HL4304)

Tabled on: 20 December 2016

Answer:
Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

We are doing everything we can to assist in the gathering and preservation of evidence that could be used in future by judicial bodies to make a judgement on Daesh crimes. We are providing financial support to a specialist organisation to conduct investigations in Syria and build prosecution ready criminal case files against the high level perpetrators, in accordance with international standards. These cases are built for international prosecution should a referral to the International Criminal Court be forthcoming or should individuals be subject to litigation by hybrid, specialised or national courts.

We are also funding a project through our Human Rights and Democracy Programme, aimed at improving the documentation of sexual violence and other gender based cases in a victim sensitive way, in several areas of Iraq. The project is training a team of human rights defenders to document sexual violence and establish a database of cases across a two year period to inform policy development in the government of Iraq.

As a first step in the ‘Bringing Daesh to Justice’ campaign, we are working with the government of Iraq to bring a proposal before the United Nations on evidence gathering and preservation in Iraq. It is vital that this is done now, before evidence is lost or destroyed.

Date and time of answer: 05 Jan 2017 at 16:36.

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what account is taken of the resolution of the House of Commons on the Daesh genocide of minorities (HC Deb, 20 April, col 608) when prioritising victims of genocide for resettlement under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement programme.

Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

We are clear that our scheme will prioritise the most vulnerable refugees, and that is why under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement (VPR) scheme the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identifies refugees for resettlement using its established vulnerability criteria. The seven vulnerability criteria used by the UNHCR are Legal and or Physical Protection Needs; Survivors of Torture and/or Violence; Medical Needs; Women and Girls at Risk; Family Reunification; Children and Adolescents at Risk and Lack of Foreseeable Alternative Durable Solutions.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I welcome what the Minister has just said to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the collecting of evidence and the initiative that Her Majesty’s Government have taken at the United Nations. Can she share a little more about what mechanisms will be set up to ensure that once the evidence has been collected, we will be able to bring those who have been responsible for genocide or crimes against humanity to justice?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, it is important to recall that Daesh has committed these horrendous crimes not only within Syria but around the world. Earlier in Question Time, we remembered those who it appears died at the hands of two terrorist attacks just yesterday. I stress that while we will certainly engage with our allies around the world to see what judicial mechanism can be brought into play and how it can therefore be used effectively against all, regardless of their nationality, we also need to concentrate on the other aspects of the project launched by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary: to support the prosecution of those who commit crimes of terrorism in the name of Daesh around the world as well.

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, can the Minister explain how the recent banning of two Syrian Orthodox bishops from coming to the United Kingdom conforms to the Prevent strategy, while at the weekend it was reported that Syed Qadri is to be allowed to come into the United Kingdom? He is a radical Islamist hate preacher who has been banned from preaching in Pakistan. He spoke out in favour of those who assassinated Salmaan Taseer and is said to have been one of the influences on the murderer of the Ahmadi shopkeeper in Glasgow. Why is he being permitted to speak at public venues throughout the United Kingdom?

Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I cannot speak about individual cases, but the point is that Syed Qadri and others like him—I am sorry but I have forgotten the second part of the noble Lord’s question.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, why is he being allowed to come into the United Kingdom and to speak at public venues when we recently banned two Syrian Orthodox bishops from coming into the United Kingdom?

Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, when people speak in public it is important to ensure that what they say does not incite racial or terrorist hatred in this country. I cannot comment on the individual cases of the Syrian bishops.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, did the Minister see the statement from a United Nations spokesman yesterday, in which he described this as the darkest day in the history of the United Nations? With more than 5,000 dead in Aleppo in the last month —and returning to the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons—did he see the report about the 100 unaccompanied children who have taken refuge in one derelict building? Do we know anything more about their fate or about the eight who were shot in their home for refusing to leave? In February, this House debated a Motion from all parts of your Lordships’ House that those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity should be brought to justice. It is not just a question of collecting evidence; it is about setting up the mechanisms necessary to do that. When will the Government do what the noble Lord said a few moments ago and bring those responsible to justice?

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

That is right. The situation on the ground is horrific and we are now getting credible reports of summary executions. We have heard the reports about the children caught in that building, but unless people are given access to that area—it is in the control of the Assad regime and the Russian President to bring that about—we cannot get access. It will not be us directly, of course; we cannot be the actors involved in that situation. However, the agencies of the UN, the NGOs and those courageous, heroic people who are putting their lives at risk to protect other humanity in that situation should be allowed in. It is within people’s hands to do it and they should do it.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the remarks by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 22 November (HL Deb, col 1836), whether the details of those prosecuted as ISIS insurgents in the UK and overseas can be published.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The Government is committed to ensuring there is no impunity for the heinous crimes committed by Daesh, as shown by the Foreign Secretary‘s launching of the Global Bringing Daesh to Justice campaign. As I mentioned during the debate, the prosecution of Daesh fighters has already begun both in the UK and around the world – to date, at least 50 countries have prosecuted or arrested foreign terrorist fighters or facilitators and approximately 60 countries have legislation in place to do so.

The number of individuals who are arrested, charged, and prosecuted for terrorism-related offences is published in the Home Office Quarterly Statistical Bulletin, which was last published on 22 September 2016. In the year ending June 2016, there were 222 arrests for terrorism-related offences in Great Britain. These statistics do not disaggregate cases relating to Daesh or non-Daesh linked individuals. The UK Government does not publish details of prosecutions carried out by other governments.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the identity of those responsible for the death of 10 people, including children, during the bombing of a school in western Aleppo in the third week of November.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We are aware of reports from pro-regime media outlets of the shelling of a school in al-Furqan (regime-controlled western Aleppo) on 20 November, which resulted in 10 casualties. The attack was alleged to be the responsibility of armed opposition groups. We watched the opposition offensive in western Aleppo closely, and we deplore any breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) by all parties. We continue to underline to opposition groups over whom we have an influence that any operations must be conducted within the bounds of IHL. The plight of civilians in Aleppo is desperate. The vast majority of atrocities are perpetrated by the regime – it is only the regime and its backers who have the capacity to conduct air strikes, which result in extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and cost civilian lives. 275,000 people face potential mass starvation in east Aleppo, besieged and under daily bombardment by the regime.

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench  2:51 pm, 22nd November 2016

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made in bringing to justice those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity, particularly against Yazidis, Christians and other minorities, in Syria and Iraq.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the Government believe that there needs to be accountability for the crimes committed in Syria and Iraq. We continue to support the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria and have launched a global campaign to bring Daesh to justice. We are working with the Government of Iraq to bring a proposal before the UN to gather and preserve evidence in Iraq as a first step.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, tomorrow is Red Wednesday, when Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, a synagogue in north London and many other public buildings, including the Palace of Westminster, will be floodlit in red to commemorate all those who have been subjected to genocide or persecuted for their faith. Does the Minister recall that on 20 April the House of Commons declared that ISIS is responsible for genocide, the crime above all crimes? Can she therefore tell us how many British-born ISIS recruits have been brought to justice in British courts? Further, with Russia’s withdrawal last week from the International Criminal Court, are we talking to other Governments about the creation of a freestanding regional tribunal to bring to justice those who have been responsible for these crimes of genocide?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked several important questions and I will try to encapsulate them. Perhaps I may first comment with regard to Russia. When Russia grabbed the headlines about leaving the ICC, it was when I was going to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. I was perfectly well aware that the Russians had never ratified, although they had signed, the initial treaty—they made a play of the headlines, but there we are.

As regards the prosecution of Daesh fighters, it is the case that these have already begun, and I can certainly write to the noble Lord with details of the cases that have been taken in this country. However, around 60 countries have legislation in place to prosecute and penalise foreign terrorist fighters for their activities, and to date at least 50 countries have prosecuted or arrested such fighters or facilitators. On the matter of how a tribunal might be set up, it is possible of course that some form of international or hybrid justice mechanism may prove to be appropriate, but it is too early—and not for us alone—to prejudge that. Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken to protect civilians in Mosul; how many additional refugees from Mosul they anticipate will need to be cared for; and what planning is being done to stabilise Mosul and support civilians following the current offensive.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

According to the UN, up to 1.5 million people could be impacted by military operations to retake Mosul from Daesh, with up to 1 million people who may try to leave the city; of these, 700,000 might need shelter. The UK is supporting the Iraqi-led humanitarian response to ensure that civilians affected by Mosul military operations are provided with life-saving assistance, including protection support.

The UK has been an early and significant donor to the UN’s Mosul Flash Appeal, and we have encouraged others to follow our lead. This year, the UK has announced £90 million of humanitarian assistance for Iraq, with a significant element supporting partners preparing and responding to Mosul. This takes the UK’s total support to £169.5 million since summer 2014. In partnership with the UN, donors and others, we will continue to monitor the situation closely. The UK continues to advocate strongly that civilians are protected and that International Humanitarian Law is upheld.

We are supporting the Government of Iraq in its efforts to stabilise areas which have been liberated from Daesh by providing the governance, services and security necessary to enable the safe return of Iraqis to these areas. As part of the Global Coalition, the UK is assisting Iraqi-led efforts to stabilise Mosul, with delivery through the UN. We have committed £15 million to the UN’s stabilisation programming, through the UN Development Programme and UN Mine Action Service.

 

SAUDI ARABIA

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the decision by the government of the United States not to proceed with a number of munitions sales to Saudi Arabia, whether they intend to cancel planned weapons sales; what is the value of UK sales of arms to Saudi Arabia which have been licensed since March; and whether they have sought legal advice about potential UK complicity in war crimes as a consequence of armaments originating in the UK being used by Saudi Arabia against civilians in that country and elsewhere.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

As the Secretary of State for Defence, my Rt Hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) said in his statement on Monday 19 December, we operate one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world – we have our own robust evidence-based process and reach our own conclusions.

The UK takes our arms export responsibilities very seriously. The key test for our continued arms exports to Saudi Arabia is whether there is a clear risk that the items concerned might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law. The situation is kept under careful and continual review.

The US continues to export a wide range of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, including combat aircraft and attack helicopters and munitions. In response to concerns over certain elements of the conflict in Yemen, the US announced a single upcoming munitions sale would not be taken forward. We are in contact with US authorities on this issue.

Statistics on licences for the export of strategic goods are published on a quarterly basis. The most recent published figures cover March – June 2016. In this period the value of standard individual export licences which were granted for military goods to Saudi Arabia was worth £6,235,378.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the content of school text books in Saudi Arabia, in the light of the extent of compliance by the Saudi authorities with their undertakings made in 2001 to remove from their school textbooks incitements to hate and kill Jews and Christians.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Since 2001, Saudi Arabian school textbooks have undergone a number of revisions and we are not aware of any recent examples of incitement in these books. The King and the religious establishment continue clearly and publicly to condemn Daesh, and to emphasise that it does not in any way represent the teachings of the Islamic faith. The Saudi Arabian Government has been at the forefront of international efforts to defeat Daesh and its poisonous ideology from which the country has suffered first-hand.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of reports by the BBC’s Panorama programme in 2010 that approximately 5,000 pupils in the UK are being taught the Saudi national curriculum, what action has been taken to ensure that school text books originating in Saudi Arabia which propagate hate speech and religious intolerance are not being used in schools, clubs and weekend schools in the UK.

Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The Government is committed to ensuring that all children learn in a safe environment, protected from extremist or hateful views wherever they are receiving education. We are taking firm action where concerns arise, and have taken a number of steps to strengthen regulation in schools. Ofsted now inspects schools on the requirement to actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs, as well as on the breadth of the curriculum, which should prepare pupils for life in modern Britain. In addition, we have provided further resources to Ofsted to allow them to increase their investigative work into unregistered independent schools. Wherever such schools are found to be teaching hate or intolerance, we are taking action to close them and prosecute those operating them.

Ofsted have not found any evidence of the text books referred to in the programme being used in schools that they have inspected.

We have also taken steps to increase oversight of out-of-school settings, such as clubs and weekend schools. Prevent duty statutory guidance sets out the expectations on local authorities to take steps to understand the range of out-of-school settings in their areas and to ensure that children attending such settings are safeguarded, including from the risk of being drawn into extremism and terrorism. We set out plans to introduce a new system of regulation for out-of-school settings in our call for evidence which closed earlier this year. The proposed system would allow Ofsted to close such settings where there was evidence that they were engaging in extremist teaching or failing to adequately safeguard the children in their care. We received a large number of responses and will set out next steps in due course.

SUDAN – and DARFUR

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are planning, through the UK’s membership of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to ask for clarification from the government of Sudan regarding allegations made by Amnesty International that Sudan has used chemical weapons in attacks against civilians in the Darfur region; and whether they will request a challenge inspection if further clarification is not forthcoming.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The UK continues to work very closely with both the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and Amnesty International. The government of Sudan, as a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), is obliged to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons within its territory and to report to the OPCW. In order to instigate a challenge inspection to be carried out by the OPCW, another state party to the CWC is required to present further credible evidence, for example, in addition to the allegations contained in Amnesty’s report. We are not aware of any such further evidence. We continue to urge the government of Sudan to allow access throughout Darfur and to enable the United Nations/African Union Peacekeeping Mission to carry out its core mandate to protect civilians.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the fairness of the trial in Sudan of four Christians, Rev Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour, Rev Kuwa Shamal Abazmam Kurri, Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa Abdumawla, and Petr Jasek; and whether they take account of instances of capital punishment, show trials, adherence to human rights, and regard for freedom of religion or belief, when developing policy with regard to Sudan.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We remain concerned about the ongoing trial and continued detention of Reverend Hasan Abduraheem Kodi Taour, Reverend Kuwa Shamal Kori, Mr Abdulmonem Abdumawla, and Mr Petr Jasek. In coordination with our international partners we have ensured that there is a diplomatic presence at each stage of the trial. Officials from our Embassy attended the hearing on 26 September and officials from Switzerland attended the most recent session on 21 November on behalf of the international community. We also remain in close contact with the lawyers representing the defendants.

Sudan is a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights Priority Country. We always take our human rights concerns into consideration when developing policy, and we regularly lobby the government of Sudan on these through dialogue in London, Khartoum and New York. Human rights remain an issue of great importance to the UK, and we are firmly committed to promoting and protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief across the world.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of the arrest and interrogation of Sudanese doctors across Sudan over the weekend of 29 and 30 October, including the president of the Sudanese Doctors Union, Dr Ahmed Abdallah El Sheikh.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We are aware of reports of detention of a number of Sudanese doctors, and that others are required to report to the National Intelligence and Security Services daily. This follows the Doctor’s Union strikes which began on the 6 October. The British Embassy in Khartoum raised our concern over these detentions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 7 November, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the percentage of the population of Sudan living below the poverty line; how many persons are estimated to be living as refugees or displaced people in Sudan; and what has been the total UK aid funding for Sudan since the State’s creation.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The latest World Bank poverty data noted that 46.5% of the population were below the national poverty line in Sudan. Figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimate that there are up to 3.2 million internally displaced persons in Sudan, of which 2.6 million are long term displaced in Darfur alone. OCHA also outline that Sudan plays host to approximately 386,283 refugees from neighbouring countries.

Over the last five decades, the UK has always been one of the largest providers of aid to the Sudanese people. UK bilateral Overseas Development Assistance spent in Sudan, from 2011-2014, totalled £269,023,000. The figures for 2015 will be published on 17 November Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what percentage of the UK aid budget for Sudan is used to promote freedom of religion or belief; and what assessment they have made of the penalties imposed by Sudanese courts if a man or woman exercises their right to change their beliefs.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

Through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCOConflict, Stability and Security Fund a programme worth £100,000, is focussing on the reform of the teaching of religious education in Sudan, and the promotion of religious tolerance. In 2015 and 2016 an FCO-funded project in Sudan brought together legal experts, religious leaders and civil society members to challenge social and legal barriers to freedom of religion or belief.

Freedom of religion or belief in Sudan remains a concern and is a core part of our ongoing human rights dialogue with the Government of Sudan. This dialogue calls on the Government of Sudan to ensure all legislation is consistent with the commitment to their citizens in the Interim Constitution of 2005, within which religious freedom is enshrined.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the role of Iran and North Korea in the building of factories for the production of munitions and weapons in Sudan.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We are aware of claims that these countries may have previously cooperated with Sudan in the manufacture and trade of weapons. We continue to fully support the EU arms embargo on Sudan as well as the UN arms embargo specifically on Darfur.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the percentage of the gross domestic product of Sudan which is used on (1) its army and security sector; and (2) developing basic infrastructure.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

It is not possible to estimate with a high degree of certainty the percentage of Sudan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) spent on security and development as the Government of Sudan does not publish the national budget. From figures provided by the World Bank in 2014, we are aware that 5 per cent of Sudan’s GDP was spent on pro-poor expenditures, which includes spending on infrastructure.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support the international Criminal Court and its work in Sudan.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The UK supports UN Security Council Resolution 1593, which urges all States to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its Prosecutor with regards to the situation in Darfur. The UK fully respects the ICC as an independent organisation; it is the responsibility of the Office of the Prosecutor of the Court to take forward the investigation.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the indictment of Omar al Bashir for genocide and human rights abuses in Sudan, what is the current level of engagement with the Sudanese regime and whether that level of engagement has increased, or is planned to increase.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

In order to maximise our ability to persuade all parties to the conflicts in Sudan to end the fighting and allow the Sudanese people the security and development they deserve, we need to have a greater level of direct engagement with the government of Sudan. For that reason, we have started a Strategic Dialogue with the government of Sudan, which provides a necessary platform for us to raise issues of concern, including human rights, and at the same time explore possibilities for cooperation on a wide range of UK interests. The Strategic Dialogue process does not change our position of maintaining only‘essential contact’ with President Bashir, given his outstanding arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The UK remains a firm supporter of the ICC and encourages all States to act on its indictment.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why, in the last year, there has been a reduction in the number of UK and EU statements on human rights violations in Sudan.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Sudan remains a Human Rights Priority Country for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as outlined in the FCO‘s last annual Human Rights and Democracy Report published in July 2016. We regularly raise our human rights concerns directly with the government of Sudan in London, Khartoum and New York as part of our ongoing dialogue. Most recently, human rights issues were a key theme of the Strategic Dialogue that took place in London in on 10/11 October.

We consider our response to all reports of human rights violations carefully, in consultation with our EU and troika partners and with human rights organisations on the ground, and respond in the way we judge to be the most effective in conveying our concerns to the government of Sudan. We also support the established UN mechanisms in their efforts to improve the situation in Sudan.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many (1) internally displaced persons, and (2) refugees from other countries, there are in Sudan.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

According to figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are a total of 3.2 million internally displaced people in Sudan, of which 2.6 million are long term displaced in Darfur alone (as stated in the attached).

OCHA also estimates that Sudan hosts a total of 386,283 refugees from neighbouring countries.

PQHL2379 attachment (PDF Document, 197.29 KB)

HONG KONG

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to fulfil their legal obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration to monitor and speak out for basic freedoms and the rule of law in Hong Kong.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Our commitment to Hong Kong as a co-signatory of the Joint Declaration is as strong as ever. On 2 December the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Mr Sharma) visited Hong Kong and spoke publicly about the importance of Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms. The Government’s most recent assessment of the basic freedoms and the rule of law in Hong Kong is set out in the Foreign Secretary‘s Six-Monthly Report to the House of 12 October. In this we stated that” despite challenges, the UK believes that “One Country, Two Systems” has provided a successful framework for almost two decades, and can continue to do so”. The full report can be found online – (https://www.gov.uk/government/world-location-news/six-monthly-report-to-parliament-on-hong-kong-january-june-2 Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of basic freedoms, the rule of law and democracy in Hong Kong.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The Government issued its most recent assessment of the basic freedoms, the rule of law and democracy in Hong Kong on 12 October in the Foreign Secretary’s Six-Monthly Report to the House. In this we stated that “despite challenges, the UK believes that “One Country, Two Systems” has provided a successful framework for almost two decades, and can continue to do so”.

 Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the court ruling in Hong Kong disqualifying two elected legislators from the Legislative Council.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The Hong Kong courts reached a decision on the cases of Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung on the basis of Hong Kong’s legal framework. We respect this decision.

 

IRAN – SEE FULL S[PEECH AT:

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2016-12-08a.943.1&s=speaker%3A13103#g945.0

 

 

 

INDIA

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the fact that India has, according to the Global Slavery Index published in 2016, up to five times more people in modern slavery than any other country, why the UK Aid Match fund as updated on 21 November does not include work in India.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

Although projects implemented in India are not eligible for Aid Match funding, DFID is committed to working with the Government of India to tackle trafficking and exploitation of workers. For example, DFID is supporting the regional “Work in Freedom” programme led by the International Labour Organisation which supports safe migration and government capacity building at national and state level, including implementing legislation and standards in key sectors such as domestic work and textiles. To date over 90,000 women have benefited from training to help them make informed migration decisions, reducing their risk of being trafficked from India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

NORTH KOREA

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2321, whether any UK funds or United Kingdom nationals provide specialised teaching and training which could contribute to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s proliferation activities or the development of nuclear weapons delivery systems, including business and economic management training that may be used to acquire or sell goods used in connection with weapons.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We are not aware of any UK funding or UK nationals providing teaching and training which could contribute to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s proliferation activities or the development of its nuclear weapons delivery systems.

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2321, whether they intend to reduce the number of staff at the Embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in London and what steps they will take to limit the number of bank accounts held by Democratic People’s Republic of Korea diplomats stationed in the UK.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The Government welcomes the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2321 and work has begun to ensure that its provisions are fully implemented and enforced within the UK. We continue to have diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2321, whether any UK organisations or nationals engage in scientific and technical co-operation involving persons or groups officially sponsored by or representing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; and whether this co-operation will be suspended.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We are aware of some limited scientific engagement between UK nationals and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). As per the provisions of UNSCR 2321, such cooperation does not need to be suspended when there is a determination that such activity does not contribute to the DPRK’s proliferation, nuclear activities or ballistic missile programmes.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports about the reflagging of North Korean ships in Tanzania; and whether they have raised that issue at the UN Security Council.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The Government is aware of such reports and have raised concerns this year with the Tanzanian Government about their shipping register. We continue to have discussions with partner states, and the UN Panel of Experts on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), regarding the misuse of country flags by ships connected to the DPRK. We take such misuse seriously and urge all countries to abide by UN Security Council resolutions. UN Security Council Resolution 2270 calls upon Member States to de-register any vessel that is owned, operated or crewed by the DPRK, and not to register any such vessels that have been de-registered by another Member State.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what priority is given within the Department for International Development (DfID) to issues related to religious liberty; how many staff, and what percentage of DfID’s budget, are allocated to faith-related issues; who is the designated lead official on faith-related issues; and whether there are any plans to increase the staff resources allocated by DfID to deal with faith and faith communities.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The United Kingdom is committed to enabling all people to enjoy to the rights and freedoms defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and core treaties of international human rights law. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office leads Government policy on issues related to religious freedom and promoting and protecting religious freedom is important to UK foreign policy.

DFID collates expenditure data in accordance with the statistical reporting requirements of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. These do not separately identify spending on religious liberty. DFID has a dedicated focal point on faith-based organisations in its Inclusive Societies Department, and provides central funding to over 30 UK faith groups. DFID’s cadres of governance and social development advisers have specialist expertise on human rights and discrimination. Staff resourcing for this is constantly kept under review alongside other priorities.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to introduce protection and support for minorities suffering persecution on grounds of freedom of religion or belief into every level of planning within the Department for International Development; whether they intend to make this a priority; and what measures they intend to introduce to track the impact of programmes aimed at reducing levels of religious persecution, hatred, and intolerance.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

DFID’s programme development procedures require consideration of the impact on different social and economic groups, including discrimination due to religion. In addition, partner governments’ commitment to respecting human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, is one of the four partnership principles that DFID also considers when providing direct financial support to governments. All DFID programme are rigorously monitored and reviewed to ensure they are delivering the intended outcomes.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have made an assessment of research demonstrating the links between the promotion of freedom of religion and belief and those societies which are the most prosperous and stable; and whether such research informs the priorities and policies of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

DFID and Foreign and Commonwealth Office teams continually analyse the factors affecting prosperity and stability, including those relating to religion and belief. DFID has undertaken studies on factors affecting prosperity and stability, including a 2015 review of the role of religion in conflict and peacebuilding. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office follows the research of organisations such as the Berkley Center at Georgetown University and the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation. The Berkley Center’s research contributed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s October 2016 conference, which considered how freedom of religion or belief can promote resilience against violent extremism.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in relation to humanitarian assistance provided to Iraq, a record is kept to track what support is given to religious minorities; what priority is being given to such groups in the plans for the reconstruction of the country; and what consideration is taken of the needs of such groups in military planning in theatres of war such as Mosul.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

All UK-funded humanitarian aid is distributed on the basis of need irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity. The organisations through which we channel this in Iraq do not identify or record beneficiaries by their religion. In our dialogue with the Government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the United Nations, UK Ministers and officials frequently raise the importance of ensuring that minorities are protected from harm, and that their needs are taken into account when planning for stabilisation and reconstruction, including in Mosul.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they consider that the mainstreaming of gender-related issues within the Department for International Development has been successful; what priority is given to it; what funding and how many officials are specifically dedicated to working on it; and what assessment they have made of whether it can be used as a successful model for the mainstreaming of support for minorities suffering persecution on grounds of freedom of religion or belief.

Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The UK is recognised as a global leader on promoting the rights of girls and women and DFID reviews progress on gender equality in the Annual Report. DFID’s Strategic Vision on Girls and Women has put gender equality at the heart of UK Aid, and the Department is successfully implementing the 2014 Gender Equality Act.

Best practice and lessons learned are regularly shared across DFID by the Gender Equality team, including with those working on support for people facing persecution on grounds of freedom of religion or belief.

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Bipartisan approval of new religious Freedom Law in the US – spearheaded by congressman Chris Smith

chris-smith

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/an-opening-for-trump-obama-signs-international-religious-freedom-act

December 14th 2016:  Murder in Aleppo

My Lords, did the Minister see the statement from a United Nations spokesman yesterday, in which he described this as the darkest day in the history of the United Nations? With more than 5,000 dead in Aleppo in the last month —and returning to the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons—did he see the report about the 100 unaccompanied children who have taken refuge in one derelict building? Do we know anything more about their fate or about the eight who were shot in their home for refusing to leave? In February, this House debated a Motion supported from all parts of your Lordships’ House that those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity should be brought to justice. It is not just a question of collecting evidence; it is about setting up the mechanisms necessary to do that. When will the Government do what the noble Lord said a few moments ago and bring those responsible to justice?

That is right. The situation on the ground is horrific and we are now getting credible reports of summary executions. We have heard the reports about the children caught in that building, but unless people are given access to that area—it is in the control of the Assad regime and the Russian President to bring that about—we cannot get access. It will not be us directly, of course; we cannot be the actors involved in that situation. However, the agencies of the UN, the NGOs and those courageous, heroic people who are putting their lives at risk to protect other humanity in that situation should be allowed in. It is within people’s hands to do it and they should do it.

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It was deeply moving to attend the laying of flowers for the Coptic Christians murdered in Cairo last weekend. Bishop Angaelos, the Egyptian Ambassador and the Archbishop of Canterbury led the ceremony outside Westminster Abbey. The flowers were laid  in front of the Western Wall where there are statues of the modern martyrs. Two weeks ago the wall was floodlit red as part of the Red Wednesday pledge not to forget those dying for their faith.
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Explosion kills 25 Coptic Orthodox worshippers during Sunday worship in Cairo – December 11th 2016

Statement by His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop
of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom

11 December 2016

It is with great sadness that we receive the news today of at least 25 people brutally murdered by an explosion during regular Sunday worship at St Peter’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, adjacent to the Grand Cathedral of Saint Mark.

Our prayers are with those whose lives have been so senselessly ended, those who have been injured, and every family and community affected. We also pray for every Coptic parish and community across Egypt as they fill their churches this morning, as well as for the broader Egyptian society that fall victim to similar inhumane attacks.

Many within our Coptic community in Britain will have family and friends in Egypt, and we also pray for them at this time of uncertainty.

We share in this tragedy but are encouraged by the strength and resilience of our brethren in Egypt that we have grown accustomed to and learn from. We pray God’s peace and protection upon the Christians of Egypt, the broader Egyptian society, Christians around the world worshipping this morning and all faith communities that fall prey to similar attacks.

*Ends*

BBC TV News Interview with HG Bishop Angaelos in the aftermath of the bombing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4N6xbFCoRo

 angaelos-red-wednesday HG Bishop Angaelos interview in aftermath of Cairo Church Bombing 11.12.16

www.youtube.com

His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom speaks to the BBC shortly after at least 25 people were killed …

http://www.wsj.com/articles/trumps-opportunity-saving-coptic-christians-1482363152

Trump’s Opportunity: Saving Coptic Christians

Egypt’s minorities, long persecuted, are counting on the U.S. president to defend religious freedom

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Click here to sign petition to support Syrian Orthodox bishops banned by the UK

http://www.citizengo.org/en/sc/39399-persecuted-christian-bishops-denied-entry-uk?tc=ty&tcid=30307617

https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2016/9-december/news/uk/home-office-turns-down-visas-for-syrian-archbishops

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#RedWednesday – 23rd November 2016

Also see:

https://davidalton.net/2016/10/27/international-religious-freedom-day-parliamentary-debate-on-anti-semitsm/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

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On #RedWednesdayWednesday 23rd Novemberall  over the UK people came together to honour those who have suffered because of their religion, and to stand in solidarity with millions of people, targeted for their beliefs and living in fear. 

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/colour.of.blood.london.turns.red.for.millions.killed.in.religious.persecution/101829.htm

http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/6420/0/international-criminal-court-must-hold-islamic-state-extremists-to-account-for-barbaric-genocide-against-christians-says-catholic-peer-

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 UK’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral Goes Red –

Listen to His Grace, Archbishop  Angaelos, General Bishop Coptic Orthodox Church United Kingdom: click here: http://bit.ly/2fnfLg2

November 23rd 2016: Under the shadow of IS: Iraqi Christians tell of crucifixions, torture… 

Read the full article on HRWF website

Also see: David Alton’s most recent comment on Genocide Against Christians and other minorities, November 25th 2016: 

http://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/We-re-failing-ISIS-victims.-If-we-don-t-act-now-we-ll-have-blood-on-our-hands

Malta’s Gates of Valletta Go red In Solidarity

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Following Red Wednesday: Religious Freedom in The World Report Launched at Westminster – November 24th 2016  

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Pictured in Westminster Hall where St.Thomas More – Lord Chancellor and former  Speaker of the House of Commons was tried and ordered to be executed. 

  • Father Dominic Robinson, Jesuit priest, ACN (UK) Ecclesiastical Assistant
  • Father Ziad Hilal, Jesuit priest – ACN Projects Co-ordinator for Syria
  • Baroness Cox of Queensbury
  • Paul Marsden, Member of the Board of Trustees of ACN (UK)
  • Sister Helen Haigh RJM, Provincial of the Religious of Jesus and Mary
  • Shaykh Dr Mohammad Umar Al-Qadri, Chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council and Head Imam of the Islamic Centre of Ireland
  • Dr Sarah Bernstein, Director-General of the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, Israel
  • Lord Alton of Liverpool, Chairman of the Parliamentary launch of the Religious Freedom in the World 2016 Report
  • John Pontifex, Editor-in-Chief, ACN Religious Freedom in the World 2016 Report, Head of Press and Information ACN (UK)

Report warns of global impact of religious “hyper-extremism”

Survey blames religious hatred for increased instability around the world 

RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM – more lethal than ever seen before – is unleashing death, destruction, displacement and instability at unprecedented levels, according to a report out yesterday (Thursday).

The Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report, produced by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, warns of the global impact of “a new phenomenon of religiously-motivated violence”, which it terms “Islamist hyper-extremism”.

In defining this new ultra-extremism, the report highlights distinguishing features which are described as evidence of the radicals’ threat to world peace, stability and social harmony in the West.

Key characteristics of “Islamist hyper-extremism” include systematic attempts to drive out all dissenting groups – including moderates, unprecedented levels of cruelty, global reach and the effective use of social media, often used to glamorise violence. 

The report was launched yesterday (Thursday) and the evening before landmark buildings around the country were flood lit in red to highlight the significance of religious freedom and to remember the thousands of people who die because of hatred against their beliefs.

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Later that day, a copy of the Religious Freedom in the World 2016 Report, produced by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), was presented to HRH The Prince of Wales at Clarence House, London.

Present at the meeting were religious leaders who had spoken at the parliamentary launch event and senior ACN staff.

The Prince – who had given a video statement at the launch of the Religious Freedom in the World 2014 Report – met Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri, Chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, Jesuit Father Ziad Hilal from Aleppo, Syria, Dr Sarah Bernstein, Director-General of the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations and Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK).

Yesterday, the Prince met the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch, Ignatius Aphrem II, who travlled from Damascus, and spoke earlier at the launch of the Religious Freedom report  http://www.aina.org/news/20161124130319.htm and at the Westminster Cathedral Red Wednesday event.

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The Prince of Wales has used his speech at the consecration of a Syriac Orthodox Church in west London to highlight the plight of Christians in Syria.

His Royal Highness described the ceremony at the Cathedral of St Thomas in Acton as a “notable sign of hope for the future”, amid the ongoing six year civil war.

Prince Charles said: “It is surely deeply encouraging, at a time when the members of the Syriac Orthodox Church in their homelands of Syria and Iraq are undergoing such desperate trials and such appalling suffering, that in Britain the Syriac Church is able to expand and gain in strength.”

As part of the Red Wednesday initiative, London buildings lit up in red included: Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and Lambeth Palace.

Also flood lit was the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London’s St John’s Wood.

Churches around the country were lit up – in Northamptonshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire – as well as Bolton Town Hall, Birmingham University Clock Tower and Liverpool Hope University.

The Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report, whose launch Red Wednesday marked, reiterated calls for Daesh (ISIS) persecution to be recognised as genocide.

The report’s authors warn of a widespread attempt to replace pluralism with a religious mono-culture.

The report, which assesses the situation regarding religious freedom in each of the world’s 196 countries, concludes: “In parts of the Middle East including Iraq and Syria, this hyper-extremism is eliminating all forms of religious diversity and is threatening to do so in parts of African and the Asian Sub-Continent.”

This is echoed in the report’s foreword by Father Jacques Mourad, a Christian monk who was held by Daesh in Syria for five months before escaping in October 2015.

Fr Mourad writes: “Our world teeters on the brink of complete catastrophe as extremism threatens to wipe out all trace of diversity in society.”

The biennial report, which draws on research by journalists, academics and clergy, records that in the two-year period under review which ended in June, attacks linked to “hyper-extremism” had taken place in one out of five countries worldwide – from Australia to Sweden as well as 17 African countries.

Countering the popular view that governments are mostly to blame for persecution, the report puts the blame on non-state militants in 12 of the 23 worst-offending countries.

With refugee numbers at a new high of 65.3 million according to the UN, the report describes extremist Islamism as a “key driver” in the massive displacement of people fleeing countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.

The Aid to the Church in Need report goes on to highlight the knock-on effect on countries in the West whose socio-religious fabric is being destabilised by the arrival of unprecedented numbers of refugees.

Such problems are, according to the report, compounded by the West falling victim to a sudden increase in fundamentalist Islamist attacks.

But, according to the report, not all problems regarding religious freedom are to do with militant Islam – with a “renewed crackdown” on religious groups reported in China and Turkmenistan and an ongoing denial of human rights for people of faith in worst-offending North Korea and Eritrea.

Nor is the outlook universally bleak – looking at Bhutan, Egypt and Qatar, countries notorious for religious freedom violations, the report found that the situation had improved for faith minorities during the period under review.

John Pontifex, London-based Editor-in-Chief of the report, said: “A core finding of our research is the emergence of a form of religious hyper-extremism which has left many parts of the world scarred by its savagery, which is the hallmark of its evident genocidal intent.

“Our report is a wake-up call both to highlight that extremism has entered a new and entirely more dangerous phase, and the role of the West

“If there is just one finding of the Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report it is that faith groups need to tackle hatred within their own ranks.

“What prospects are there for peace when powerful sections within specific faith groups have nothing but contempt for those who do not share their world view – and who deny the right to life not just to people of other faiths but also to moderates from among their own community?”

“The other problem borne out in the report is that Western policy makers frequently just don’t get religion and need to rethink their whole outlook.

“It’s no longer compatible to say that traditional faith practice belongs to the past when the evidence shows that for millions and millions of people – a new generation – religion is at the centre of their lives, driving everything they do.

This is the 13th edition of the report, which is produced by Aid to the Church in Need.

The charity provides emergency aid and help for persecuted and other suffering Christians in 140 countries around the world.  

The ‘Religious Freedom in the World’ 2016 report’ will be available for download   at www.religion-freedom-report.org

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Buildings going red in solidarity…

The Houses of Parliament

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London Routemaster Bus and the London Eye

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Westminster Cathedral

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Canon Christopher Tuckwell, Westminster Cathedral – His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Damascus, Syria and the Rt Revd & Rt Hon Dr Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London

The North West of England

  
    1. Peace between faiths means a shared commitment to love, truth and human dignity. May Christ give us grace to set an example

      Lambeth Palace

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    2. Bolton Town Hall
    3. Wrexham

Stonyhurst College Lancashire 

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Immaculate Conception Church in Flint – one of the first churches to take up the Red Wednesday challenge…

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Liverpool Hope University

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Stockport Focus School

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Birmingham University: Old Joe Clock Tower

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http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2016/11/Old-Joe-turns-red-for-global-victims-of-faith-persecution.aspx

Blackfriars Oxford

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#RedWednesday – 23rd November 2016

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Also see:

http://www.jesuit.org.uk/stonyhursts-red-witness-worlds-persecuted

 Red Wednesday – Wednesday November 23rd was a moment to focus on the dramatic increase in religious persecution worldwide which has occurred in the past six years. 5.3 billion people (76 per cent of the world’s population) live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion. From Bangladesh, where atheists are murdered with impunity to Saudi Arabia where churches are banned and converts are criminalised, to Burma, where Muslim Rohinga are denied citizenship, to Iran where Bahais are executed, to China, where bishops are imprisoned and churches demolished, to countries like Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan and North Korea, where believers are subjected to genocide, crimes against humanity, persecution or discrimination, lives are literally soaked in blood. Red Wednesday was a chance to show solidarity and to demonstrate that their suffering is not forgotten; a chance for people of all faiths and none to shine a light on global suffering.

 

Iconic buildings like the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral will be bathed in red light, so will an Orthodox cathedral, a London synagogue, a Methodist church in Greater Manchester, and the world’s oldest Jesuit school, in Lancashire. Many people wore something red, others lit up their Facebook sites in red, others found their own way to identify with the one in five who suffer somewhere in the world for their faith.

 

Pass these details to others and ask them to play some small part in the continuing struggle to create greater awareness of the scale of persecution.       

https://davidalton.net/2016/10/26/redwednesday-23rd-november-2016-circulate-details-to-others-so-that-red-wednesday-becomes-a-day-when-people-stand-together-for-the-persecuted-and-forgotten-silence-in-the-face-of-evil/

Further details: Johnny Dowling on 0208 661 5154 or john.dowling@acnuk.org

 “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil…not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Dietrich Bonheofferdietrich-bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil…not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Dietrich Bonheoffer

Launch of Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report

Grand Committee Room

Thursday, 24th November 2016 at 11am

 

It is with great pleasure that I write to invite you to the launch of our Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report. Produced every two years by the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need the report assesses the prospects for religious liberty in every country worldwide. Examining the role of extremism in society, the report looks at key concerns such as law and order, economic forces and culture. Sponsored by Sir Edward Leigh MP and Rob Flello MP, the launch will be chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool with guest speakers including:

 

cid:image002.png@01D22AB8.E85F1460His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II

Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, based in Damascus, Syria

 

 

 

cid:image004.png@01D22AB8.E85F1460Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri

Ameer of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Educational & Cultural Centre, Ireland

 

 

DrDr Sarah Bernstein

Director-General of the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, Israel

 

 

 


Standing up for faith and freedom – On ‘Red Wednesday’ religious buildings will be flood-lit in red

Posted by ACN News on 16/11/2016, 6:10 am

ACN News: Wednesday, 16th November 2016 – UK

Standing up for faith and freedom
• On ‘Red Wednesday’ – 23rd November – Muslims, Christians and Jews will be uniting against religious persecution
• Key religious buildings will be flood-lit in red

By Murcadha O Flaherty

CHURCH communities and other faith groups are coming together in an act of solidarity with those around the world suffering persecution because of their faith.

The Red Wednesday event co-ordinated by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need will involve lighting up Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in red. Also being floodlit in red on the day (Wednesday, 23rd November) are religious buildings around the country – including Brentwood Cathedral and the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John’s Wood.

That same day, a red Routemaster London bus emblazoned with the words “Stand up for Faith and Freedom #RedWednesday” will be making its way through London stopping at the Imam Khoei Islamic Centre, St Paul’s Cathedral, and St John’s Wood Synagogue and Westminster Abbey. The bus is due to set off from Westminster Cathedral and will be waved off by youngsters from the nearby St Vincent de Paul Primary School. Students from schools in many parts of the UK will be marking Red Wednesday by wearing an item of red clothing and holding prayer services and other activities in support of people suffering for their faith.

Coming to London to support Red Wednesday will be His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, based in Damascus, Syria, Dr Sarah Bernstein, Director-General of the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, Israel and Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri Ameer, Head-Imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Educational & Cultural Centre, Ireland.

The following day (Thursday, 24th November), they will be speaking at the launch of Aid to the Church in Need’s 2016 Religious Freedom in the World report which assesses the situation for different faith communities in 196 countries – every nation on earth. The launch will take place in the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons and will be chaired by Lord David Alton of Liverpool.

Aid to the Church in Need UK National Director, Neville Kyrke-Smith, said: “We hope that the ACN red bus as it travels London on Red Wednesday will highlight the very real and pressing issue of those suffering because they are persecuted today for their peacefully held beliefs. We will invite all those, whether Christian or other faiths to attend and show their support for the right of a person to practise their religion in peace”.
Describing the plans for Red Wednesday, event coordinator Patricia Hatton said: “We are delighted that a growing number of parishes, schools and groups around the country are pledging their support including Catholic, Church of England and Free Churches who are lighting red. We are also inviting everyone, and especially schools, groups, and university students to wear red – as a symbol of the suffering today of people of faith. Priests too can get involved by wearing red vestments to celebrate the Feast of St Clement, Pope and Martyr.”

Mrs Hatton encouraged people to support Red Wednesday by coming to see the bus and meet those on board and people of different faiths involved in the event. The Routemaster is due to depart Westminster Cathedral at 11.30am, arriving at noon at the Imam Khoei Islamic Centre. The bus will then travel to the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John’s Wood arriving at about 12.45pm, before moving on to St Paul’s Cathedral around 3pm. Depending on traffic, the bus may stop at Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and the London Eye. It will arrive at Westminster Abbey at 4:30pm for photographs to be taken with dignitaries including Lord Alton of Liverpool. The ACN red bus will go on to Westminster Cathedral, where it will remain at from 5pm until 7:30pm.

In the evening, Holy Mass is available in the cathedral from 5.30pm – 6.30pm. A Prayer service will be led by Westminster Youth Ministry team in the Cathedral Piazza alongside film and music including Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir and violinist, Cathy Fox. Westminster Cathedral will be among the buildings being lit up in red from 6:30pm until midnight.

Throughout the world people are being persecuted because of their Faith. The young, the old, women and children, priests, Sisters and religious leaders are victims of kidnap , torture and death.

In partnership with Aid to the Church in Need, on the evening of #RedWednesday 23rd November 2016, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral, will light up their iconic facades Red. This profound act of solidarity will be joined by other faith groups as a tribute to all who, in recent times, suffer injustice and risk their lives for their faith.

Be part of Red Wednesday and make a stand against religious persecution and stand for peace and tolerance

 

 How You Can Support Red Wednesday:

Red Wednesday is a big opportunity to stand up for faith and freedom and to put pressure on the UK government and the international community to protect people of faithfind solutions to the problems that are fuelling extremist violence and to make our world a safer place.

#1 Wear Red on Wednesday 23rd November
#2 Share your #RedWednesday selfies
#3 Pray for Christians suffering around the world

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 Support #Redwednesday:  stand up for Faith and Freedom

Download your #RedWednesday twitter and facebook headers.

Download your #RedWednesday poster.

Pledge your support for #RedWednesday

November 23rd 2016: Under the shadow of IS: Iraqi Christians tell of crucifixions, torture, sex

Read the full article on HRWF website

World Watch Monitor (21.11.2016) – http://bit.ly/2fkeMxm – Islamic State (IS) jihadists hung Karlus, a 29-year-old cook, from the ceiling of the jail he was held in, by a rope attached to his left foot. As blood poured from his foot, they beat and kicked him, rubbing salt into his wounds. He was sexually abused in prison by three women wearing niqabs. He was told he would be shot dead; but for reasons he still does not understand, on the day his execution was due to take place, 26 September 2014, he was released.

When IS seized control of Iraqi territory in the summer of 2014, they gave Christians, as “People of the Book”, four options: leave, convert to Islam, pay a protection tax (jiyza) or be killed. The vast majority fled – an estimated 120,000 in a few short weeks that summer. But those left behind were subjected to torture, forced conversion, sexual slavery and even crucifixion, according to testimonies collected from Iraqi refugees in Jordan by the religious freedom charity ADF International.

Karlus told its researchers he had been unable to flee his home in Batnaya, a village outside Mosul, because he was looking after his disabled father. When the terrorists came to his house, they destroyed a cross and a picture of Jesus.

“They even destroyed a piece from the Quran that was given to me by a friend,” he said.

Karlus was taken to a police station unconscious after retaliating when one of the jihadists hit him in the face. There began his seven-week ordeal at the hands of IS, after which he fled to Kurdistan, was treated in Spain for the injuries to his leg, and sought asylum in Jordan. Unknown to Karlus, his father had meantime managed to travel to Baghdad, but died there in August 2015.

Esam, a father-of-three from outside the town of Qaraqosh, said two of his wife’s relatives had not managed to flee Qaraqosh before IS arrived. They were abducted; the husband has not been heard of since and the wife “now lives with one of the Daesh [IS] amirs“. While reports have focused on Yezidi women being taken into sex slavery, Esam’s account suggests that Christian women and girls may have been targeted as well.

“We heard of 12 Christian girls who are with Daesh. They may be more. Our bishop told people not to tell if they lose their girls: it is a shame on the family,” he said.

Karlus and Esam are among the thousands of Iraqi Christians who have sought refuge in neighbouring Jordan. While Iraqi and Kurdish forces and militias, with US and UK air support, are embroiled in the push to liberate Mosul from IS, many Christians from the city and its surrounding villages are too traumatised by their experiences to countenance returning. Some say they feel betrayed by neighbours who supported IS, and are no longer sure whom they can trust. Instead, many have applied for asylum in Western countries such as Sweden, Canada and Australia.

One family recovering in Sweden is that of Esam’s brother-in-law.

“My wife’s brother was crucified by Daesh,” Esam said. “He was crucified and tortured in front of his wife and children, who were forced to watch. They told him that if he loved Jesus that much, he would die like Jesus.”

Esam said the fighters tortured his relative from 6pm until 11pm; they cut his stomach open and shot him before leaving him hanging, crucified.

My wife’s brother was crucified by Daesh. He was crucified and tortured in front of his wife and children, who were forced to watch. They told him that if he loved Jesus that much, he would die like Jesus.

“A Swedish organisation helped his wife and the children; they are now in Sweden.” He added: “His wife has cancer.”

In the ongoing instability in Iraq, Christians are not necessarily safe even if they escape areas held by IS. Baghdad has been home to the country’s largest Christian community for decades, but numbers have plummeted as sectarian militia violence sporadically ripped the capital apart and targeted non-Muslims in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion. Twice in 2014, Alaa, a father-of-two living in the city, received death threats. The first was by phone; the second time, “someone wrote on our door, ‘Your day is coming to die, you infidels'”. Alaa knew these were no empty threats.

“My wife’s cousin was killed in 2010, in an explosion at a church. Another family member was abducted in 2009,” he said. The family left Iraq in November 2014 and flew to Jordan to register as refugees.

Amid the ongoing violence and political instability in Iraq, Alaa sees little future for his family. “It is impossible to go back to Baghdad,” he said. “It is not possible to go back to Iraq. I can’t build a life there. I hope to go to Australia, but any country that will accept me, I will go there. I want to build a life and a future for my children.”

Some of the damage done by IS has already begun to be reversed. Esam said friends of his who escaped Mosul after being forcibly converted to Islam had been “baptised back to Christianity”. Other aspects will take far longer. Iraqi Christians who end up returning to Iraq know they return to a country whose sectarian fault-lines have been activated to lethal levels. Aid workers have warned that extensive reconciliation work will be vital if Iraq’s many different faith and ethnic communities are to cohere again, especially as levels of trauma among all sectors of the population are thought to be extremely high. In Jordan, Karlus reflects on his ordeal at the hands of IS members in Mosul.

He concludes: “What happened is not easy, but in the end we must forgive. This is my destiny; maybe God is planning something for me.”

Read the full article on HRWF website

View all ” Freedom of Religion or Belief” Newsletters: 

http://hrwf.eu/newsletters/forb/

View this newsletter: 

http://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Iraq2016.pdf 

 Join with  others who have signed the petition or make your pledge to support RED WEDNESDAY at:   http://www.acnuk.org/redwednesday

 

Red Wednesday House of Commons Debate: November 15th 2016.

[Robert Flello in the Chair]

4.00 pm

Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Red Wednesday campaign against religious persecution.

It is a pleasure to speak on this very important subject under your chairmanship, Mr Flello. All over the world, thousands of people are persecuted because of their faith, through false imprisonment, physical and mental torture, rape, slavery and, more subtly, discrimination in education and employment. For some, their faith can cost them their lives.

In partnership with the charity Aid to the Church in Need, on Wednesday 23 November Westminster abbey and Westminster cathedral will be lighting up their iconic buildings in red. Other faiths will join in that act of solidarity as a tribute to the people worldwide who are suffering injustice and risking their lives for their faith. I have written to Bolton Council to ask it to join this movement and light up Bolton’s historic town hall in red on 23 November to promote solidarity with those who are suffering. Aid to the Church in Need is also encouraging smaller, more personal acts of recognition on that day that everyone can take part in—for example, simply wearing red for Red Wednesday or using the hashtag #RedWednesday on social media to raise awareness of the plight of others. Having greater awareness and understanding will help to ensure that we never take our freedoms for granted.

This year, I joined colleagues from both sides of the House on a visit to northern Iraq to meet persecuted Christians fleeing the terrorist group Islamic State. In Mosul and elsewhere, Christians have been systematically targeted and the noon symbol, the Arabic equivalent of the Latin N for Nasara or Nazarene, has been daubed on their homes. They have been given the grim choice of paying the jizya tax, converting to Islam or being put to death. Many chose to flee, especially when their money had run out and they could no longer pay the extortion. That persecution, along with that of the Yazidi and many Muslims, led last April to the debate, granted by the Backbench Business Committee and led by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), on recognition of the genocide perpetrated by ISIL in the region.

The Christian community in Iraq is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to the first century. There were thought to be 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before the invasion in 2003. However, that number is reported to have fallen now to about 230,000. Although many people have been persecuted and have fled the region, that figure shows the targeted nature of the persecution and, if it carries on in that direction, we will soon see the end of Christianity in much of the middle east.

We know that there is a civil war in Syria and Iraq, but sometimes the religious context is overlooked or obscured by more dramatic events. When we met His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II, the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, he gave us a sense of how overlooked many people feel. He used the example of the protection given to eight frogs in Australia. The pond in which the frogs lived was the subject of a huge local campaign, and a small fortune was spent to save them. He said that, in comparison, many Christians in Iraq felt ignored. Of course we have to protect our natural environment, but I am sure that many colleagues would be as concerned as I am about the scarcity of letters and emails on religious persecution compared with, say, badgers and bees.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on initiating this timely debate. Is he aware of the persecution faced by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Pakistan? Since they faced criminalisation in 1984, hundreds of Ahmadis have been murdered in sectarian hate crimes. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government must continue dialogue with countries such as Pakistan to better promote religious tolerance?

I agree wholeheartedly with what the hon. Lady has said. It is so important now to reflect on the effects of increased globalisation. What goes on in one country, especially if endorsed by the Government—I am thinking of the Ahmadiyya community no longer being recognised as Muslim and being proscribed from describing themselves as such—is transmitted around the world as an idea and does not help to foster community relations here, so the hon. Lady makes a superb point.

In October 2016, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, Pakistan, told a Foreign and Commonwealth Office conference about his niece’s first year at school. That Christian girl was required to memorise a lesson that she was a Muslim and all non-Muslims were infidels. He spoke about how some textbooks in Pakistan’s schools foster prejudice against members of religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Jews and Sikhs.

Studies of the problem have been carried out both by the Catholic Church in Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace and by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The report, which covered the Punjab and Sindh provinces, noted more than 50 hate references against religious minorities in those provinces’ textbooks. That is a very important example of religious persecution not always being about death and destruction. It can be found in all kinds of other measures, including ones that normalise the sense of persecution in schools. That kind of literature or information and that kind of understanding can be developed in schools and the wider community. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister included in his reply what steps the Government are taking to stop that happening, particularly in nations that receive British aid to provide not just education but security in the region and beyond. I think that that is an aspect of what the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) was highlighting.

Oppression of religious communities is not always due to conflict between religions; it can also be part of state oppression, particularly in the remaining communist countries. North Korea is perhaps the most notorious, but we can also see the oppressive treatment of Christians in Cuba and of Muslim Uyghurs in western China.

Britain has her own problems with religious persecution, so it is not just an international problem. The case of Nissar Hussain from Bradford is a particularly shocking example and has gained widespread public attention only after 20 years of suffering following his conversion from Islam to Christianity. Violent punishment for apostasy has no place in any society.

Organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need and Christian Solidarity Worldwide have done a huge amount of work to improve the lives of the persecuted across the world, but we are looking for long-term solutions and, especially for the middle east, one that does not lead to the disappearance of Christianity or other religious groups.

I encourage colleagues and people watching the debate to take part in Red Wednesday next week, to read the report, which will be released on 24 November, or to write to their local council to turn a local monument red. The importance of raising awareness of this issue cannot be overstated.

I will conclude with the words of an Iraqi Christian.

 

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this very important issue to Westminster Hall. The Red Wednesday campaign against religious persecution is very important. The hon. Gentleman and I were together on a trip to Iraq just in September, so we know very well about the persecution. It is good to remember such persecution on Red Wednesday, because this year 100,000 Christians will be killed because of their faith; 200 million Christians live in a persecuted neighbourhood; and 2 billion will face persecution and discrimination. If ever there was a good cause to follow and to recognise, Red Wednesday is it. Does the hon. Gentleman agree? I am sure he does, but let us see what he says.

I absolutely agree. The figures that the hon. Gentleman highlighted show how widespread concerns about persecution across the world are. On every continent, people of all religions suffer in so many different ways. I will conclude with the quotation, which sums up the way many Christians feel at the moment:

“The attacks on Christians continue and the world remains totally silent. It’s as if we’ve been swallowed up by the night.”

4.10 pm

It is a pleasure to work under your chairmanship, Mr Flello, and an honour to respond to this important debate by spelling out our approach to human rights. I am pleased to see hon. Members here in the Chamber who have gained a reputation for raising these matters and for holding the Executive to account to see what we can do to make sure we underline the values that are important to us in the United Kingdom.

After the last election, we had a rethink about how best to consolidate our international approach to promoting human rights and democracy abroad. Our manifesto commitment was:

“We will stand up for the freedom of people of all religions—and non-religious people—to practise their beliefs in peace and safety”.

Before the election, we had eight themes, which I think was a bit too cumbersome. They have been narrowed down to three core pillars. They are, first, the values, including democracy, the rule of law, freedom of the media, freedom of religion or belief and women’s rights; secondly, the rules-based international system, supporting human rights as one of the UN’s three pillars that help to provide a nominative framework for the prevention of conflict and instability; and finally, human rights for a stable world—so, managing the risks of UK engagement in countries with poor human rights records, which includes our overseas security and justice assistance framework and contributing to tackling extremism.

4.12 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

4.37 pm

On resuming—

Before we were interrupted by the Divisions, I was explaining that in this House we often ask ourselves what is the value of international aid. We can contextualise the support we give and the trade we do with other countries in terms of the influence we derive when we have questions about their democratic values, concerns about how they follow the rules-based international system or, indeed, worries about whether they are following human rights. I make it clear that, where we can, our support and financial assistance go to non-governmental organisations, rather than directly to Governments. When we provide support to Governments directly, we try to ensure that they abide by our shared commitments and standards.

When the Minister has discussions about international trade and aid in relation to human rights, for example, what sort of response does he get? More importantly, what is the role of the United Nations? Does it make much progress?

The hon. Gentleman speaks of the United Nations as if it were another organisation. We are part of the United Nations. We affect the approach of the United Nations on such matters. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, we are concerned not only about security matters but about improving standards of life, democratic values, the rule of law and humanitarian rights across the world. We want to use the UN as a vehicle through which we can leverage change.

Let us look at our own history. Without going into detail, it took us time before monarchs did not have their head removed, before people were not sent up chimneys and before the slave trade was abolished. I am not making an excuse for not pushing such things but, ultimately, we have to effect cultural change at a pace that works, rather than galvanising the opposite message from the one we want to push.

The Minister knows, as he said earlier, that I am one of those who have spoken out many times in this House on behalf of Christians. The all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief, which I chair, speaks out for those of the Christian religion, those of other religions and those of no religion. When it comes to human rights, we want Muslims to speak up for Christians and Christians to speak up for Muslims. Has the Minister seen much evidence of that taking place around the world, when he has had an opportunity to speak to other countries?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to stress that. We want believers and non-believers to allow freedom of belief. That is what we are pursuing, and it is exactly Britain’s approach when we have dialogues with other countries. The fact that we have an economic relationship with other countries allows us to have necessary frank conversations, sometimes behind closed doors; I appreciate that many hon. Members might feel that they do not hear enough of what we are saying and what pace of change we expect from other countries as they raise their game. A great example, which I know the hon. Gentleman has raised on many occasions, is the use of the death penalty. We abhor it, we ourselves have moved through it and we encourage other countries that use the death penalty to meet EU guidelines and ultimately to remove it.

If there are no further interventions, I will move on. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) on securing this important debate. It is an opportunity to confirm the Government’s commitment to the right to freedom of religion or belief. It is understandable that his speech focused on the harrowing situation faced by Christians in parts of the middle east. I certainly share his concern. As I mentioned earlier, this Government have a manifesto commitment to support freedom of religion or belief for people of all religions and non-religious people, which is exactly the point raised by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). In particular, we are working internationally to deliver our commitment for Christians in the middle east.

The Minister will recall the debate held on 20 April this year, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) referred and to which the Minister responded. The House unanimously called on the Government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council, with a view to conferring jurisdiction on the International Criminal Court so that perpetrators could be brought to justice. I was pleased that the Minister said in that debate that the Government were

“supporting the gathering and preservation of evidence that could in future be used in a court to hold Daesh to account”

and

“will do everything we can to help gather evidence that could be used by the judicial bodies”.—[Official Report, 20 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 996.]

I have two questions for the Minister. How have the Government been facilitating the gathering and preservation of evidence of crimes, as they promised, and what steps are they taking to ensure that members of the global coalition, united to defeat Daesh, are also gathering and preserving such evidence? Given that Daesh is now rapidly losing ground in Syria and Iraq, and with the battle of Mosul raging, does he not agree that the Government should make clear how they intend to deal with the perpetrators when they are caught, and should do so with a sense of urgency?

I remember the debate well. I made it clear—I think that I was the first Minister to do so—that I believe that war crimes have been committed in Iraq and Syria and that crimes against humanity have been committed by Daesh and other extremists in that location, but it is not my opinion or the Government’s opinion that counts, because it is not a political judgment. It must be a legal judgment, and there is a process that must be approved. We cannot get a UN Security Council resolution passed until the evidence is gathered. There is a mechanism to get to the International Criminal Court, and it includes the collection and collation of evidence, as my hon. Friend highlighted.

I will not go into too much detail, other than to say that gathering the evidence, by its nature, requires people to expose themselves to dangerous circumstances. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said on a number of occasions, the wheels of justice grind slowly, but they grind fine. As we saw in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia, it can take many years until those people end up in The Hague, but they are held to account. That is why the Foreign Secretary, when he visited Washington DC in July, made the case and encouraged others to support his view that we must not allow the issue to be missed. We must collect the evidence. If I may, I will speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) outside the Chamber and familiarise her with a bit more of the detail, but I hope that she understands the sensitivities of spelling out too much, simply because of the dangers entailed.

I welcome that, because evidence has come to my attention that several prominent leaders of Daesh are individuals in respect of whom the ICC has the ability to exercise its jurisdiction now, due to their nationality. I would be grateful if the Minister met with me to discuss it further.

I would be delighted to do so. I simply make the case that the Foreign Secretary is extremely passionate about the issue. Indeed, it came from the voices in the Chamber saying, “What is Britain doing to hold these perpetrators to account?” We must work with the Iraqi Government, UN organisations and other members of the international community to deliver justice and promote the rights of all minorities, as well as to hold perpetrators to account.

It is also worth mentioning that we are working further afield than the middle east, as well. In Pakistan, we regularly raise concerns about the freedom of religion or belief. In March 2016, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, the then Foreign Secretary, raised the importance of safeguarding the rights of all minorities, including religious minorities. In Nigeria, we are providing a substantial package of intelligence, military development and humanitarian support in the fight against Boko Haram, including training and advice on counter-insurgency, and £5 million in support for a regional military taskforce.

Promoting religious tolerance is critical to reconciliation and securing a lasting peace in any combat area, but particularly in Syria and Iraq. That is why we developed the Magna Carta fund, which is being used to support several projects to promote freedom of religion or belief. In Iraq, we have funded a series of grassroots meetings between religious leaders of all faiths to promote religious tolerance. Over the past year, we have supported a project promoting legal and social protection for freedom of religion or belief in Iraq. The project aims to prevent intolerance and violence towards religious communities by inspiring key leaders in Iraqi society to become defenders of freedom of religion or belief.

Our commitment to promoting freedom of religion or belief is not confined to the middle east but extends right across the piece. It is integral to our diplomatic network in promoting fundamental human rights around the globe through our conversations with host Governments and other influential actors such as faith leaders, and through our project work and organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union and the OSCE.

Is the promotion of religious tolerance in Iraq being done from primary school age? I have seen some documentaries in which certain charities run schools to promote better understanding between different religions. Has there been much success with that?

Yes. I can write to the hon. Gentleman with more detail, but he is absolutely right that that is the age at which messages about understanding, reconciliation and recognition of the various pressures and influences are most received. Our work involves primary and secondary schools as well.

The foreign and commonwealth conference on this matter, which took place last month, was a ground-breaking conference on how protecting freedom of religion or belief can help combat violent extremism by helping make societies more inclusive and respectful of religious diversity. The conference brought together a range of experts and high-profile speakers. All participants, including many Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff, shared and benefited from practical and innovative ideas to advance the cause. We have also updated and reprinted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s “Freedom of Religion or Belief” toolkit, which provides officers with guidelines on how to identify violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief and what to do about them, and with further sources of information for those who wish to examine the subject in more depth.

In conclusion, the Government will continue to fight for the freedom of religion or belief internationally. We do so not only because it is right and is enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights and in article 18 of the international covenant on civil and political rights but because extending freedom of religion or belief to more countries and more societies helps to make the world safer and more prosperous, which is in all our interests. We recognise that progress requires a response from the whole of society, so we welcome the opportunity to work with this Parliament and other Parliaments, with religious groups and with civil society partners such as Aid to the Church in Need, Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide. We believe that freedom of religion or belief is a universal human right and we will continue towards the ambitious goal of ensuring that it is enjoyed by everyone everywhere.

Question put and agreed to.

 

Red Wednesday Questions in Parliament

Wednesday November 23rd 2016

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what priority is given within the Department for International Development (DfID) to issues related to religious liberty; how many staff, and what percentage of DfID’s budget, are allocated to faith-related issues; who is the designated lead official on faith-related issues; and whether there are any plans to increase the staff resources allocated by DfID to deal with faith and faith communities.   HL3418

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they consider that the mainstreaming of gender-related issues within the Department for International Development has been successful; what priority is given to it; what funding and how many officials are specifically dedicated to working on it; and what assessment they have made of whether it can be used as a successful model for the mainstreaming of support for minorities suffering persecution on grounds of freedom of religion or belief.   HL3419

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to introduce protection and support for minorities suffering persecution on grounds of freedom of religion or belief into every level of planning within the Department for International Development; whether they intend to make this a priority; and what measures they intend to introduce to track the impact of programmes aimed at reducing levels of religious persecution, hatred, and intolerance.   HL3420

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have made an assessment of research demonstrating the links between the promotion of freedom of religion and belief and those societies which are the most prosperous and stable; and whether such research informs the priorities and policies of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.   HL3421

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in relation to humanitarian assistance provided to Iraq, a record is kept to track what support is given to religious minorities; what priority is being given to such groups in the plans for the reconstruction of the country; and what consideration is taken of the needs of such groups in military planning in theatres of war such as Mosul.   HL3422

Syria and Iraq: Genocide

22 November 2016

Question

2.51 pm

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made in bringing to justice those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity, particularly against Yazidis, Christians and other minorities, in Syria and Iraq.

My Lords, the Government believe that there needs to be accountability for the crimes committed in Syria and Iraq. We continue to support the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria and have launched a global campaign to bring Daesh to justice. We are working with the Government of Iraq to bring a proposal before the UN to gather and preserve evidence in Iraq as a first step.

My Lords, tomorrow is Red Wednesday, when Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, a synagogue in north London and many other public buildings, including the Palace of Westminster, will be floodlit in red to commemorate all those who have been subjected to genocide or persecuted for their faith. Does the Minister recall that on 20 April the House of Commons declared that ISIS is responsible for genocide, the crime above all crimes? Can she therefore tell us how many British-born ISIS recruits have been brought to justice in British courts? Further, with Russia’s withdrawal last week from the International Criminal Court, are we talking to other Governments about the creation of a freestanding regional tribunal to bring to justice those who have been responsible for these crimes of genocide?

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked several important questions and I will try to encapsulate them. Perhaps I may first comment with regard to Russia. When Russia grabbed the headlines about leaving the ICC, it was when I was going to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. I was perfectly well aware that the Russians had never ratified, although they had signed, the initial treaty—they made a play of the headlines, but there we are.

As regards the prosecution of Daesh fighters, it is the case that these have already begun, and I can certainly write to the noble Lord with details of the cases that have been taken in this country. However, around 60 countries have legislation in place to prosecute and penalise foreign terrorist fighters for their activities, and to date at least 50 countries have prosecuted or arrested such fighters or facilitators. On the matter of how a tribunal might be set up, it is possible of course that some form of international or hybrid justice mechanism may prove to be appropriate, but it is too early—and not for us alone—to prejudge that.

My Lords, as the order of scale of the genocidal crimes perpetrated by Daesh becomes ever clearer, are Her Majesty’s Government aware that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recently called on the International Criminal Court to accept the existing jurisdiction that it has to prosecute foreign fighters complicit in the atrocities? Can my noble friend tell me whether Her Majesty’s Government will assist the International Criminal Court in that endeavour?

My Lords, my noble friend is right about the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. When I was in The Hague last week, I made it clear both to the president of the ICC and the chief prosecutor that the UK continues fully to respect the independence of the Office of the Prosecutor to determine which situations are subject to preliminary examination. I emphasised, both publicly and privately, that the United Kingdom has a fully co-operative relationship with the ICC and an obligation to respond to all requests for assistance from the Office of the Prosecutor, and will do so.

My Lords, as well as punishing existing genocide, is there not a case for trying to prevent genocide in the future by tackling its precursor, which is frequently an education system that actively preaches discrimination against minorities? Can the Minister use her influence with DfID to ensure that our aid budget is used positively to help countries preach tolerance within their communities but at the very least to ensure that none of it is used actively to preach discrimination against minorities?

My Lords, the DfID aid budget is indeed used to ensure that those who need humanitarian aid receive it but also to address the issue of education. For example, a preliminary project in Iraq is looking at how to ensure that teachers are able to deliver education in a way that means that the next generation will not have some of the prejudices that have unfortunately been seen in some—only some—of the present generation. The Government of Iraq work very closely with us for peace and reconciliation.

My Lords, what further discussions have Her Majesty’s Government had with other members of the Security Council, particularly Russia and China, about the suffering of minorities at the hands of Daesh? What discussions do they plan to have with the incoming United States Administration?

My Lords, following the launch by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in September of the global campaign to bring Daesh to justice, we ensured that we had discussions with the other members of the Security Council—who were already aware of what was about to happen. We are making good progress in discussions across the United Nations on designing a system whereby evidence can be collected to bring Daesh to justice. Although I know that we have our differences with Russia over the way in which it has carried out some of its activities in Syria, I am hopeful that it may be in a position to support a process of bringing forward evidence in conjunction with the Government of Iraq—because it is Iraq led—so that the United Nations can then have a resolution before it which could be accepted by all.

I welcome what the Minister has said regarding the commission of inquiry. Just to amplify the last point, how are the Government building a consensus for that? I acknowledge the difficulty at the United Nations, but is not the first step surely to get wider support for that commission of inquiry?

My Lords, I think that I must be clearer in my answer and differentiate between the commission of inquiry, which we fully support and which continues as it is, and the work that we will now undertake with the Government of Iraq to present a resolution to the United Nations which would focus on collecting an evidence base. That is a different process. Our diplomats both in the United Nations and around the world are working hard to achieve support for that, including with our allies in the United States.

My Lords, while members of ISIS responsible for open slave markets and the systematic humiliation of Yazidi and Christian women must be brought to justice, does the Minister agree that the systematic bombing—to near extinction—of the people of Syria by both Russia and the West is also a war crime for supposed strategic interests? Does she also agree that the constant repetition of the mantra that Assad must go does nothing whatever to address the underlying religious tensions?

No, my Lords, I do not agree. It is the case that 68 members of the global coalition have come together in a signal of international intent to ensure that there is a government in Syria chosen by the Syrian people. It is Assad who is the block upon that: he is the major cause of the conflict and the major cause of death for those who have died—between 85% and 90%. He provides a rallying cry for Daesh. I am afraid that on this occasion, although on many others I can agree with the noble Lord, he and I will have to have different opinions.

Successful Conclusion of Campaign To Provide BBC World Service Transmissions to The Korean Peninsula. Also reports on human rights violations in North Korea

Lord Alton of Liverpool, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea:

 

As Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, I welcome today’s announcement by the BBC of a Korean-language World Service. The announcement follows many years of work by the APPG and others, and we congratulate the BBC and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on making the correct decision for the people of North Korea.

This is a practical and overdue step in breaking the information blockade that engulfs North Korea – and fulfils our duties under Article 19 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights – to ensure unimpeded free access to information and news.

Whether in the dark days of Nazi occupied Europe or in remote parts of the world today, the BBC World Service has always provides access to truthful reporting and given people hope in times of oppression and despair. Mikael Gorbachev once said that even he relied on the BBC to learn what was really going on in the world while Aung San Suu Kyi said that the BBC World Service kept hope alive during her years of house arrest in Burma.

In July 2014, I initiated a wide-ranging House of Lords debate on the BBC World Service. In that speech, my colleague, Lord Eames, stated:

‘I visited North Korea…From a most unlikely source, there was a remark that will live with me for a very long time. Obviously, I cannot disclose the complete circumstances, but the words speak for themselves. “Where”, he said to me, “is the BBC?”. If you knew the person who said that, the circumstances and the position that he held, it would set the balance right of many of the impressions that we have of what is going on in North Korea. Those words speak louder than statistics, transmission problems and the facilities needed, and I convey them to the House with great feeling’.

North Korea is a country where access to foreign media is prohibited and accessing such media is punishable by barbaric sentences. Today, the BBC and the United Kingdom Government have taken a stand against the censorship and repression practiced by the North Korean Government. Free speech, objective news, and voices from the outside world will now travel from London to the darkest corners of North Korea.
Over the past decade, the APPG has listened to many calls from exiled North Koreans to send information to their compatriots north of the 38th parallel. This call has now been heard. A mistake which has often been made is to believe that to engage with North Koreans, one must deal with the North Korean Government. Our approach at the APPG has differed. We have instead listened to the knowledge and stories of the 30,000 North Koreans who have escaped their homeland. Some of these exiles have bravely addressed our group in Parliament and their stories have undoubtedly inspired today’s BBC service and will go on to challenge a sixty year old status-quo on the Korean peninsula.

The work of the APPG has long-established the increasing desire of North Koreans to know what is happening in the world outside. Escapees say that significant numbers risk imprisonment and even execution to consume foreign media. But try as they may, the North Korean Government has been unable to put the information genie back in the bottle.

In 2014, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry, chaired by Justice Michael Kirby, detailed ‘an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought’ as well as ‘the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association’ in North Korea. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights insists that citizens have a right to access news and information.

For the people of North Korea, I am pleased that breaking their information blockade and upholding their given rights is to become a central pillar of UK foreign policy and BBC practice. From the Soviet Union to Burma, the BBC has shown that broadcasting can inspire and broaden the horizons of the repressed.

Facing the challenge of North Korea is an urgent diplomatic and political problem, but it is also a moral obligation. A BBC World Service in the Korean-language should come as a sledgehammer to the North Korean Government’s information blockade and inspire those who will one day lead a new North Korea into the light.

Link: https://appgnk.org/2016/11/16/lord-alton-bbc-world-service-and-north-korea/

 ———————————————————————————————————————-

November 2016:

  • NORTH KOREA: Over 75 percent of Christians persecuted in North Korea don’t survive their punishments
  • By Czarina Ong
  • Reports obtained from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, a South Korean non-profit organisation, showed that over 65,000 people have already been persecuted for their faith in North Korea. From that number, close to 99 percent of the 11,370 defectors confirmed that there is absolutely no religious freedom under Kim Jong-un’s leadership.Meanwhile, the group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) released a report called “Total Denial: Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Korea” in September revealing that members of religious minorities suspected of state crimes are “being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot.”“A policy of guilt by association applies, meaning that the relatives of Christians are also detained regardless of whether they share the Christian belief. Even North Koreans who have escaped to China, and who are or become Christians, are often repatriated and subsequently imprisoned in a political prison camp,” the CSW report stated.As a result, North Koreans don’t enjoy the freedom of expressing their religious beliefs. If they try to do so, they are subjected to discrimination, detention, and all sorts of inhumane treatment.
  • The report added that Kim Jong-un sees religious belief as a major threat to his leadership. Thus, he requires people to acknowledge him as their nation’s “supreme leader.”
  • As if the torture isn’t bad enough, the North Korean government even goes a step further by punishing the relatives of these Christians and members of other religious groups.
  • What’s worse, over 75 percent of Christians persecuted from their faith do not survive their punishments, The Christian Post reported. This is why only 1.2 percent of the defectors engaged in secret religious activities while they were still in North Korea.
  • Christian Today (12.11.2016) – http://bit.ly/2fBKxDq – Christians don’t fare very well in North Korea. Human rights groups are giving grim reports on the treatment of religious minorities in the East Asian country, saying that over 75 percent of those who are subjected to torture, imprisonment and all sorts of punishment do not live to tell their tales.
  • Posted In Freedom of Religion and Belief
  • ———————————————————————-

Chilling testimony of the evils of North Korea’s regime

Also see the web site of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea:

http://appgnk.org/

New report launched at Westminster on the lack of religious freedom in North Korea:

Read the full report and executive summary at:

https://freedomdeclared.org/news/appgs-report-persecution-north-korea-published/

Human rights 4

On 10 December – international human rights day – the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG) published the findings of its Parliamentary Inquiry into persecution in North Korea. The report, Religion and Belief in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, includes witness accounts of the horrific human rights abuses suffered by religious and belief minorities in the country, which often go unheard because of the secrecy of the regime.
It concludes: “The DPRK systematically oppresses freedom of religion or belief, and Christians in particular are targeted by the regime and subjected to chronic human rights abuses, amounting to crimes against humanity.”

The report makes a number of recommendations to the British Government, including that it continue pursuing the referral of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea to the International Criminal Court to account for its treatment of its citizens.

It also recommends that the UK invest in long-term strategic engagement with North Korea. Some of the practical suggestions include: educational exchanges, investing in the 30,000 North Korean people who have managed to escape, breaking the information blockade, critical engagement on human rights and the re-instigation of the ‘Six Party Talks’. Further, it urges the BBC World Service to establish a radio broadcast to the Korean Peninsula, in both English and Korean languages, giving citizens a window out of their closed world.

The report was launched at a meeting chaired by Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, Vice Chair of the APPG on North Korea. Those present heard of routine, horrific suffering at the hands of the DPRK state, with the Rev. Stuart Windsor, of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, sharing that “Between 1997 and 2007 an estimated one million North Koreans died or were killed in prison while the West has been silent”. The meeting also heard of the ingrained suspicion of religion from Kim, Joo-il, who told how “In North Korea, anti-religious education starts at six-seven years – people are taught to antagonise religion”. While Zoe Smith, of Open Doors UK & Ireland, highlighted a strong message of the APPG’s report, that the current situation in the DPRK “needs the ‘world citizen’ to step up to the table and say ‘enough’s enough’. Change is needed.”

Baroness Berridge, chairman of the APPG, commented: “For the past sixty-plus years, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea has committed egregious human rights violations – the details of which would turn the stomach of even the most hardened person.

This includes banishing those who follow a religion to remote places, incarcerating them, subjecting them to torture in labour camps, and murdering Christians for merely possessing a Bible…For many years North Korea has been viewed as an impossible case, but now the international community is finally beginning to afford the country the attention its people so desperately need.”

Lord Alton, chairman of the APPG on North Korea and Vice-chair of the APPG on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, highlighted that “Christmas spent in a North Korean gulag will be just another day of grotesque suffering”, concluding that “We who enjoy political and religious freedom; free to practice our faith; free to celebrate Christmas with our loved ones, must speak out and take practical actions to help bring the long winter of oppression to an end. This Report should be essential Christmas reading for Governments, MPs, and policy makers”.

December 11th – Evidence Given at Westminster on the Plight of Disabled People in north Korea: Testimony of a Disabled North Korean Escapee

Ji-Seong-Ho-a-former-North-Korean-defector

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/11288881/British-Government-duped-into-funding-North-Korean-athletes-at-London-2012-Paralympics.html


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/11286517/North-Korea-leaves-disabled-to-die.html

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/north-korea-castrates-dwarfs-makes-4790278

Also visit the web site of the All Party Parliamentary group on North Korea: http://appgnk.org/

The unprecedented publication of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report calling for the prosecution of North Korea’s leaders for crimes against humanity.

The unprecedented publication of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report calling for the prosecution of North Korea’s leaders for crimes against humanity.

400,000 are estimated to have died in North Korea's camps over the past 30 years.

400,000 are estimated to have died in North Korea’s camps over the past 30 years.

A United Nations Commission of Inquiry has called for the leaders of North Korea to be
prosecuted at The Hague for crimes against humanity. Lord Alton of Liverpool has
chaired a parliamentary committee on North Korea for 10 years. The COI report
underlines and corroborates the witness statements about unspeakable cruelty that Lord
Alton’s committee has heard. This report may be the catalyst for global action to force
change in North Korea.
His reaction follows details of two forthcoming meetings at Westminster, where you can learn more:
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Tuesday 4th March 4-5pm Committee Room 15 (note change from CR 18)
APPG North Korea and Open Doors

Fiona Bruce MP is a Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea

Fiona Bruce MP is a Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea

A briefing on Christians in North Korea, chaired by Fiona Bruce MP, with speakers including a survivor of a North Korean prison camp and a field expert on North Korea. It is very timely to draw attention to North Korea following the publication of the UN’s first ever report on human rights abuses in North Korea.

Please RSVP to

advocacy@opendoorsuk.org or for further enquires please call 01993 777300

Then on Tuesday 11 March at 5.30pm in Committee Room 4A.

Following the publication this week of the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea, the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea will hold a discussion focused on the way forward, chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool.

The speakers will include:∙

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, former chief prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic;∙

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC will be among the speakers

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC will be among the speakers

Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch;∙

Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and a co-founder of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK)

There will also be a screening of a new film on North Korea produced by Human Rights Watch.

Please come, and invite others. Both meetings are open to the public

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North Korea and the United Nations Commission of Inquiry

Two recent events, inextricably linked, are harbingers of significant change in North Korea, and they pose significant questions to the international community about how best to respond.

First, in December last, came the execution of Chang Song-thaek, the uncle of the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

Chang’s death was both a sign of Kim Jong-un’s ruthlessness but also a sign of weakness and fear.

Chang’s death was both a sign of Kim Jong-un’s ruthlessness but also a sign of weakness and fear.

Chang’s death was both a sign of Kim Jong-un’s ruthlessness but also a sign of weakness and fear.

Kim Jong Un

Kim Jong Un

Chang Song-thaek had to be killed because he had questioned an ideology which has paralysed economic development, incarcerated hundreds of thousands of its citizens, and which has conferred pariah status on the country. His execution became the most high profile of a succession of killings, symptomatic of a system which routinely murders and imprisons its own people, and which subjugates them through indoctrination and propaganda.

One million men under arms. Military expenditure could be used for development and for feeding a malnourished people.

One million men under arms. Military expenditure could be used for development and for feeding a malnourished people.

Now, two months later comes the unprecedented publication of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report calling for the prosecution of North Korea’s leaders for crimes against humanity.

After a year collecting evidence from North Korean escapees, the COI compared the country’s egregious violations of human rights with those of the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s and has called for their referral to the International Criminal Court. Despite their angry protestations, the leadership should be fearfully reflecting that, as at Nuremberg and at the Hague, a day of reckoning may one day come.

The ICC - Despite angry protestations, the leadership should be fearfully reflecting that, as at Nuremberg and at the Hague, a day of reckoning may one day come.

The ICC – Despite angry protestations, the leadership should be fearfully reflecting that, as at Nuremberg and at the Hague, a day of reckoning may one day come.

Unlike their former allies in Burma – who have also faced allegations of crimes against humanity but have begun to alter course – the North Korean regime has eschewed the path of reform, staking their future on the world’s indifference. It is a huge miscalculation.

Mr. Justice Kirby, the highly respected Australian Judge, who chaired the Commission, and his fellow Commissioners, say in their 400-page report that North Korea’s crimes against humanity are sui generis: “the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”

Judge Michael Kirby

Judge Michael Kirby

They detail what they describe as “unspeakable atrocities” and spell out their scope in graphic detail:

“These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

Judge Kirby has drawn parallels with Auschwitz, with Hitler and with Stalin and says that the country’s leadership and the system which it sustains – “policies established at the highest level of State” – must be held to account and brought to justice.

Judge Kirby has drawn parallels with Auschwitz, with Hitler and with Stalin and says that the country’s leadership and the system which it sustains - “policies established at the highest level of State” – must be held to account and brought to justice.

Judge Kirby has drawn parallels with Auschwitz, with Hitler and with Stalin and says that the country’s leadership and the system which it sustains – “policies established at the highest level of State” – must be held to account and brought to justice.

Chang Song-thaek high profile execution is certainly redolent of the period to which Michael Kirby alludes.

Chang was seen as a potential alternative. He had been the power behind the throne and was close to China and admiring of its reform programme. China’s anger at his killing sits alongside their barely concealed contempt for an “ally” which routinely aborts North Korean babies, fathered by Chinese men, who are regarded as a contamination of Korean blood line.

Chang’s execution – some unsubstantiated reports in China allege that he was thrown to the dogs ; the purges; the reign of terror; the falsifying of history; the show trials; the network of gulags which incarcerate between 200,000 and 300,000 people; the estimated 400,000 people who have died in the prison camps in the last 30 years; and the attempt to obliterate religious belief and all political dissent; all bear all the hallmarks of a regime which has carefully studied, admires and imitates the visceral brutality of Joseph Stalin.

North Korea's Gulags

North Korea’s Gulags

Not for nothing, on a visit to North Korea, was I shown the bullet proof railway carriage which Stalin gave as a gift to Kim Il Sung.

But the regime has more recent heroes and I was also shown the gifts of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu. My guide seemed blissfully unaware of the fate of the Ceaușescus, asking me “are they unwell?” when I asked her if she knew what had happened to them.

My guide seemed blissfully unaware of the fate of the Ceaușescus, asking me “are they unwell?” when I asked her if she knew what had happened to them.

My guide seemed blissfully unaware of the fate of the Ceaușescus, asking me “are they unwell?” when I asked her if she knew what had happened to them.

Unlike the North Korean public – sadly denied access to BBC World Service broadcasts, as they do not broadcast to the Korean Peninsula – the whole world knows what happened to the Ceaușescus. Thanks to the COI, the free world can no longer claim that it had no idea of what happens inside North Korea or the scale of the depredations in North Korea.

One of the relatively new factors which has made possible the COI’s report are the first-hand witness statement s to which the Commission has had access.

  One of the relatively new factors which has made possible the COI’s report are the first-hand witness statement s to which the Commission has had access.

One of the relatively new factors which has made possible the COI’s report are the first-hand witness statement s to which the Commission has had access.

Just as North Korea can no longer completely keep out information and contact from beyond its borders, so the presence of around 30,000 North Koreans living in democratic countries has been a game-changer. The first-hand evidence of escapees has opened the eyes of the world and aroused the anger of many who were previously disinterested.

The first-hand evidence of escapees has opened the eyes of the world and aroused the anger of many who were  previously disinterested.

The first-hand evidence of escapees has opened the eyes of the world and aroused the anger of many who were previously disinterested.

It is now ten years since I urged the British Parliament to highlight human rights violations in North Korea with the same emphasis we place on security issues. Perhaps the COI report will finally make this happen.

As the world discovered during the Helsinki Process, after the West and the Soviet Bloc had reached a military stalemate, human rights engagement (at a number of different levels) tipped the scales and brought fundamental change.

The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 linked foreign policy to basic human rights principles. A firm stand on human rights, linked to a strong non-appeasement military policy, is the catalyst for change. That is why I have argued for Helsinki with a Korean face, and why I strongly welcome the COI’s report.

We should enter negotiations which guarantee human rights, such as free exchange of people and religious liberties ... By linking the present crisis with the human rights violations, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity. To do nothing about North Korea would be the most dangerous option of all.”

We should enter negotiations which guarantee human rights, such as free exchange of people and religious liberties … By linking the present crisis with the human rights violations, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity. To do nothing about North Korea would be the most dangerous option of all.”

Ten years ago I told the House of Lords that:

“By championing the cause of those who are suffering in North Korea, the international community will create the conditions for the establishment of democracy ….Learning the lessons of [the] Helsinki [process], we must do nothing to licence the regime in Pyongyang to commit further atrocities against its own people. We should enter negotiations which guarantee human rights, such as free exchange of people and religious liberties … By linking the present crisis with the human rights violations, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity. To do nothing about North Korea would be the most dangerous option of all.”

During the intervening decade I have chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea and have often felt frustrated that we have pursued that dangerous option of doing nothing at all. As Judge Kirby discovered once confronted by the personal accounts of those who have suffered at the regime’s hands doing nothing cannot be an option.

North Korean Poet, Mr.Jang, has broadcast on BBC World Service - which cannot be heard on the Korean peninsula.

North Korean Poet, Mr.Jang, has broadcast on BBC World Service – which cannot be heard on the Korean peninsula.

Part Two of the COI report relies heavily on personal stories. It cites evidence given by individual victims and witnesses, including the harrowing treatment meted out to political prisoners, some of whom said they would catch snakes and mice to feed malnourished babies. Others told of watching family members being murdered in prison camps, and of defenceless inmates being used for martial arts practice.

This is of a piece with the accounts which my Committee has been given.

It is more than ten years since I met Yoo Sang-joon. Yoo’s story was particularly harrowing and disturbing. He told me how he had seen his wife, and all bar one of his children shot dead. He subsequently escaped across the border to China with his one remaining son. The boy died en route.

The bravery of Yoo Sang-joon

The bravery of Yoo Sang-joon

Yoo Sang-joon himself became an Asian Raoul Wallenberg – the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Yoo Sang-joon bravely re-entered North Korea and has helped many people flee across the border. This led to his arrest in China in 2007, but, on compassionate grounds, China relented, allowing him to be repatriated to Seoul knowing that in the North he would be executed.

My Committee heard the story of Lee Keumsoon. Her death camp supervisors stripped off Lee’s clothes to establish whether she was pregnant. Like others who have become pregnant in China she was forcibly aborted.

The dignity, integrity and bearing of the women and men who have suffered so much is striking.

  Shin Dong Hyok told my Parliamentary Committee that as a child, he witnessed fellow child prisoners being killed through accidents and beatings. He saw his mother and brother executed in Camp 14.

Shin Dong Hyok told my Parliamentary Committee that as a child, he witnessed fellow child prisoners being killed through accidents and beatings. He saw his mother and brother executed in Camp 14.

None more so that Shin Dong-Hyok, whose story is movingly told by Blaine Harden in “Escape from Camp 14”, extracts of which were serialised in 2012 by BBC Radio Four. I have now met Shin several times. It would be impossible not to be deeply affected by both his story and by his demeanour. Despite everything that has been done to him and his family he still loves his country and wants the best for North Korea and its people.

Shin is nearly thirty and spent the first 23 years of his life in North Korea’s Political prison Camp 14, where he was born. Camp 14 is one of five sprawling prison camps in the mountains of North Korea, about fifty five miles north of Pyongyang. No one born in Camp 14 or any other political prison camp – “the absolute control zone” – had previously escaped from North Korea. These are places where the hard labour, the malnutrition, or freezing conditions, minus 20 Celsius in winter, will often get you before the firing squad.

Shin told my Parliamentary Committee that as a child, he witnessed fellow child prisoners being killed through accidents and beatings. He told me that children and parents were required to watch and report on one another. He was forced to work from the age of 10 or 11.

His parents were sent to the camp in 1965 as political prisoners. Thirty years later, after family members tried to escape from the camp, Shin was interrogated in an underground torture chamber.

Following this failed escape attempt, he was forced, on April 6th 1996, to watch as his mother and brother were publicly executed – common in the camps.

Guards bound the hands and feet of the 13-year-old boy and roasted him over a fire. The burns still scar Shin’s back, the memories have indelibly scarred his mind; and he remains haunted by the double life he was forced to lead and the lies he had to tell to survive.

In 2005, having been tortured, mistreated and discriminated against as the son and brother of a declared traitor – and suffering from constant hunger – Shin and a compatriot tried to escape.
His friend died on the barbed wire – not realising that it carried a high electric current – but, although he was badly burnt, Shin literally climbed over the corpse of his friend and for 25 days he secretly travelled towards the Yalu River and over the border into China.

In Shanghai he found a way over the wall of the South Korean Consulate and, after 6 months there, he was allowed to travel to Seoul. Physically and emotionally Shin was deeply scarred.
NKShin
Shin Dong Hyok: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/un-witness-describes-horrors-of-north-korea/
and also scroll down to watch “Becoming Human: Shin’s New Life” halfway down.

Shin was joined at our Parliamentary Hearing by Ahn Myeong-Cheol, aged 37, who worked as a prison guard at four political prison camps – also within the “absolute control zone” between 1987 and 1994.

He described how his father killed himself when he realised that he had been heard criticising the regime; his mother and brothers were sent to prison camps; Ahn was re-educated and became a prison guard in the “absolute control zones.

Vividly and harrowingly he described how he witnessed guard dogs imported from Russia tear three children to pieces and how the camp warden congratulated the guard who had trained the dogs; he said that even when prisoners died they are punished- their corpses and remains simply left to disintegrate and rot away on the open ground.

Particularly harrowing was the evidence given by two diminutive North Korean women who, speaking through an interpreter, recounted their experiences. From time to time their stories were interrupted as the women wept.

One escapee told parliamentarians: “I couldn’t bear to die with my children in my arms. As long as I was alive I couldn’t just watch them die.”

One escapee told parliamentarians: “I couldn’t bear to die with my children in my arms. As long as I was alive I couldn’t just watch them die.”

Jeon Young-Ok is 40. When she was a little girl her mother took the family across the Tumen River to try and flee to China. They were caught and her father and brother imprisoned. Her mother died of a heart disease and left her three children alone. Years later, now married with three children of her own, Jeon managed to make furtive forays from North Korea into China to secure money and food for her children. Twice she was apprehended and jailed.

Movingly she told the parliamentary hearing: “I couldn’t bear to die with my children in my arms. As long as I was alive I couldn’t just watch them die.” This was an allusion to the starvation of the 1990s when anything from 1 to 2 million North Koreans starved to death.

In China Mrs.Jeon remained at risk “nowhere was safe.” If she was caught the Chinese would send her back. And this is exactly what happened to her. Caught in 1997 and again in 2001 – she was sent to Northern Pyeong-an Detention Camp.

“I was put in a camp where I saw and experienced unimaginable things. We were made to pull the beards from the faces of elderly people. Prison guards treated them like animals. The women were forced to strip. A group of us were thrown just one blanket and we were forced to pull it from one another as we tried to hide our shame. I felt like an animal, no better than a pig. I didn’t want to live.”

“I felt like an animal, no better than a pig. I didn’t want to live.”

Jeon Young-Ok added: “They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it.”

“They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it.

“They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it.”

Despite all this, she harbours no hatred for her country and shows extraordinary fortitude and equanimity: “The past is not important but these terrible things are still happening in North Korea. These camps should be abolished forever.”

In 2011 Mrs Kim Hye Sook gave evidence to my committee and described a normal working day in “Camp 18″. She recounted the manual labour undertaken by prisoners and scarcity of food provisions and the regular public executions and cannibalism which she saw over her 27 years imprisonment during which she saw the death of her son in the camp.

Here are the stories of religious persecution, the lack of freedom of movement, the lack of labour rights, the non-implementation of legal codes, the lack of a fair trial, the lack of judicial oversight of detention facilities and the severe mistreatment of repatriated persons- mainly repatriated from China.

Park Ji says she was sold to a Chinese farmer. Any woman who becomes pregnant and is carrying a child with a Chinese father will be forcibly aborted so as not to

Park Ji says she was sold to a Chinese farmer. Any woman who becomes pregnant and is carrying a child with a Chinese father will be forcibly aborted so as not to “pollute the blood line.”

Throughout the hearings which I have chaired I have been struck by the consistent picture which has emerged of appalling violence against women in detention facilities and the chilling accounts of life in prisons and labour camps. The individual stories bring home the enormity of the suffering that lies behind individual statistics. The COI report brings many of these dark stories into the light.

Professor Muntarbhorn described North Korea’s human rights record as “abysmal” due to “the repressive nature of the power base: at once cloistered, controlled and callous.” The exploitation of ordinary people, he said, “has become the pernicious prerogative of the ruling elite”.

Professor Muntarbhorn described North Korea’s human rights record as “abysmal” due to “the repressive nature of the power base: at once cloistered, controlled and callous.” The exploitation of ordinary people, he said, “has become the pernicious prerogative of the ruling elite”.

My Committee also took evidence from Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, the previous United Nations Special Rapporteur on North Korea. Like his successor, Indonesia’s former Attorney General Marzuki Darusman and, like the COI, they were refused all access to North Korea. It is often said that the North Korean regime has managed to exist behind a wall of secrecy; that it treats the international community with contempt by refusing to allow outside observers into the country

Professor Muntarbhorn described North Korea’s human rights record as “abysmal” due to “the repressive nature of the power base: at once cloistered, controlled and callous.” The exploitation of ordinary people, he said, “has become the pernicious prerogative of the ruling elite”.

All eight of Muntarbhorn’s reports to the UN detailed an extraordinarily grave situation, in which he says the abuses are “both systematic and pervasive” and “egregious and endemic”, and he has concluded that “it is incumbent upon the national authorities and the international community to address the impunity factor which has enabled such violations to exist and/or persist for a long time.”

The COI  comments in its conclusions that “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity. This raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community” and it trenchantly tells the international community that it “must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity, because the Government of the DPRK has manifestly failed to do so.”

The COI comments in its conclusions that “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity. This raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community” and it trenchantly tells the international community that it “must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity, because the Government of the DPRK has manifestly failed to do so.”

Little wonder the COI comments in its conclusions that “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity. This raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community” and it trenchantly tells the international community that it “must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity, because the Government of the DPRK has manifestly failed to do so.”

If we are to accept the responsibility which the COI places upon us, the Korean Diaspora (which includes 3-4 million Korean Americans) must take a more prominent role. Just as the Jewish community galvanised international opinion about life in the Soviet Gulags, the Korean Diaspora needs to catch our collective imagination and create a worldwide movement for change.

Alexander Solzhynytsyn.Solzhenitsyn remarked that “someone that you have deprived of everything is no longer in your power. He is once again entirely free”

Alexander Solzhynytsyn.Solzhenitsyn remarked that “someone that you have deprived of everything is no longer in your power. He is once again entirely free”

In thinking about the harrowing accounts in the COI report it is hard not to be reminded of life in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago – the archipelago of labour camps and prison camps spread across the USSR – which were known only to those who were unfortunate enough to enter them.

Solzhenitsyn remarked that “someone that you have deprived of everything is no longer in your power. He is once again entirely free” and that is undoubtedly the case with those who have bravely risked so much in telling their stories to the UN Commission of Inquiry.

As it comes to consider the COI report, the question for the United Nations Security Council – and perhaps especially for China – is whether it will continue to be the silent witness to evil deeds. Before deliberating it should re-read the 1948 Universal declaration of Human Rights. It would find that in North Korea is in breach of virtually every one of its articles.

Whether, by referring the findings to the International Criminal Court, sequestrating assets, setting up reparation funds, using economic leverage, and doing all it can to break the information blockade into the country, it deserves to be held in universal contempt if it now fails to show the necessary resolve to act on the findings of its own Commission of Inquiry .

NK Human Rights are Not Optional

The United Nations deserves to be held in universal contempt if it now fails to show the necessary resolve to act on the findings of its own Commission of Inquiry .

The United Nations deserves to be held in universal contempt if it now fails to show the necessary resolve to act on the findings of its own Commission of Inquiry .

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Also see:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sA0ObXx60Ng&feature=youtu.be

http://amnesty.org/en/news/north-korea-un-security-council-must-act-crimes-against-humanity-2014-02-17

http://www.hrw.org/node/123287

For Immediate Release
***To view video feature and download raw footage:
http://multimedia.hrw.org/distribute/gixryujock

North Korea: UN Should Act on Atrocities Report
New Video Shows Horrors of North Korea Through Eyewitness Testimony

(Geneva, February 17, 2014) – A new United Nations report has found that crimes against humanity are occurring in North Korea and calls for an international tribunal to investigate and hold perpetrators to account, Human Rights Watch said today.

The report, by a UN Commission of Inquiry appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013, recommends that the UN Security Council refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights carry out investigations. The three person commission, which was chaired by Australian jurist Michael Kirby, will formally present its findings to the Human Rights Council on or around March 17, 2014. The council will then consider a resolution to act on the commission’s recommendations.

“This shocking report should open the eyes of the UN Security Council to the atrocities that plague the people of North Korea and threaten stability in the region,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch. “By focusing only on the nuclear threat in North Korea, the Security Council is overlooking the crimes of North Korean leaders who have overseen a brutal system of gulags, public executions, disappearances, and mass starvation.”

The commission’s report finds that crimes against humanity were committed in North Korea over a multi-decade period “pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the State,” and included “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, forcible transfer of persons, enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” The report notes in particular “a systematic and widespread attack against all populations that are considered to pose a threat to the political system and leadership.”

New video features eyewitness accounts of atrocities

To coincide with the release of the commission’s report, Human Rights Watch today released a video, “North Korea: Tales from Camp Survivors,” with interviews of North Koreans who survived years of abuse while incarcerated in political prison camps (kwanliso), including systematic use of beatings, food deprivation and starvation, and public executions, to control those held there. The film includes interviews with former camp guards detailing camp administration and atrocities. Regarding these types of camps, the commission found: “The unspeakable atrocities that are being committed against inmates of the kwanliso political prison camps resemble the horrors of camps that totalitarian states established during the 20th century.”

The commission’s report also finds that crimes against humanity were committed “against starving populations” in the context of mass famines in the 1990s, through “decisions and policies taken for the purposes of sustaining the present political system, in full awareness that such decisions would exacerbate starvation and related deaths amongst much of the population.” In addition, the report finds that a widespread campaign of abductions of South Korean and Japanese citizens by North Korean agents, primarily during the 1970s and early 1980s, constitutes crimes against humanity.

“The devastating findings of this inquiry should not be ignored,” Roth said. “Since the crimes were perpetrated by state actors, only an international tribunal can properly carry out criminal investigations aimed at holding perpetrators accountable.”

Human Rights Watch urged the Human Rights Council to endorse the commission’s recommendations by adopting a strong resolution on North Korea during its March session, and task the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with transmitting the report directly to the UN Security Council and General Assembly for action.

The report concludes that information it collected constitutes “reasonable grounds. . .to merit a criminal investigation by a competent national or international organ of justice,” which could include the ICC, or an ad hoc tribunal created by the UN Security Council or by the consent of UN member states.

Besides referring North Korea to the ICC, the report notes that the UN Security Council has the power to set up a special tribunal for North Korea. This would be an appropriate step since many of the crimes documented by the commission occurred before 2002, when the ICC statute came into force, Human Rights Watch said. Tribunals created with UN Security Council resolutions have been set up for crimes committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Independent of the Security Council, the report notes that the UN General Assembly could pass a resolution aimed at establishing an ad hoc tribunal operated by a set of willing countries. Such a tribunal, set up by UN member states without Security Council authorization, would lack compulsory power under the UN Charter but could carry out many of the same functions as a Security Council-authorized tribunal.

Human Rights Watch urged Security Council members to immediately invite the Commission of Inquiry to brief them on their findings, and called on other countries to support efforts to achieve accountability for crimes committed in North Korea.

“The UN was set up in the aftermath of the Second World War precisely to address this kind of massive abuse,” Roth said. “The atrocities described in this report are a profound challenge to the founding ideals of the UN and should shock the organization into bold action. The suffering and loss endured by victims demand swift and definitive action aimed at bringing those responsible to justice.”

For Selected accounts from the UN report, please see below.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on North Korea, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/nkorea

For more information, please contact:

In Geneva, Juliette de Rivero (English, French, Spanish): +41-79-640-1649 (mobile); or derivej@hrw.org. Follow on Twitter @juliederivero

In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-7908-728-333 (mobile); or adamsb@hrw.org. Follow on Twitter @BradAdamsHRW

In Boston, Phil Robertson (English, Thai): +1-617-698-1230 or robertp@hrw.org. Follow on Twitter @Reaproy

In Washington, DC, John Sifton (English): +1-646-479-2499 (mobile); or siftonj@hrw.org. Follow on Twitter @johnsifton

In Tokyo, Kanae Doi (English, Japanese): +81-3-5575-3774; or +81-90-2301-4372 (mobile); or doik@hrw.org

In Brussels, Lotte Leicht (French, German, Danish, English): +32-0273-714-82; or +32-475-681-708 (mobile); or leichtl@hrw.org

Selected accounts from the UN Commission of Inquiry Report

A former guard in a prison for political prisoners told the commission: “Inmates in the [political prison camps] are not treated like human beings. They are never meant to be released […] their record is permanently erased. They are supposed to die in the camp from hard labour. And we were trained to think that those inmates are enemies. So we didn’t perceive them as human beings.”

One prisoner told the commission that he was forced to dispose of over 300 bodies during his 10 years in a camp at Yodok, and described how camp authorities once bulldozed a hill that had been used to bury dead prisoners, to turn it into a corn field: “As the machines tore up the soil, scraps of human flesh reemerged from the final resting place; arms and legs and feet, some still some still stockinged, rolled in waves before the bulldozer. I was terrified. One of friends vomited. …. The guards then hollowed out a ditch and ordered a few detainees to toss in all the corpses and body parts that were visible on the surface.”

The commission found that political prison camp prisoners, which included children and even babies born to prisoners, were only be able to survive “by hunting and gathering insects, rodents and wild plants or finding ways to divert food meant for the guards and farm animals.” One prisoner, describing the effects of the deprivation of food, said: “[The] babies [had] bloated stomachs. [We] cooked snakes and mice to feed these babies and if there was a day that we were able to have a mouse, this was a special diet for us. We had to eat everything alive, every type of meat that we could find; anything that flew, that crawled on the ground. Any grass that grew in the field, we had to eat. That’s the reality of the prison camp.”

A witness, describing what the commission found to be deliberate famine in the 1990s, stated: “We would eat tree bark, and we would get the roots of the cabbage under the ground, but that was just not enough. As time passed, our grandmother and other weak people were just not able to move at all.”

Another said: “So many people died that we didn’t have enough coffins so we borrowed [traditional burial boards] to give them burials. We didn’t have any wood to even give tombstones. That’s how many people died.”

——————————————————————————————————
Calls in Parliament for BBC World Service Transmissions to the Korea Peninsula

Calls in Parliament for the BBC World Service to transmit to the Korean Pensinsula

Calls in Parliament for the BBC World Service to transmit to the Korean Pensinsula


BBC World Service
Questions
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, before handing over to the BBC control of decisions involving future BBC World Service transmissions, they undertook any research into the benefit of broadcasting to all 75 million people on the Korean peninsula and the Korean-speaking Chinese province of Jilin; what is their response to internal research by the BBC that “The more business leaders know and consume the BBC, the more likely they are to trade with the UK”; and whether they will ask the BBC to evaluate the additional trade the United Kingdom would gain from a new service.[HL6002]

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): There has been and will be no change to the decision making process on BBC World Service language services as a result of the 1 April 2014 transfer to Licence Fee funding. As I said in my 12 March answer (Official Report, 12 March 2014, column 1753), the BBC World Service is editorially, managerially and operationally independent. It is therefore for the World Service, not for the Government, to look into possible benefits of broadcasting to any particular region or in any particular language, and to make proposals on that basis.
When, on 1 April, the World Service moves to Licence Fee funding, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), will continue to approve the opening and closing of the World

25 Mar 2014 : Column WA93

Service’s language services, as he does at present, based on recommendations put to him by the World Service.
The BBC World Service reviewed options for establishment of a Korean language service in late 2013, concluding, as a result of questions of likely audience reach, cost and technical feasibility, that establishment of a Korean language service was not appropriate at this stage.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the reply by the Deputy Prime Minister on 12 March (HC Deb, cols 315–6) concerning proposals to initiate BBC World Service transmissions to the Korean peninsula, and his remark that “I understand that at the end of last year it (the BBC) decided, following a review, that it could not continue to offer an effective and affordable Korean language service”, what Korean language service had previously been offered to the Korean people; for how long it had made such transmissions; what it cost; and what savings were made following the review. [HL6003]
Baroness Warsi:I would like to clarify the answer given by the Deputy Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Hallam (Mr Clegg) (HC Deb, cols 315–6) concerning proposals to initiate BBC World Service transmissions to the Korean peninsula and his remarks on a review of that. The Review carried out in 2013 was into the viability of a BBC World Service Korean language service. There has not previously been a Korean language service offered by the BBC World Service, so the question of savings from its discontinuation has never arisen.

BBC World Service
Question
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the reply by the Deputy Prime Minister on 12 March (HC Deb, cols 315–6) concerning proposals to initiate BBC World Service transmissions to the Korean peninsula, whether the approval of “new services” remains the prerogative of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.[HL6004]
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): As stated in my response to an oral question on 12 March, Official report, column 1753, the Secretary for State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), will continue to approve the opening and closing of the World Service language services, as he does at present, based on recommendations put to him by the World Service.

BBC World Service
Question
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will reconsider their decision not to ask the BBC to transmit the World Service to the Korean Peninsula if the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea recommends that they meet their obligations under Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights in respect of the broadcast of news and commentary about human rights and democracy to people trapped by an information blockade. [HL4977]
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): The British Broadcasting Corporation World Service (BBC WS) is editorially, managerially and operationally independent of Government, so decisions on which new language services they wish to introduce are for them to consider and, if appropriate, to put to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague). As the noble Lord is aware the BBC WS recently reviewed the options for the introduction of a Korean language service and concluded, for a number of reasons, that they could not offer a meaningful, impactful and cost effective service.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea is due to report to the Human Rights Council in March 2014. It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the content of the report before it has been published and until we have had the opportunity to consider its findings and recommendations in full.
BBC World Service
Question
3.06 pm
12 Mar 2014 : Column 1754
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, did the Minister see the comments in yesterday’s edition of the Independent by Justice Michael Kirby, who chaired the recent commission of inquiry established by the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses in North Korea? He said that the extension of BBC World Service transmissions to North Korea—
“a country that has been largely cut off from the rest of the world”—
would make a considerable difference in fighting against those abuses of human rights. Given our Article 19 obligations and the BBC’s historic role in promoting democratic values above the heads of dictators, is this not a moment for the Government to urge the BBC World Service to play its part?
Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord has asked me this question on a number of occasions; indeed I have answered it here from the Dispatch Box and also written to him. As he and other noble Lords may be aware, in 2013 the World Service reviewed the possible options for a Korean language service and concluded after a fact-finding mission that questions of likely audience reach, cost and technical feasibility meant that such a service was not appropriate at this stage. I am aware of the UN commissioner’s report. The noble Lord will be aware that that contained two quite specific approaches to how engagement could happen: the first was through the broadcasting route and the second through encouraging people-to-people contact. We are one of the few countries that has extensive people-to-people contract because of our embassy in North Korea. The UN report also recognised that that is one of the ways in which we can engage in dialogue.

Q9. [902972] Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): On Monday, South Korean newspapers said that North Korea was due to execute 33 people for having had contact with a Christian missionary. Given that a quarter of a million people are in North Korean prison camps, will the Deputy Prime Minister urge the BBC World Service to use its existing transmitters to broadcast into North Korea, especially as more and more North Koreans now have access to radios?
The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. As he knows, our embassy in Pyongyang continues to engage critically with the
12 Mar 2014 : Column 316
North Korean regime and tries to ensure that there are as many opportunities for dialogue as possible, including information coming into the country. The BBC World Service is of course operationally, editorially and managerially independent. I understand that at the end of last year it decided, following a review, that it could not continue to offer an effective and affordable Korean language service. That is of course a matter for the BBC World Service itself.

Subject: Independent today: BBC World Service – Mr. Justice Kirby intervenes

To view the Video launched at the APPG on North Korea on March 11th 2014 – what BBC World Service Korea might look like – logon as follows:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywDAUhb7POA&feature=youtu.be

Also see:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/bbc-can-make-a-difference-in-north-korea–by-broadcasting-world-service-programmes-in-korean-9182594.html

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, did the Minister see the comments in yesterday’s edition of the Independent by Justice Michael Kirby, who chaired the recent commission of inquiry established by the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses in North Korea? He said that the extension of BBC World Service transmissions to North Korea— “a country that has been largely cut off from the rest of the world”— would make a considerable difference in fighting against those abuses of human rights. Given our Article 19 obligations and the BBC’s historic role in promoting democratic values above the heads of dictators, is this not a moment for the Government to urge the BBC World Service to play its part?

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord has asked me this question on a number of occasions; indeed I have answered it here from the Dispatch Box and also written to him. As he and other noble Lords may be aware, in 2013 the World Service reviewed the possible options for a Korean language service and concluded after a fact-finding mission that questions of likely audience reach, cost and technical feasibility meant that such a service was not appropriate at this stage. I am aware of the UN commissioner’s report. The noble Lord will be aware that that contained two quite specific approaches to how engagement could happen: the first was through the broadcasting route and the second through encouraging people-to-people contact. We are one of the few countries that has extensive people-to-people contract because of our embassy in North Korea. The UN report also recognised that that is one of the ways in which we can engage in dialogue.

Q9. [902972] Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): On Monday, South Korean newspapers said that North Korea was due to execute 33 people for having had contact with a Christian missionary. Given that a quarter of a million people are in North Korean prison camps, will the Deputy Prime Minister urge the BBC World Service to use its existing transmitters to broadcast into North Korea, especially as more and more North Koreans now have access to radios? The Deputy Prime Minister:

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. As he knows, our embassy in Pyongyang continues to engage critically with the 12 Mar 2014 : Column 316 North Korean regime and tries to ensure that there are as many opportunities for dialogue as possible, including information coming into the country. The BBC World Service is of course operationally, editorially and managerially independent. I understand that at the end of last year it decided, following a review, that it could not continue to offer an effective and affordable Korean language service. That is of course a matter for the BBC World Service itself.

Subject: Independent today: BBC World Service – Mr. Justice Kirby intervenes To view the Video launched at the APPG on North Korea on March 11th 2014 – what BBC World Service Korea might look like – logon as follows:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywDAUhb7POA&feature=youtu.be Also see: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/bbc-can-make-a-difference-in-north-korea–by-broadcasting-world-service-programmes-in-korean-9182594.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/opinion/ian-burrell-news-the-north-koreans-can-trust-9179941.html

One of the world’s experts on North Korea has called on the BBC to “be part of the solution” in fighting human rights abuses under Kim Jong-un’s repressive regime by initiating Korean-language broadcasts by the BBC World Service. Michael Kirby, the eminent retired Australian judge who chaired a recent Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korea for the United Nations Human Rights Council, told
The Independent that the BBC could make a difference to the lives of people in “a country that has been largely cut off from the rest of the world”.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Mr Kirby said the BBC was in a position to make a difference in North Korea. “Because the BBC World Service is still such a globally respected voice, the revelations in the recent UN COI report demonstrate the special needs, and particular utility, of providing the BBC to the Korean peninsula,” he said.

The COI’s report last month identified “unspeakable atrocities” in North Korea and found there was “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” in the state. The findings, which Mr Kirby said demanded “attention from the international community”, made headlines around the world. He told The Independent: “The strict controls on sources of information in North Korea, revealed in the COI report, surely add to the arguments for an increased outreach by the civilised world to the people of North Korea.

With its hard won reputation for truthful reporting, fair coverage and proper priorities, the BBC has a special potential to be part of the solution.” There is a growing voice in Westminster for a BBC Korea service, broadcasting from South Korea, and on Tuesday at a meeting in the House of Commons a “pilot” BBC Korean show will be played to demonstrate how such a service might sound. Funding of the World Service has passed from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to the BBC.

Previous BBC studies have identified problems in providing a Korean service, especially in relation to the difficulties of the North Korean population tuning in and defying the ban on listening to foreign broadcasts. Foreign Secretary William Hague said recently that it was “not currently possible for the World Service to offer a meaningful, effective and cost-effective service”. But last week Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire gave renewed hope to campaigners for a Korean service when he said: “We have approached the BBC and are waiting for its detailed response.”

The Independent has seen a confidential report on the viability of a BBC Korean service written by the investigative journalist John Sweeney, who infiltrated the country last year by posing as an academic and filming a documentary for Panorama. “The humanitarian need for a BBC Korea Service broadcasting to the whole peninsular is clear,” he concluded. Mr Kirby said his appreciation of the impact of the BBC’s reporting stemmed from his own experience of listening to the “Radio Newsreel” as a schoolboy in Sydney in the 1950s. “It rescued me from a purely national or local perspective of news that was of concern to me.

It helped to make me a citizen of the world,” he said. Although he acknowledged that he had “no knowledge of the competing priorities of the BBC and the cost factors involved”, Mr Kirby said the BBC had the potential to reduce human rights violations in North Korea. “The path to greater human rights respect lies through greater awareness of the world, and of their own country, on the part of the population of North Korea.”

Lord Alton of Liverpool, one of those campaigning for a BBC Korea Service, said: “It seems unbelievable that the BBC World Service, which has been a game changer from the former Soviet bloc to Burma, does not play its part in breaking this information blockade. I hope they will hear Michael Kirby’s message and respond positively.”

The BBC said: “We agree that there is a severe lack of media freedom in North Korea and an acute need for more choice and variety of media content. However, the available research suggests that there are strict controls in the North on what people are allowed to listen to or watch, difficulty in obtaining radios and a complete lack of internet access – which we confirmed when a senior delegation visited South Korea earlier this year expressly to investigate the possibilities Given these significant barriers and having given this careful consideration, we do not believe it would be cost effective and viable to broadcast existing or new content to North Korea at the present time but we will keep our position under review and look seriously at any new opportunities that emerge.”

Extend the BBC World Service to North and South Korea – Change.org http://www.change.org/…/lord-patten-of-barnes-extend-the-bbc-world-service-…‎ o Cached

We, the undersigned students and residents of Oxford, are deeply concerned by the refusal of the BBC to extend its World Service to the Korean Peninsula, and …

Led by the senior Conservative MP, Gary Streeter, 15 MPs from all political parties have tabled a House of Commons Motion calling for the extension of BBC World Service Broadcasts to the Korean Peninsula.

Mr.Streeter is Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. You can ask your MP to add their name.

BBC WORLD BROADCASTS TO THE KOREAN PENINSULA • Session: 2012-13 • Date tabled: 07.02.2013 • Primary sponsor: Streeter, Gary • Sponsors: o Bottomley, Peter o George, Andrew o Meale, Alan o Russell, Bob o Shannon, Jim That this House endorses the recent calls made to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to the BBC World Service that World Service transmissions should be extended to the Korean Peninsula; welcomes the recent remarks of the hon. Member for East Devon and Peter Horrocks of BBC World Service, made at meetings in Parliament, which rightly recognised the role which the BBC can play in promoting human rights, democracy, culture and language; and believes that an extension of transmissions to the Korean Peninsula would be an appropriate way to celebrate both the 80th anniversary of the BBC World Service and to recognise Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which upholds the right of all citizens to freely listen to broadcasts and to exchange ideas.”>http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/opinion/ian-burrell-news-the-north-koreans-can-trust-9179941.html

One of the world’s experts on North Korea has called on the BBC to “be part of the solution” in fighting human rights abuses under Kim Jong-un’s repressive regime by initiating Korean-language broadcasts by the BBC World Service.

Michael Kirby, the eminent retired Australian judge who chaired a recent Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korea for the United Nations Human Rights Council, told The Independent that the BBC could make a difference to the lives of people in “a country that has been largely cut off from the rest of the world”.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Mr Kirby said the BBC was in a position to make a difference in North Korea.
“Because the BBC World Service is still such a globally respected voice, the revelations in the recent UN COI report demonstrate the special needs, and particular utility, of providing the BBC to the Korean peninsula,” he said.

The COI’s report last month identified “unspeakable atrocities” in North Korea and found there was “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” in the state. The findings, which Mr Kirby said demanded “attention from the international community”, made headlines around the world.

He told The Independent: “The strict controls on sources of information in North Korea, revealed in the COI report, surely add to the arguments for an increased outreach by the civilised world to the people of North Korea. With its hard won reputation for truthful reporting, fair coverage and proper priorities, the BBC has a special potential to be part of the solution.”
There is a growing voice in Westminster for a BBC Korea service, broadcasting from South Korea, and on Tuesday at a meeting in the House of Commons a “pilot” BBC Korean show will be played to demonstrate how such a service might sound.
Funding of the World Service has passed from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to the BBC. Previous BBC studies have identified problems in providing a Korean service, especially in relation to the difficulties of the North Korean population tuning in and defying the ban on listening to foreign broadcasts.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said recently that it was “not currently possible for the World Service to offer a meaningful, effective and cost-effective service”. But last week Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire gave renewed hope to campaigners for a Korean service when he said: “We have approached the BBC and are waiting for its detailed response.”

The Independent has seen a confidential report on the viability of a BBC Korean service written by the investigative journalist John Sweeney, who infiltrated the country last year by posing as an academic and filming a documentary for Panorama. “The humanitarian need for a BBC Korea Service broadcasting to the whole peninsular is clear,” he concluded.

Mr Kirby said his appreciation of the impact of the BBC’s reporting stemmed from his own experience of listening to the “Radio Newsreel” as a schoolboy in Sydney in the 1950s. “It rescued me from a purely national or local perspective of news that was of concern to me. It helped to make me a citizen of the world,” he said.

Although he acknowledged that he had “no knowledge of the competing priorities of the BBC and the cost factors involved”, Mr Kirby said the BBC had the potential to reduce human rights violations in North Korea. “The path to greater human rights respect lies through greater awareness of the world, and of their own country, on the part of the population of North Korea.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool, one of those campaigning for a BBC Korea Service, said: “It seems unbelievable that the BBC World Service, which has been a game changer from the former Soviet bloc to Burma, does not play its part in breaking this information blockade. I hope they will hear Michael Kirby’s message and respond positively.”

The BBC said: “We agree that there is a severe lack of media freedom in North Korea and an acute need for more choice and variety of media content. However, the available research suggests that there are strict controls in the North on what people are allowed to listen to or watch, difficulty in obtaining radios and a complete lack of internet access – which we confirmed when a senior delegation visited South Korea earlier this year expressly to investigate the possibilities Given these significant barriers and having given this careful consideration, we do not believe it would be cost effective and viable to broadcast existing or new content to North Korea at the present time but we will keep our position under review and look seriously at any new opportunities that emerge.”
1. Extend the BBC World Service to North and South Korea – Change.org
http://www.change.org/…/lord-patten-of-barnes-extend-the-bbc-world-service-…‎
o Cached
We, the undersigned students and residents of Oxford, are deeply concerned by the refusal of the BBC to extend its World Service to the Korean Peninsula, and …

Led by the senior Conservative MP, Gary Streeter, 15 MPs from all political parties have tabled a House of Commons Motion calling for the extension of BBC World Service Broadcasts to the Korean Peninsula. Mr.Streeter is Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. You can ask your MP to add their name.
BBC WORLD BROADCASTS TO THE KOREAN PENINSULA
• Session: 2012-13
• Date tabled: 07.02.2013
• Primary sponsor: Streeter, Gary
• Sponsors:
o Bottomley, Peter
o George, Andrew
o Meale, Alan
o Russell, Bob
o Shannon, Jim
That this House endorses the recent calls made to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to the BBC World Service that World Service transmissions should be extended to the Korean Peninsula; welcomes the recent remarks of the hon. Member for East Devon and Peter Horrocks of BBC World Service, made at meetings in Parliament, which rightly recognised the role which the BBC can play in promoting human rights, democracy, culture and language; and believes that an extension of transmissions to the Korean Peninsula would be an appropriate way to celebrate both the 80th anniversary of the BBC World Service and to recognise Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which upholds the right of all citizens to freely listen to broadcasts and to exchange ideas.

BBC WS 4
——————————————————————————————————-

Human Rights in North Korea
Refugee Testimonies and other online videos

The following selection of online talks, videos and documentaries provide informative first-hand accounts of human rights violations in North Korea. WTthese videos are worth watching for moving and informative background. There are others available on youtube.com as well, but the following is a selection.

Secret State of North Korea – PBS (53.41 minutes)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnBUDYQxhaw and http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/secret-state-of-north-korea/
An up-to-date, very informative, secretly filmed documentary on life in North Korea.

Breaking the Silence – Journeyman Pictures (12.17 minutes)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlEvL0ld8D8
Background to the UN Commission of Inquiry into human rights in North Korea

Hyeonseo Lee – Ted talk (12mins)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdxPCeWw75k
Growing up she thought her country was the best in the world, although she often wondered about the outside world. She escaped North Korea during the famine in the 1990’s. Her story focuses on her escape and resettlement, and the struggle to later get her family out of North Korea.

Joseph Kim – Ted talk (14 mins)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLeeTVmVrtA
“Hunger is humiliation. Hunger is hopelessness…” He became an orphan after his father died and his mother disappeared. He went to China to look for his sister and crossed the border during the day because he was scared of the dark. Joseph Kim talks of his escape and resettlement in America, and how a chicken wing changed his life.

Seong Ho Ji – (9mins)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zrebN7mV8o
Seong Ho Ji and his brother fled North Korea in 2006 and travelled 6,000 miles across Asia before reaching South Korea. His only remaining possession from North Korea is a pair of crutches – he only has one leg.

Shin Dong-hyuk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ms4NIB6xroc (Google tech talk – 1.06 hours)
http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/media/ (shorter version, Ted talk – 12 mins).
http://www.youtube.com/movie?v=9FZMwoY7DyM (Journeyman Pictures – 19.29 minutes)

Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a special prison zone and ‘had no real feelings as a kid’. He saw his mother as the cause of his suffering. These accounts tell of his life growing up in the prison. He later escaped North Korea and described how even the North Korea outside the prison seemed amazing.

Yoon Hee and Anon – CNN Digital Originals (4.5 mins)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72KHZguk-WE

Yoon Hee lived on the streets from 8 years old. For her, food is life. She was abandoned by her parents because they couldn’t look after her. Her story as a defector portrays how life outside North Korea isn’t easy to adjust to and not necessarily safe.
Anon described the struggles in adjusting to a new life in South Korea and the disadvantages faced by students who are North Korean refugees, but how, through special programmes, the ‘country is supporting him, like a parent.

Han-sol Kim (nephew of Kim Jong-Un) – interview with Elizabeth Rehn, in two parts
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_uSuCkKa3k (Part 1 – 15 minutes)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSfVOf4OACs (Part 2 – 14.32 minutes)

A fascinating interview with the nephew of Kim Jong-Un, who has bravely spoken out while studying in Europe.

LINK – Liberty in North Korea:
http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/media/ (Various)

Danny’s Story (30mins)
He describes living under oppression and in fear, in a country where he is denied freedom of speech, religion and access to information (among other things). He tells of his escape and recalls the moment when his eyes were opened to outside world for first time and to the lies that he had been told. He dreams of being able to go back to North Korea and capture his homeland in pictures.

North Korean Refugee Crisis (3mins)
Successfully fleeing North Korea is just the beginning. This short video outlines the fears and troubles of being a North Korean refugee in China.

The People’s History (4mins)
A brief history behind the current political situation in North Korea.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

—————————————————————————————————–
Michael Kirby gave a brilliant speech in Geneva, and various countries, including the UK and the EU, explicitly backed an ICC referral as well as the wider COI recommendations – see http://webtv.un.org/watch/id-commission-of-inquiry-on-dprk-31st-meeting-25th-regular-session-of-human-rights-council/3350537718001/

Matthew Jones spoke, representing both Jubilee Campaign and CSW – http://webtv.un.org/watch/id-commission-of-inquiry-on-dprk-31st-meeting-25th-regular-session-of-human-rights-council/3350537718001/

Fiona Bruce has tabled the following EDM in the Commons – see http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2013-14/1184

—————————————————————————————————-
New Movie on religious persecution in North Korea…. from Amnesty International UK and the INKAHRD(International North Korean’s Association for Human Rights and Democracy)

To those who are working hard to improve the human rights situation in North Korea
Have you had a chance to read the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry(COI), chaired by the Honourable Michael Kirby, highlighting North Korea’s human rights abuses?

We believe the most important lesson from the 400-page UN COI report is that North Korea must change. And we must remember, as Sir Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”.

In this effort, Amnesty International UK and the INKAHRD(International North Korean’s Association for Human Rights and Democracy) are screening a film that reveals the reality of underground church in North Korea. I look forward to welcoming you at this film screening event and seeking ways to further protect and promote human rights in North Korea.
Film title – The Apostle: he was anointed by God(2014)
Location – Amnesty International UK Human Rights Action Centre(17-25 New Inn Yard London EC2A 3EA)

초대장

지금도 북한인권운동에 헌신하는 여러분, 혹시 M Kirby 위원장의 UN COI 보고서를 읽어 보셨습니까?
400페이지가 넘는 그 보고서는 북한에 변화를 주어야 한다는 말로 요약될 수 있지 않을까 합니다. 처칠경은 이렇게 말했습니다. ‘무엇인가 개선을 한다는 것은 변화를 한다는 말이며 완벽해 진다는 것은 그 변화가 자주 일어나야 한다는 말이다’라고
그래서 저희 국제탈북민연대와 AI는 이러한 노력의 일환으로 북한지하기독교 실상을 다룬 북한인권영화 시사회를 아래와 같이 개최할 예정이오니 여러분들의 많은 관심과 참여로 북한인권운동의 새로운 도약을 모색해 보았으면 합니다.
– 영화 제목 ; 신이보낸 사람
– 일시ㆍ장소 ; 2014.3.20(목) 19;00, AI內 Human Rights Action Center
Amnesty International•국제탈북민연대(INKAHRD)

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Susie Younger Never Ending Flower 2

Susie Younger’s book “Never Ending Flower” was published in 1967. She was a young Scot who read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Oxford. While she was a student she became a Christian and, in 1960, went to Korea, learnt the language, and decided to work among the poor for the rest of her life. Her book was published in 1967 by Collins and Harvill. It’s an inspiring account – not unlike the stories of Gladys Aylward and Jackie Pullinger, who also found their way to the Orient. See: https://davidalton.net/2013/05/11/gladys-aylward-the-little-woman-and-chinas-inn-of-the-sixth-happiness/

Having arrived in Korea with a young Austrian companion, Maria Heissenberger, they set up a house for young street children, bootblacks whose employers exploited them at took most of their earnings from them. It was a tiny house and they lived with those they cared for, sleeping on the floors and living of a simple diet of rice, barley and vegetables.

The project was an early recipient of help from OXFAM and CAFOD and it led to a second house being created in Taegu where Susie set up a home for country girls. They had come to the city looking for work and had been ensnared into prostitution. Susie Younger records some profoundly moving stories of girls who rediscover themselves and who find security, love, employment and, often, marriage.

In the later part of the book Susie Younger describes the creation of a 200 acre co-operative farm at Muhak. It was the brain child of a Korean priest, Fr.Lee, and part of its purpose was to create produce and resources to support Susie’s work. This was when she also met Fr.Stephen Kim – who would, in due course become the Bishop of Masan and eventually the Cardinal Archbishop of Seoul. It was he who stood against the military junta and protected the student protestors who had gathered in his Seoul cathedral. It is fascinating to discover him here, in a book written twenty year earlier, giving so much encouragement to a young Scot from Oxford University.

The book takes its title from the national flower of Korea, the Syrian hibiscus – the Biblical Rose of Sharon. Susie Younger says that because it blossoms from spring until late autumn this tenacious plant is known in Korea as “the never ending flower.”

Although, at the height of summer, the sun scorches and destroys its blossoms, the following day it is resplendent with new flowers. In the case of Korea – whether struggling in the 1960s from the after effects of the Korean War and military dictatorship or, in the North, from decades of totalitarianism – the resilience and the ability, in adversity, to renew and restore damaged beauty seems very apt.

The book concludes with an appendix in which Susie Younger sets out her personal testimony and her hope to stay among the people she felt called to serve for the rest of her life. The book was published in 1967 and it would be intriguing to know how the story continued.

Tolkien: Faith and Fiction – Liverpool Hope University Lecture marking the fiftieth anniversary of J.R.R.Tolkien’s involvement in the translation of the Jerusalem Bible and the link between his faith and his fiction. Accompanying presentation slides and full text may be viewed here.

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Tolkien: Faith and Fiction

click here to view the power point presentation which accompanies the following lecture:

faith-in-the-work-of-tolkien – view full powerpoint presentation accompanying the lecture

tolkien-faith-and-fiction-liverpool-2016 Text

 Liverpool Hope University, November 2016.

David Alton, Lord Alton of Liverpool.

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This year, 2016, marks 50 years since, in 1966, the English edition of the Jerusalem Bible was published.

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The translation was undertaken here at Hope, at what was Christ’s College, my old College. The work was led by the brilliant scripture scholar, Fr.Alexander Jones.

J.R.R.Tolkien was one of those who contributed to the translation and it includes his translation of the Book of Jonah and an acknowledgement of his role.

Fr.Henry Wansborough OSB said “It was the first translation of the whole Bible into modern English to appear. It was an iconic presentation of the best of Catholic biblical scholarship in the previous half century.”

When, in 1969, I came here as a student, my first purchase was a still greatly prized and now well-worn copy of the JB, the Jerusalem Bible.

Jonah is among the books of the prophets – and once given the Word they are compelled to speak it: Amos cries “The Lord Yahweh speaks, who can refuse to prophesy?”

And of Jonah and the other prophets, Alexander Jones said “At a point in each of their lives each received an irresistible divine call and was chosen as God’s envoy. The price of attempting to elude this vocation is stated in the early part of the story of Jonah.”

He says Jonah is unlike the other prophetic books because “this short work is entirely narrative. It tells the story of a disobedient prophet who first struggles to evade his divine mission and then complains to God that his mission has, against his expectations, been successful.”

I can’t help speculating that Alexander Jones may have had another reluctant hero in his mind when he asked the creator of home-loving risk-averse reluctant-hero Hobbits to collaborate in the translation of the Book of Jonah.

And like many aspects of Tolkien’s work, Fr.Jones reminds us that the story of Jonah which he describes as a droll adventure, taking us from the “the belly of Sheol” – to the city of Nineveh, is precisely that – a story, not history; a “didactic work” that is “intended to amuse and instruct” and which “proclaims an astonishingly broadminded catholicity.”  

God is merciful to all, even to the rebellious Jonah. The lessons of mercy, humility and repentance are given to the Chosen People at the hands of their sworn enemies.

You can see why Tolkien would have been entirely at home with this Book and these themes.

The Book of Jonah concludes with God explaining, with great love mixed with some gentle irony, that He will not only be merciful to Jonah, the reluctant prophet, but also to the repentant Ninevehites and their little children “who cannot tell their right hand from their left,” and proclaiming still further, His love of all His Creation “to say nothing of all the animals.” 

 

The story of Jonah is also a dramatic prefiguring of the only story which really matters: Jonah’s three days in the belly of the great fish prepares us for Christ’s three days in the tomb. Fr.Jones says that at this moment in the Old Testament “We are on the threshold of the Gospel.”

Tolkien would describe such a turn of events in a story as a “eucatastrophe,”   – a word to which I will return at the conclusion of my remarks.

I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth.” 

 

For Tolkien the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ of human history was the resurrection of Christ from the tomb. So its preconfiguration in the biblical Book of Jonah is a pretty good place to start when considering Tolkien, Faith and Fiction.

 

Tolkien, himself, said that The Lord of the Rings was “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”. What did he mean by that and what clues are there in the characters, the tales within the tale, and within the plot itself?  

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Let me divide my remarks into 3 parts:

  1. How Tolkien’s experiences shaped his beliefs;
  2. What Tolkien tells us himself; and
  3.  How faith shapes the characters, and the story lines.

 

 

  • 1. How Tolkien’s experiences shaped his beliefs.

 

Born in Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State, in 1892, his father died in 1896, and his mother, Mabel Suffield, returned to England, to the Midlands. Her conversion to Catholicism, in 1900, led to her rejection by her mixed Baptist, Unitarian and Anglican relatives. She was reduced to poverty.

Struggling as a widow, and shunned by her family, Mabel sought solace and help from the Catholic community of the Birmingham Oratory.

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The Birmingham Oratory – whose full title is the Congregation of the Oratory of St.Philip Neri and is located in the Edgbaston district of Birmingham, was founded in 1849 by Blessed John Henry Newman, who died in 1890, two years before Tolkien’s birth. 

It was the first house of that Congregation in England and Newman, a celebrated Catholic convert, had been given permission by Pope Pius IX to establish a community of Oratorians in England and Newman lived a secluded life there for the best part of four decades.

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Newman had died only ten years before Tolkien, in his childhood, spent nine years as a parishioner of St. Philip’s and attended the parish school before winning his scholarship to the Birmingham’s King Edward’s school.

In 1904, after the death of his mother at the age of 34, a death “hastened by the persecution of her faith”, as Tolkien remarked in 1941, he was shunted between relatives until a lodging was found for him by an Oratorian priest, Father Francis Morgan, who was his legal guardian.

In 1963 Tolkien wrote about the effect that these experiences and formative years had on him: “I witnessed (half comprehending) the heroic sufferings and early death in extreme poverty of my mother who brought me into the Church.”

His great closeness and devotion to the Theotokos – Mary, the Mother of God – began with the premature death of his own mother. He said that Mary “refined so much of our gross manly natures and emotions as well as warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion.”

Of Fr.Francis he wrote: “I first learnt charity and forgiveness from him” and he said that he taught him the story of his Faith “piercing even the ‘liberal’ darkness out of which I came, knowing more about ‘Bloody Mary’ than the Mother of Jesus – who was never mentioned except as an object of wicked worship by the Romanists.”

The backdrop to Tolkien’s childhood was rejection and sectarianism but his connection with the Oratory gave him a love of the mystery of the sacraments but it also taught him to honour Scripture and tradition along with the teaching authority of the Church, grounded in the apostolic succession. He believed that Christ was, in the words of Newman’s hymn, Praise to the Holiest in the Heights, the Second Adam who to the rescue had come – sanctifying history and saving each of us.

And can we not see in Tolkien’s fiction, and the quest and mission of the Hobbit, something of Newman’s belief that:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. ..I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons….”

Newman had been the most influential Catholic in the English speaking world during the nineteenth century and his Apologia and love of St.Augustine were the scaffold on which Tolkien’ s faith was hung.

Newman had insisted that “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”; that “We are answerable for what we choose to believe.” that “Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it”; that Growth is the only evidence of life.” That “fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning” and that “The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men”.

 

The young Tolkien would have heard a great deal about Newman and studied him carefully – not least his famous treatise on the purpose of a university – the world in which he would spend his professional life:

“The University’s…. function is intellectual culture… It educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it.”

 

   While at King Edward’s, Tolkien and three friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Smith and Christopher Wiseman formed a secret society which they called the “T.C.B.S.” – the acronym meaning “Tea Club and Barrovian Society”. The name had its origins in their fondness for drinking tea at the nearby Barrow’s Stores and, illicitly, in the library of their school.

   From King Edward’s, Tolkien won an exhibition to Exeter College, Oxford in 1910, and graduated with First Class Honours in 1915.

    He showed early promise as a philologist and gifted linguist with a remarkable facility to decode ancient languages. He used these gifts in scholarship and in prose and the study of legend, folklore and poetry.

   In 1914 he read a poem by the Anglo-Saxon Christian poet, Cynewulf. He wrote later about how two lines of the poem Crist (Christ) remained with him:

Eala Earendel engla beorhtast

Ofer middangeard monnum sended!

Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,

Above the middle-earth sent unto men!

 

The friends of the T.C.B.S stayed in touch after leaving school, and in that same year, 1914, met at Wiseman’s London home for a “Council.” 

In many respects the T.C.B.S foreshadowed the Kolbitar (Coalbiters) which Tolkien would form at Oxford in 1925 – and which was devoted to reading Icelandic sagas. Lewis attended their meetings and, in the 1930s, from this fellowship of friends would finally emerge the Inklings – more of which, later.

 

In Birmingham Tolkien had met Edith Bratt, with whom he fell in love; he also commenced his practice of daily Mass attendance, which he continued throughout his life.

Fr.Morgan counselled him not to rush into marriage but, having been commissioned into the Lancashire Fusiliers, he feared that he might be killed. He and Edith, who was received into the Catholic Church, married in 1916.

 After seeing action in the Somme, acting as Battalion Signalling Officer – and, having contracted trench fever, Tolkien spent the rest of the war as an invalid.

The news from his friends in the TCBS was bleak. On July 15, 1916, Geoffrey Smith wrote to tell Tolkien of Rob Gilson’s death: My Dear John Ronald, I saw in the paper this morning that Rob has been killed. I am safe but what does that matter? Do please stick to me, you and Christopher. I am very tired and most frightfully depressed at this worst news. Now one realises in despair what the T.C.B.S. really was. O my dear John Ronald whatever are we going to do?  Yours ever.    G. B. S.

  

 Five months later, Christopher Wiseman wrote to Tolkien to say that Smith had died in a mission. Just before seeing this final action Smith wrote these words to Tolkien: 

My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight – I am off on duty in a few minutes – there will still be left a member of the great T.C.B.S. to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve the T.C.B.S. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four! A discovery I am going to communicate to Rob before I go off tonight. And do you write it also to Christopher. May God bless you my dear John Ronald and may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them if such be my lot.” – Yours ever, G.B.S.

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Like C.S.Lewis, and so many of his generation, Tolkien was deeply affected by World War One and the death of his friends.

 

As his closest intimates were cut down, it put an end to the circle of friends and, challenged by Smith’s haunting words: “may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them”, Tolkien began to write his epic mythology on a notebook entitled “The Book of Lost Tales.” The tales would come to be known as “The Silmarillion.”

 

The hobbits entered his imagination in 1929, while marking examination papers, when Tolkien started to jot down some words for a story to read to his children – of whom there were now four:  “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”. Tolkien would later say of himself: “I am in fact a Hobbit, in all but size…I like gardens, trees…I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking…” 

 Tolkien was like his hobbits, dreaming of eggs and bacon.

 Like the Book of Jonah, Tolkien’s tales have an extraordinary catholicity – an equal appeal to the Deist, atheist, agnostic or Pagan reader, of all ages and backgrounds. Like Jonah it is not about historical truth – although Middle Earth feels like a place that once existed – it is a story which provides sign posts to the ultimate Truth as well as sign posts about how we should relate to one another, about friendship, courage, honesty, integrity and the seemingly endless battles that we are each destined to fight on our journeys; how the ring is representative of tyrannical power, pride, temptation, addiction and sin.  In this sense The Lord of the Rings is a “true” story.

 

   It resonates with Tolkien’s own experiences and the time in which it was written – although he always insisted it was not allegory but rather might have applicability to those times and to all times.

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     In his wonderful book, “The Power of the Ring” the late Stratford Caldecott, said of Tolkien’s work “at an even deeper level it is about the reality and value of beauty…the homely beauty of firelight and good cheer, the rich natural beauty of tree and forest, the awesome majesty of mountains, the charm of babbling stream, the high and remote glimmer of the stars…recalling the mystery that lies beyond the beauties of this world, and awaken a longing in the human heart that will never be quite content in Middle-earth.”

 

By contrast, Edmund Wilson described The Lord of the Rings as “juvenile trash” while that angry atheist, Philip Pullman, author of “His Dark Materials” has called The Lord of the Rings “trivial”:

“Tolkien was a Catholic, for whom the basic issues of life were not in question… So nowhere in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is there a moment’s doubt about those big questions. No-one is in any doubt about what’s good or bad; everyone knows where the good is, and what to do about the bad. Enormous as it is, TLOTR is consequently trivial”

When the first volume of The Lord of the Rings was published Tolkien knew that he was leaving himself open to inevitable scorn, writing, “I have expressed my heart to be shot at”.

Last year was the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of the Return of the King – the third and final volume of Lord of The Rings.

Pullman and others might note that the trilogy has sold a phenomenal 150 million copies worldwide; in 1997 it was Voted Amazon’s Best Book of the Century emerged as the most popular work of fiction in surveys by Waterstones and Channel Four and was second only to the Bible in its readership.

The Lord of the Rings sits alongside his wonderful short stories and The Silmarillion, posthumously brought to publication by his son, Christopher.

Pullman’s assessment was wrong about the book’s deep and abiding appeal and it is far from “trivial” – quite the reverse – and he was also wrong in stating that Tolkien’s was an unquestioning faith and that he had no doubts.

Referring to his doubts during a particularly arid period in the 1920s he said it was the Blessed Sacrament that kept his then flickering faith alive. He told his son, Michael “I brought you all up ill and talked to you too little. Out of wickedness and sloth I almost ceased to practice my religion…Not for me the Hound of Heaven but the never ceasing silent appeal to the Tabernacle and the sense of starving hunger.”

To consolidate his faith, he practiced and recommended frequent Confession and the frequent reception of Holy Communion, telling his son, Michael, who taught Classics at Stonyhurst College and St Mary’s Hall in Lancashire, “I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity and the true way of all your loves upon earth.” 

In Oxford, he served Mass every day at Blackfriars. The Mass was celebrated by his fellow Inkling, Fr.Gervase Matthew OP. It is said that  Whitacres’s Roman soldier, nailing Jesus to the Cross in the Stations of the Cross at Blackfriars is modelled on Tolkien’s orc.

 

Tolkien taught his children to love the Created world, especially the trees, and he persuaded Michael, to plant a copse in his Stonyhurst garden, evidence of which can still be seen today.

From 1939, after Mussolini joined forces with Hitler, Tolkien became a regular visitor to Stonyhurst when his oldest son, John, returned to England from seminary in Rome to continue his training as a priest. Stonyhurst – with its connections to the Shireburn family, to the recusants and Catholic martyrs, complete with its own Shire Lane in its village, with its two rivers and ancient forest and views of Pendle Hill, with its occult history, was an inspiring setting for Tolkien – captured beautifully today in the Ribble Valley Tolkien Trail.

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Tolkien passed on his love of the Catholic faith to each of his children and encouraged his son, Christopher, to memorise some of the most tried and trusted prayers but also the entire text of the Latin Mass, saying that “If you have these by heart you never need for words of joy”; and he prayed the rosary, keeping a rosary by his bed and in his hands as he looked for Nazi bombers while part of the Oxford Watch during World War Two. 

Towards the end of his life – even while the Jerusalem Bible was in the final stages of composition –Tolkien recoiled at liturgical changes and at what he regarded as a loss of beauty in both reverence for the Holy Eucharist and the sacraments and for the liturgy itself.

He was saddened but became reconciled to the use of the vernacular rather than Latin for the celebration of Mass but he deplored the use of sloppy language.  He said that the encouragement of the faithful to receive Communion regularly and to attend daily Mass would have had a more profound effect on the Church than the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

The changes led him to say “the Church which once felt like a refuge now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go! I think there is nothing to do but pray for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves; and meanwhile to exercise the virtue of loyalty, which indeed only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it.”  His grandson, Simon, wrote that he could “vividly remember going to church with him in Bournemouth.” He said that his grandfather didn’t agree with the liturgical changes “and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but my grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right.”

His belief in the sacrament of marriage and the love of family remained with him until the very end.  When Tolkien died, on September 2nd, 1973 aged 81, he underscored that inseparability and indissolubility, by being interred in the same grave as his wife, Edith, who had died two years earlier.  The names of Luthien and Beren appear on their tombstone.

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In Tolkien’s Middle Earth Legendarium Luthien was the most beautiful of all the children of Iluvatar and forsook her immortality for her love of the mortal warrior Beren. The Silmarillion

The Hobbit

G.K.Chesterton

Fr.Robert Murray SJ

H.G.Wells

So much then for the experiences that shaped Tolkien. 

  1. What does Tolkien Tells Us Himself about his faith?

While once on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament he personally experienced in a vision the blinding presence of God: “I perceived or thought of the Light of God” and saw his own Guardian Angel as a manifestation of “God’s very attention”. 

As a Catholic he believed God is the Creator of the universe and that God had made the world out of nothing. Whether in the Bible or in Tolkien’s Silmarillion all that is has been created by the Word of God when, as we learn in the Book of Job, “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God made a joyful melody.”

But as we also learn from The Silmarillion – as in the biblical story of Creation – we see the creativity  of Iluvatar, the One, and his first creations, the Ainur, the Holy Ones, contested by Melkor, “the greatest of the Ainur” who, like Lucifer, falls as he succumbs to the sin of pride and seeks to subvert both men and elves.

As G.K.Chesterton said of such pride, and as Tolkien himself believed: “Pride does not go before a fall, pride is the fall.”

That Tolkien’s faith was based on personal encounter with God and a deep spirituality is revealed in an exchange that he had with a stranger (whom he identified with Gandalf) and who said to him “Of course, you don’t suppose, do you, that you wrote all that book yourself?” Tolkien replied “Pure Gandalf!…I think I said “No, I don’t suppose so any longer.” I have never since been able to suppose so. An alarming conclusion for an old philologist to draw concerning his private amusement. But not one that should puff up anyone who considers the imperfections of “chosen instruments”, and indeed what sometimes seems their lamentable unfitness for the purpose.”  

    All the elements, from the genesis and “the great music” of “The Silmarillion” to the awesome climax at Mount Doom, take us from the alpha of creation to the omega of judgement. This is a story that exists for itself. 

 

    Tolkien tells us that: 

 

“The Lord of The Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously at first, but consciously in the revision”. Elsewhere he states “I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories), and in fact a Roman Catholic”. In 1958 he wrote that The Lord of the Rings is “a tale, which is built on or out of certain ‘religious’ ideas, but is not an allegory of them.”

 

In 1956 in a letter to Amy Ronald he wrote:

 

“I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect “history” to be anything but a long defeat – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” 

 

Tolkien also said that his writing reflected his beliefs about death, immortality and resurrection.

 

In 1958, in a letter to Rhona Beare, Tolkien wrote:

 

“I might say that if the tale is ‘about’ anything it is not as seems widely supposed about ‘power.’ …It is mainly concerned with Death and Immortality.”

 

The Ring Rhyme that opens each volume of The Lord of the Rings reminds us of the order of Creation and that we cannot cheat our maker:

 

“Three rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die…”

 

The Silmarillion reminds us:

 

“Death is their fate, the gift of Iluvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy. But Melkor has cast his shadow upon it, and confounded it with darkness, and brought evil out of good and fear out of hope.”

 

Tolkien believed in the Catholic concept of Natural Law and in the natural order of things; that we must be good stewards of creation and guardians of the beauty that God has bestowed upon the created world.

 

He foresaw the battles over euthanasia, genetics and the immortality sought and craved through genetics and human cloning – the powerful temptation (shared by some of the men and elves of Tolkien’s realm) to artificially manipulate our allotted span of life and to upend Natural Law and to usurp the role of the Creator. 

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Tolkien and C.S.Lewis had read and were inspired by the writings of the Catholic convert G.K.Chesterton, who died in 1936, the year in which The Hobbit was completed.  In 1922 Chesterton’s last book before becoming a Catholic was “Eugenics and Other Evils” in which he stood against Margaret Sanger and the other early cheer leaders for the Nazis and who literally argued for “More Children for the Fit. Less for the Unfit.” Sanger made it clear whom she considered unfit: “Hebrews, Slavs, Catholics, and Negroes.”

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Chesterton argued that if people dared to challenge science without ethics, such as eugenics or cloning, attempts are made to belittle them with “the same stuffy science, the same bullying bureaucracy, and the same terrorism by tenth-rate professors.” 

 

Tolkien shared Chesterton’s loathing of eugenics and in 1938 condemned Nazi “race-doctrine” as “wholly pernicious and unscientific”. And, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he described the scientists who had created the atomic bomb as “these lunatic physicists” and “Babel-builders.”

 

Three years after Eugenics and Other Evils, Chesterton published his “The Everlasting Man” (1925) which disputed H.G.Wells’ view that civilisation was merely an extension of animal life and that Christ was no more than a charismatic figure. In contesting this, Chesterton said Christianity had “died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.” Neither he nor Tolkien had any doubt about the Divinity of Christ, the Son of God.

 

In The Everlasting Man Chesterton paints the canvas of humanity’s spiritual journey and portrays Christianity as the bedrock of western civilisation.

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Later, C.S.Lewis said that the combination of Chesterton’s apologetics and George MacDonald’s stories had between them shaped his intellect and imagination.

 

In 1947 Lewis wrote to Rhonda Bodle that   “the [very] best popular defence of the full Christian position I know is G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.”  Having abandoned his atheism Lewis wryly remarked that a young man who is serious about his atheism cannot be too careful about what he reads.

 

Tolkien and Lewis were also influenced by Chesterton’s belief in Merrie England as an antidote to the pernicious dehumanisation represented by over industrialisation and the servile State.  

 

The culture of the Shire is the culture of Merrie England. 

 

Victorian Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics saw Merrie England as representing the abundance and generosity of gifts we so easily squander or spoil. There was something here of Thomas More’s Utopia and a desire to return to an idyllic pastoral way of life that had been superseded by the smoking chimneys and crushed character of 1930s Britain.

 

Chesterton saw Merrie England in the guise of the country inn, the Sunday roast, conversation around the fireside, through the medieval Guilds, arts and crafts. Tolkien captured these ideas in the people of the Shire.

 

He always made clear his intense hatred of the rapacious destruction of the English countryside and the desirability of the simple life.  For most of his life Tolkien used a bicycle rather than a car, of which he though there were too many although it is unclear whether, like his Hobbits, he looked forward to two breakfasts

 

Tolkien and Lewis took from Chesterton their profound belief in the human dignity of every person, each made in the likeness and image of God. The castrating unmanning of men (“men without chests”) was captured by Lewis in “The Abolition of Man” (1943) and grotesque scientific brutalism is the theme of his novel “That Hideous Strength” (1945).

 

In 1930 Chesterton had observed that When people begin to ignore human dignity, it will not be long before they begin to ignore human rights.”

 

And in his Autobiography (1936) he wrote this:

“I did not really understand what I meant by Liberty, until I heard it called by the new name of Human Dignity. It was a new name to me; though it was part of a creed nearly two thousand years old. In short, I had blindly desired that a man should be in possession of something, if it were only his own body. In so far as materialistic concentration proceeds, a man will be in possession of nothing; not even his own body. Already there hover on the horizon sweeping scourges of sterilisation or social hygiene, applied to everybody and imposed by nobody. At least I will not argue here with what are quaintly called the scientific authorities on the other side. I have found one authority on my side.”

 

Like Chesterton, Tolkien also insisted on the teaching authority of the Church and the Pope.

 

He said of the papacy: “I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims…for me the Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. “Feed my sheep” was his last charge to St.Peter.”

 

 

Chesterton and Tolkien also had a shared love of the Virgin Mary. In his poem “The Black Virgin” Chesterton describes Mary “a morning star” – “sunlight and moonlight are thy luminous shadows, starlight and twilight thy refractions are, lights and half-lights and all lights turn about thee.”

 

Tolkien gives his elves an invocation to Elbereth “We still remember, we who dwell in this far land beneath the trees, The Starlight on the Western seas” words redolent of a Marian hymn which describes Mary as the “guide of the wanderer”, as “the ocean star”, “mother of Christ, star of the sea”.

 

In a letter to Fr. Robert Murray SJ, Tolkien said of the Virgin Mary “Our Lady, upon which all my own small perceptions of beauty, both in majesty and simplicity is founded”. Elsewhere he had said: “I attribute whatever there is of beauty and goodness in my work to the Holy Mother of God.”

 

Tolkien saw Mary as the closest of all beings to Christ, as literally “full of grace” describing her as “unstained” and that “she had committed no evil deeds.” He saw her as the Christ bearer who paves the way for the Incarnation: about which he says “the Incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write.”

 

As well as is love of Mary, Tolkien had a traditional Catholic belief in the Communion of Saints – the companions of Christ throughout all the ages. He would have been delighted by the beatification in Birmingham, in 2010, by Pope Benedict of John Henry Newman. The collegiality – the fellowship – of Newman’s Oratorians appealed to Tolkien.

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Newman insisted – and Tolkien believed – that there is some unique task assigned to each of us that has not been assigned to any other. The challenge is to discern it.

 

Newman’s prayer on “Purpose” emphasises each person’s unique gifts, their unique talents, and their unique destiny. he emphasised that we do not need to be perfect before using those talents. He said this about the use of gifts:

 

“What are great gifts but the correlative of great work? We are not born for ourselves, but for our kind, for our neighbours, for our country: it is but selfishness, indolence, a perverse fastidiousness, an unmanliness, and no virtue or praise, to bury our talent in a napkin.”

 

Or, for that matter, hide them in a private hobbit hole.

 

Tolkien loved the feasts and seasons of the Church and the ever growing company of saints. In 1925, when Tolkien was 33, the little flower” – the Carmelite nun, Saint Therese of Lisieux, was canonised. Her “little way” contradicted the elevation of power and the mobilisation of vast armies: “I only love simplicity. I have a horror of pretence” she said. “It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new.”

 

It sounds like a manifesto for Hobbiton.

 

Central, too, to Tolkien’s faith was his love of the Blessed Sacrament. He told his son Michael that “The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion….frequency is of the highest effect.” He described the Holy Eucharist as “the one great thing to love on earth” and that in “the Blessed Sacrament you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that….eternal endurance which every man’s heart desires.”

 

 tolkien-and-the-blessed-sacrament

 

And in all these battles Tolkien seeks the Viaticum which is given through the last of the seven Sacraments and which is provided as daily sustenance through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist stating:

 

 “I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning and by the mercy of God never have fallen out again”

 

 

These then are some of the “certain ‘religious’ ideas” that inspired Tolkien.

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Doubtless, all of these beliefs and ideas were the subject of discussion when the Inklings met at the Eagle and Child – the Bird and Baby – between the 1930s and 1949. The group was led by Tolkien and Lewis but also included Tolkien’s son, Christopher, Roger Lancelyn Green, Hugo Dyson, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams and Lord David Cecil.

 

But it was particularly the companionship of C.S.Lewis that strengthened the faith of both men.

 

It is now 90 years since J.R.R.Tolkien and C.S.Lewis met as Oxford academics.

It was the beginning of a friendship kindled by common experiences and which produced some of the most wonderful fiction of the twentieth century but which had its origins in the shared horrors of the Great War.

   Lewis once wrote that “There’s no sound I like better than male laughter” – and it was in the early 1930s that he began to cultivate his friendship with the new Professor of Anglo-Saxon, appointed in 1925. Throughout those highly productive years – and as he journeyed from atheism to Christian belief – Lewis became close to Tolkien.       

 

   In 1933 they began to hold meetings in college rooms and on Tuesday mornings at The Eagle and Child. Tolkien later wrote that “CSL had a passion for hearing things read aloud.” The Inklings met regularly during the next two decades.

 

   Although Tolkien would later be displaced in Lewis’ affections, and a rift opened between them, these gatherings inestimably enriched them both.

 

Lewis would write of the importance of such friendship in “The Four Loves”: “He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest or funniest in all the others.”

 

The Inklings were conceived as a circle of friends which would practice solidarity and engender camaraderie; intuitively and challengingly counter cultural.

 

For Lewis the Inklings also provided a familial intimacy which his own family could not. Tolkien was crucial in his own journey to faith.

 

He recorded the moment when, in 1931, he decided to embrace Christianity: “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ – in Christianity. …My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.”

 

Two year earlier he had come to believe in God: 

 

   “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England…The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”  

 

Lewis and Tolkien did not believe Christians needed to be morose or detached.  In 1944 The Daily Telegraph misleadingly referred to Lewis as “an ascetic”.  Tolkien scoffed at this in a letter to his son: “Ascetic Mr. Lewis!!! I ask you! He put away three pints in a very short session we had this morning and said he was ‘going short for Lent.’”

 

Their friendship was based on the joy to which Lewis gave so much emphasis in his writing and captured by Tolkien in this verse from Lord of the Rings

“Ho! Ho! Ho!

To the bottle I go To heal my heart and drown my woe Rain may fall, and wind may blow And many miles be still to go But under a tall tree will I lie And let the clouds go sailing by”

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For two men formed in the harrowing trenches of the Great War, who had seen so many of their friends pay the ultimate price, pain and suffering did not disable or incapacitate them. Both believed that beyond the pain and the suffering of today is the certainty of eternity. Both believed that through their story telling they could encourage their readers to see beyond the catastrophic and destructive effects of war and the evil in our world to a hopeful and joyous future.

 

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So much, then, for Tolkien’s beliefs and the experiences which shaped him.

 

  • 2.  How does that faith shape the characters, and the story lines?

 

 

Although Tolkien despised simple allegory he invites us to use the stories, the plots, the characters, and to examine their “applicability.” He said that his objective had been to “make a body of more or less connected legend…drawing splendour from vast backcloths…The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.”  He said that his work should be “dedicated simply to England, to my country.”

 

This suggests that he wants us to explore his amazing and extraordinary landscape to discover things that are important about how we live and behave towards one another.

 

Tolkien insisted that notwithstanding the Redemption of man “the Christian still has to work, with mind as well as body” and he said that “in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation.”

 

We are being invited to decipher his elvish runes and games of riddles, leaving us scope to draw what conclusions we may but this is an invitation to meet our Creator through legend and myth, fantasy and story-telling.

 

And the Lord of the Rings is riddled with wisdom and common sense about everything from the nature of friendship to the place of courage:

 

 

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

 

“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

 

It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”

 

“Little by little, one travels far.”

 

“Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate”

 

 “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”

 

“It’s a dangerous business going out your front door.”

 

“Courage is found in unlikely places.”

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But central must be an understanding of power and evil represented by the Ring itself:

“The Board is set, the pieces are moving. we come to it at last, the great battle of our time.”

 Stratford Caldecott believed that the Ring exemplifies “the dark magic of the corrupted will, the assertion of self in disobedience to God. It appears to give freedom, but its true function is to enslave the wearer to the Fallen Angel. It corrodes the human will of the wearer, rendering him increasingly “thin” and unreal; indeed, its gift of invisibility symbolizes this ability to destroy all natural human relationships and identity. You could say the Ring is sin itself: tempting and seemingly harmless to begin with, increasingly hard to give up and corrupting in the long run

 the-ring

The Ring and the forces at work capture the endless contest between good and evil. It represents naked power and crude evil bringing with it temptation and corruption, violence and death.

 

 

 

As the ring bearer struggles towards his destiny many die before the evil forces of Sauron are at last subdued; and even then Saruman remains at large in the Shire – evil and sin are still at work, waiting to ensnare us.

 

For the Christian, the use of evil to overcome evil is a frequent temptation. Frodo, Gandalf and the Lady Galadriel all understand that if they use the ring to overcome the Dark Lord then they too will become enslaved by evil.

 

The general weakness of humanity (which can be taken to cover not only mankind, but all creatures in The Lord of the Rings) reminds us that humanity is fundamentally good, but that those who fall turn to evil. 

 

All that is evil was once good – Elrond says, “Nothing was evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.”  In this commentary and in the fallen orcs – which were themselves once elves – we can surely see the story of the fall.

 

Temptation appears first in The Hobbit as the travellers are warned as they enter Mirkwood, don’t drink the water and don’t stray from the path. How like the descendants of Adam, who when urged not to eat at the forbidden tree choose do so anyway.

 

The temptation of the Serpent is reflected in Boromir’s temptation by the Ring, as well as in Gollum’s.  In Gollum we also see the idea of a conscience – he fights with himself and with his conscience while he is being tempted.  The theologian Colin Gunton was of the opinion that the way in which the Ring tempts people to use its power is analogous to Jesus’ temptation by the devil.

 

Other aspects of evil also recur in the book.  The destructive nature of evil is there in the Scouring of the Shire, and in the way in which Saruman’s troops destroy the trees and the timeless quality of Shire life, something especially abhorrent to Tolkien. The orcs themselves are cannibals, and are hideous – showing how evil corrupts. The dark and barren lands of Mordor are the very face of evil.

 

Connected with this is the self-destructive nature of evil. Inherent in evil is the desire to dominate, rule and have power over others.

 

 

After Gollum falls to the power of the Ring, he is consumed by its power, and he becomes weakened to such an extent that he can no longer resist it. Even getting close to evil has a subverting effect: take Bilbo’s reluctance to give up the Ring, and its disappearance from the mantle piece and reappearance in his pocket. Or, despite his epic and heroic journey into darkness, Frodo ultimately fails to throw the ring into the furnace. Here is the powerful mixture of the intoxicating allure of the forbidden with our human weakness and frailty.

 

Yet, despite his failure, in Frodo’s “little way” of self-sacrifice and willingness to take on seemingly impossible odds we see a central tenet of Christian belief.  And think of those unlikely victories over seemingly intractable and daunting odds such as at Helm’s Deep. Even when evil appears to be triumphing – such as when Sauron gloats over what he considers to be the foolhardiness of Aragorn’s troops as they march towards Mordor, he is defeated by them.

 

 

Evil also brings with it desolation, barrenness and the destruction of beauty.

 

Compare the destruction of Isengard, and the brutality of the orcs, with the simple homely life of the Shire. An image that Tolkien repeatedly uses is that of dark and light.  Contrast the Shire and Mordor (“where the shadows lie”) – The Shire which contains so much of the England Tolkien loved, and Mordor, the dark and sinister land where Sauron and Mount Doom are to be found, and which contains so much of the England that Tolkien hated.

 

Compare, too, the man-eating trolls and orcs with the elves – the disfigured (fallen) creatures and the beautiful and immortal elves – comparable to the angelic hosts. Recall the crucial role of the eagles and remember Isaiah 40:31 that “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

 

 

Even in his use of names Tolkien’s sign posts take us to places and people that seem good or bad – Galadriel, Aragorn, Frodo and Arwen are beautiful-sounding names, whereas Wormtongue, the Balrog, Mordor and Mount Doom -all unlikely to be forces for good.

 

But although we encounter evil we are encouraged never to lose sight of what is good:

 

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

 

In the Lady Galadriel the reader can be allowed to see something of the purity and beauty of the Virgin Mary; Galadriel’s grand-daughter, Arwen, also has a Marian role, saving both Frodo’s life and soul as she utters the words – not in the original text but crafted by Peter Jackson, who in his use of the word grace makes a more explicitly religious statement than even Tolkien himself –

“What grace is given me, let it pass to him. Let him be spared.”

 

Galadriel bestows upon the Fellowship seven mystical gifts, which are surely analogous to the seven sacraments, and as such are real signs of grace, and not mere symbols.

 

In the provision of lembas, we can see the Holy Eucharist. Before the Fellowship depart from Lorien they have a final supper where the mystical elvish bread lembas is shared, and they all drink from a common cup. The immortal elves are nourished by the lembas, the mystical bread – the bread of angels – which both nourishes and heals.

 lembas

Lembas, we are told, “had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone, and did not mingle it with other goods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure.” This allusion reminds us of the manna that fed the people of Israel or the German mystic, Theresa Neumann, who survived by eating nothing other than the Holy Eucharist.  

  

We can see Christ-like qualities in Aragorn. He has a kingdom to come into, a bride to wed. One powerful image is of the “Hands of the Healer” – in the Houses of Healing: Aragorn, the King, has the ability to heal people by touching them with his hands. Another King had the touch that healed Jairus’ daughter, the centurion’s servant, the lepers, the blind man and the sick who were lowered through the roof at Capaernum. 

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Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo all have Christ like marks – with Aragorn the king entering his kingdom, the return of whom everyone is expecting;

 

In Gandalf we are also confronted by Resurrection –a life beyond the present is evoked as  Gandalf dies after he fights the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum; but returns – and is initially unrecognised, strengthened as Gandalf the White; recalling Gethsemane and Emmaus.

 

Gandalf’s transformation tells us something about the Christian idea of justice, which is at the heart of the book. In the end, everyone gets what they deserve.  Saruman starts off as Saruman the White, but following his fall, ends up as Saruman of Many Colours. The order of “rank” in the wizard hierarchy holds white as the highest, followed by grey and then brown; they almost sound like orders of monks and friars with Gandalf the Grey becoming Gandalf the White.

 

There is even a sort of papacy in the wizard Gandalf – after all, he acts as leader to the free and faithful people, and he even crowns kings, as did popes of old. And as a spiritual father to Frodo, who tells Gandalf that he wishes he had not been born into such a time as this that “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

 gandalf

 

There is the further thought that along with Galdalf’s papal colour of white, the name of the Pope’s summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, is translated into English as Gandolf’s Castle. Perhaps it means nothing; perhaps it is another elvish rune.

 

 

In Boromir we see a willingness to lay down his life for his friends (made all the more remarkable because of his earlier attempt to seize the ring by force and by his subsequent repentance). Boromir is rewarded for his repentance by dying a hero’s death by an orc’s arrow and being given a hero’s funeral.  All of the fallen characters are given a chance to repent, although most of them– such as Wormtongue, Gollum and Saruman – unlike Boromir, do not.

 

 

In Frodo, we see a willingness both to serve and to carry his burden. The very future of Middle Earth is at stake, and it is the Fellowship which wins salvation for Middle Earth, although not without cost, including self-sacrifice.

 

Elrond tells Frodo that it is his destiny to be a ring bearer; but this is no pleasurable occupation. Frodo, like Christ, takes up his cross.

 

Throughout the quest Frodo’s strength in increasingly sapped by the burden he carries and of which he seeks to be rid.  His stumbling approach to Mordor, under the Eye of Sauron, is like the faltering steps of Christ weighed down by his Cross as he repeatedly falls on the path to Golgotha; and, like Christ, Frodo is tempted by despair.

 

 

Indeed, Frodo does succumb. His free will, hitherto so strong in resisting the powers of the Ring, gives way to the power of the Ring, and he cannot bring himself to throw it down into the fires of Mount Doom. Despite all his inner strength Frodo gradually succumbs to a dark fascination with the ring and he loses his free spirit and free will the closer he comes in proximity to Mount Doom

 

Enter here the Christian foot soldier, Samwise Gamgee.

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My own favourite character in The Lord of the Rings is based on the private soldiers Tolkien encountered at the Somme in 1916:

 

“My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflection of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 War, and recognised as so far superior to myself.”

 

Sam’s humility turns him into the greatest hero in the book.  Although he is only Frodo’s gardener, it is he who saves Frodo and ultimately the Shire. Mary Magdalene, in her first resurrection encounter with the Lord mistakes Jesus, thinking that he too is only a gardener.  Tolkien is reminding us that so often we miss what is important about the people we meet, what matters most, and too frequently judge them by the job they do or their social origins.

 

Sam is like Simon of Cyrene, sharing his Master’s burden and at the climax his devoted loyalty in following Frodo to the very end is rewarded as the burden is lightened and he is transfigured. 

 

Stratford Caldecott quotes Tolkien as saying that the plot is concerned with ‘the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble’ – and the meek Sam certainly inherits the earth.  

 

At a crucial moment in Mordor he must carry the Ringbearer, and even the Ring itself.  He moves from immature innocence to mature innocence: and finally, in his own world (that is, in Tolkien’s inner world of the Shire), this ‘gardener’ becomes a ‘king’ or at least a Mayor.  The fact is that Frodo could not have fulfilled his task without the continuing presence of Sam, and he relies utterly on him; yet Sam remains humble always and faithful to his master.

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Through Sam Tolkien also reminds us of the Christian virtue of mercy and the role of Providence. Sam would have gladly disposed of Gollum whom he sees as a threat to Frodo. Gandalf commends Frodo for showing mercy and tells us that even Gollum may one day have his moment. As the ring is committed to the depths that Providence comes to pass.

 

As Sam, who begins the story by eavesdropping, returns to the Shire there is something of the Catholic love of order, tradition and a longing for restoration of that which has been lost.

 

Sam insists “there is some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for.” 

 

The fight culminates on a specific date: March 25th. It is the day on which the Ring is finally destroyed at Mount Doom. Gandalf tells Frodo “the New Year will always now begin on the 25th of March when Sauron fell, and you were brought out of the fire to the King.”  

 

Tom Shippey, in “The Road to Middle Earth”, says that in “Anglo-Saxon belief, and in European popular tradition both before and after that, March 25th is the date of the Crucifixion”, and it is also the date of the Annunciation.  Days to recall beginnings and endings.

 

 

The Lord of the Rings then is a story with many stories concealed within it. Tolkien’s subtlety is that he lays a trail of clues for his readers.

 

His final hidden clue – the last elvish rune – is the word Tolkien invented to describe what he saw as a good quality in a fairy-story – and that word was eucatastrophe, this being the notion that there is a “sudden joyous ‘turn’” in the story, where everything is going well, “giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy”, whilst not denying the “existence of dyscatastrophe – of sorrow and failure”.

 

Tolkien said:

 

“I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.

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That is what shaped his life, what shaped his beliefs, where faith and fiction are joined as one – and why his work is a great spiritual adventure as well as high fantasy at its very best.

 

 

 David Alton, November 2016.