The story of the Coming of Christianity to Korea and the story of the thousands who died for their faith – and new CSW Report on North Korea published on “Save North Koreans Day”.

At a ceremony in Rome where he received the St.Thomas More Advocacy Award, for his work on promoting freedom of religion and belief, David Alton particularly referred to the plight of North Korea’s persecuted Christians. Here you can read the story of the coming of Christianity to Korea and the story of the thousands who died for their faith. Scroll down to read the full text of Monsignor Richard Rutt’s pamphlet “The Korean Martyrs”

2016 saint thomas more award 2Korean martyrs

Also See:

New CSW report, Total Denial: Violations of freedom of religion or belief in North Korea issued on  Save North Koreans Day, and CSW delivered a letter to China’s President Xi Jinping, via the Chinese Embassy in London, urging China to stop its policy of forcible repatriation of North Korean refugees.

Ben Roigers has written this op-ed article in The Huffington Post –

and this piece  –

To access the full report, see –

And the CSW press release –

Also see –

Reuters report on Christianity in North Korea

In North Korea, a church renovated, missionaries jailed

By James Pearson

SEOUL (Reuters) – Tucked between trees and paddy fields in a quiet suburb in the west of Pyongyang, Chilgol Church is one of four state-operated churches in the capital of a country that espouses freedom of religion but effectively bans it.

In recent months, the Protestant church has been renovated – its rusted iron roof replaced with new tiles, and its faded brown brick walls repainted yellow, according to a North Korean propaganda video. At the same time, North Korea has sentenced two foreign missionaries to hard labour and along the border with China, both countries have cracked down on religious groups.

As Pope Francis visits South Korea this week in his first trip to Asia, religion in North Korea is under the spotlight.

People who regularly travel to the North Korean capital describe its churches as showpieces for foreign residents and tourists. Many foreigners are invited to sit in front-row pews, they say, but are prohibited from mingling with a congregation hand-picked by the state.

North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion provided it does not undermine the state, but outside of a small handful of state-controlled places of worship, no open religious activity is allowed.

“To be a Christian in North Korea is extremely dangerous, and many Christians who are discovered end up in the prison camps or, in some cases, executed,” said Benedict Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which campaigns for religious freedom.

“The regime demands absolute loyalty and devotion and sees religion as undermining this,” he said.

North Korea turned down an invitation from the South Korean Catholic church for members of its state-run Korean Catholic Association to attend a papal mass next week in Seoul, citing the start of joint U.S.-South Korean military drills, due to begin on the same day.

A United Nations report earlier this year cited estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 of North Korea’s 24 million people are Christians. The number is impossible to verify because most Christians cannot worship openly.

An overwhelming 99.7 percent of defectors from North Korea said in a survey late last year that there was no religious freedom in the country. Only 4.2 percent said they had seen a Bible when they lived there, said the survey of over eight thousand defectors by the South Korea-based Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights.

In May, the isolated country detained U.S. tourist Jeffrey Fowle for leaving a Bible in the toilet of a site visited by his tour group, and U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae is serving a 15 year hard labour sentence on charges of attempting to bring down the government.

Another missionary, South Korean Kim Jeong-wook, was sentenced to life with hard labour in June after a North Korean court found him guilty of espionage and setting up an underground church.


Religion was once considered part of the North’s unification policy, with the strategy of trying to align with religious leaders in the South who were battling the country’s military rulers at the time. But the success of South Korean religious groups in helping to oust its own military dictatorship may have caused Pyongyang to treat its official relationship with religion more carefully.

“Part of North Korea’s fear of Christianity stems from the successful challenge which Christians like Kim Dae-jung and Cardinal Stephen Kim made in ending the military dictatorship in South Korea,” said Lord David Alton, chairman of the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.

As head of the Korean Catholic Church, Cardinal Kim helped mobilise South Koreans against South Korea’s military dictatorship in the 1980s, alongside former President and democracy activist Kim Dae-jung, a fellow Roman Catholic.

“With the imminent arrival of Pope Francis in Seoul, they (Pyongyang) will also be reflecting on the role which John Paul II played in ending Eastern European communism,” Alton said.

However, North Korea’s founding president Kim Il Sung was the grandson of a Protestant priest and his mother, Kang Ban Sok, was a devout Christian whose first name came from an early Korean translation of the biblical name Peter.

The Chilgol Church was built in her honour, but sits 300 metres (yards) from a propaganda museum and statues dedicated to her as the revolutionary mother of the man who became father to the state.

As at any church, a softly-spoken vicar may shake hands and chat with visitors as they leave, but officials carefully scrutinise the church after services and count Bibles to make sure none have gone missing, regular visitors say.

In the 1980s, the North, under pressure to change with the deepening of economic problems and main ally China’s growing openness, began looking to foreign religious groups as a means to forge links with the outside world.

The government gave official status to religious groups and allowed the publication of the Bible, and in 1988 the main churches for the Catholic and Protestant faiths, Jangchung and Pongsu, were built in Pyongyang. The Chilgol Church and a Russian Orthodox church were set up later.

But there is no genuine religious freedom in North Korea, the U.S. State Department said in a report late last month. State media dismissed the report as an attempt by the United States to “tarnish its image”.

But fealty to the Kim family that has ruled North Korea for over half a century is paramount.

“They have attempted to replace religion with a cultish dynastic ideology,” said Alton. “But by outlawing religious freedom they have denied their society an engine for social and economic change.”

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Tony Munroe and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

As Pope Francis visits Korea the North Koreans send a missionary to a forced labour camp and according to a United Nations Report thousands of Christians suffer crimes against humanity.

Putting a new roof on Chilgo church in Pyongyang is a maldroit attempt by the North Korean regime to suggest that it respects Christian beliefs and religious freedom. Replacing a decaying rusted roof should be set alongside the sentencing of two missionaries to hard labour and the imprisonment of thousands of North Korean Christians in forced labour camps. A United Nations report says Pyongyang’s treatment of Christians constitutes crimes against humanity while a celebrated international law firm believes it amounts to genocide.

Chilgol is where Kim Jong Un’s great grandmother was an Elder and where she worshipped. It’s not Chilgol’s roof he should be replacing but policies which persecute Christians who have the same beliefs as his great grandmother.

As Pope Francis arrives in South Korea Kim Jong Un should announce an amnesty for imprisoned believers and commit his country to upholding Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees religious freedom. If he did so he would win universal approbation instead of condemnation.

New Pilgrimage

Korean Bishops Embark on Pilgrimage dedicated to Martyrs

Year of Faith Event Commemorates Those Who Gave Their Lives for the Gospel

Followed by The Coming of Christianity To Korea – also see “Building Bridges” (Lion, 2013)

SEOUL, September 17, 2013 ( – Last Tuesday, Korean Bishops embarked, for the first time, a pilgrimage on foot to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Seoul, South Korea. The Year of Faith event marked the Month of Martyrs celebrated in September to commemorate those who gave their life for the Gospel.

St.Andrew Kim, the first Korean Catholic priest, martyred at the age of 25, and St.Paul Chongst_andrew_kim

The Feast of the Korean Martyrs is celebrated on September 20th and commemorates 103 Christians killed during persecutions in the country that went on from 1839-1867. According to Fides News Agency, the Korean Bishops embarking on the pilgrimage were accompanied by over 300 priests, religious, and lay people who reflected on the spirit of martyrdom.

The pilgrimage began with the opening prayer in the chapel at the Songsin Theological Campus, The Catholic University of Korea, in which some pieces of the remains of Saint Andrew Kim Dae-gon (1821-1846) are preserved, the first Korean priest and martyr, canonized by John Paul II in 1984.

The Bishops made a pilgrimage to martyrs’ shrines, following this itinerary: site of the Left Podo-Cheong – police headquarter, execution site of Korean martyrs; the Myeongdong Cathedral, in whose crypt there are the relics of 9 martyrs; Seosomun Martyrs’ Shrine, built on the site where 44 out of the 103 Korean martyrs, many Servants of God and other Catholic martyrs in the earlier Church in Korea sacrificed their lives; Danggogae Martyrs’ Shrine where 10 Korean Catholics were martyred on this hill; Saenamteo Martyrs’ Shrine, where 11 priests were killed; Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine, place of martyrdom during the Byeong-in persecution in 1866. In the underground sepulchre of the church there are the relics of 28 Martyrs, a museum and a large outdoor statue of Saint AndrewKim Dae-geon.

(2) Text of JPII Homily at Canonisation

Mass for the canonization of Korean martyrs, Homily of John Paul II, 6 May 1984



(MAY 2-11, 1984)



Youido Place – Seoul

Sunday, 6 May 1984

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory”? (Luc. 24, 26)

1. These words, taken from today’s Gospel, were spoken by Jesus as he was going from Jerusalem to Emmaus in the company of two of his disciples. They did not recognize him, and as to an unknown person they described to him all that had happened in Jerusalem in these last days. They spoke of the Passion and death of Jesus on the Cross. They spoke of their own shattered hopes: “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luc. 24, 21). These hopes were buriedwith the death of Jesus.

The two disciples were downhearted. Even though they had heard that the women and the Apostles, on the third day after his death, had failed to find the body of Jesus in the tomb, nevertheless they were completely unaware that he had been seen alive. The disciples did not know that at that precise moment they were actually looking at him, that they were walking in his company, that they were speaking with him. Indeed, their eyes were kept from recognizing him (Ibid. 24, 16).

2. Then Jesus began to explain to them, from Sacred Scripture, that it was precisely through suffering that the Messiah had to reach the glory of the Resurrection. The words alone however did not have the full effect. Even though their hearts were burning within them while they listened to this unknown person, nevertheless he still remained for them an unknown person. It was only during the evening meal, when he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Ibid. 24, 31), but he then disappeared from their sight. Having recognized the Risen Lord, they became witnesses for all time of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Through them, through all the Apostles, through the men and women who were witnesses of the life and death of Jesus Christ, of his Gospel and Resurrection, the truth about him spread first to Jerusalem, next to all Judea, and then to other countries and peoples. It entered into the history of humanity.

3. The truth about Jesus Christ also reached Korean soil. It came by means of books brought from China. And in a most marvellous way, divine grace soon moved your scholarly ancestors first to an intellectual quest for the truth of God’s word and then to a living faith in the Risen Savior.

Yearning for an ever greater share in the Christian faith, your ancestors sent one of their own in 1784 to Peking, where he was baptized. From this good seed was born the first Christian community in Korea, a community unique in the history of the Church by reason of the fact that it was founded entirely by lay people. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could already boast of some ten thousand martyrs. The years 1791, 1801, 1827, 1839, 1846 and 1866 are forever signed with the holy blood of your Martyrs and engraved in your hearts.

Even though the Christians in the first half century had only two priests from China to assist them, and these only for a time, they deepened their unity in Christ through prayer and fraternal love; they disregarded social classes and encouraged religious vocations. And they sought ever closer union with their Bishop in Peking and the Pope in faraway Rome.

After years of pleading for more priests to be sent, your Christian ancestors welcomed the first French missionaries in 1836. Some of these, too, are numbered among the Martyrs who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel, and who are being canonized today in this historic celebration.

The splendid flowering of the Church in Korea today is indeed the fruit of the heroic witness of the Martyrs. Even today, their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the North of this tragically divided land.

4. Today then it is given to me, as the Bishop of Rome and Successor of Saint Peter in that Apostolic See, to participate in the Jubilee of the Church on Korean soil. I have already spent several days in your midst as a pilgrim, fulfilling as Bishop and Pope my service to the sons and daughters of the beloved Korean nation. Today’s Liturgy constitutes the culminating point of this pastoral service.

For behold: through this Liturgy of Canonization the Blessed Korean Martyrs are inscribed in the list of the Saints of the Catholic Church. These are true sons and daughters of your nation, and they are joined by a number of missionaries from other lands. They are your ancestors, according to the flesh, language and culture. At the same time they are your fathers and mothers in the faith, a faith to which they bore witness by the shedding of their blood.

From the thirteen-year-old Peter Yu to the seventy-two-year-old Mark Chong, men and women, clergy and laity, rich and poor, ordinary people and nobles, many of them descendants of earlier unsung martyrs – they all gladly died for the sake of Christ.

Listen to the last words of Teresa Kwon, one of the early Martyrs: “Since the Lord of Heaven is the Father of all mankind and the Lord of all creation, how can you ask me to betray him? Even in this world anyone who betrays his own father or mother will not be forgiven. All the more may I never betray him who is the Father of us all”.

A generation later, Peter Yu’s father Augustine firmly declares: “Once having known God, I cannot possibly betray him”. Peter Cho goes even further and says: “Even supposing that one’s own father committed a crime, still one cannot disown him as no longer being one’s father. How then can I say that I do not know the heavenly Lord Father who is so good?”.

And what did the seventeen-year-old Agatha Yi say when she and her younger brother were falsely told that their parents had betrayed the faith? “Whether my parents betrayed or not is their affair. As for us, we cannot betray the Lord of heaven whom we have always served”. Hearing this, six other adult Christians freely delivered themselves to the magistrate to be martyred. Agatha, her parents and those other six are all being canonized today. In addition, there are countless other unknown, humble martyrs who no less faithfully and bravely served the Lord.

5. The Korean Martyrs ave borne witness to the crucified and risen Christ.Through the sacrifice of their own lives they have become like Christ in a very special way. The words of Saint Paul the Apostle could truly have been spoken by them: We are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies . . . We are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh”.

The death of the martyrs is similar to the death of Christ on the Cross, because like his, theirs has become the beginning of new life. This new life was manifested not only in themselves – in those who underwent death for Christ – but it was alsoextended to others. It became the leaven of the Church as the living community of disciples and witnesses to Jesus Christ. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”: this phrase from the first centuries of Christianity is confirmed before our eyes.

Today the Church on Korean soil desires in a solemn way to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the gift of the Redemption. It is of this gift that Saint Peter writes: “You were ransomed . . . not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ”. To this lofty price, to this price of the Redemption, your Church desires, on the basis of the witness of the Korean Martyrs, to add an enduring witness of faith, hope and charity.

Through this witness may Jesus Christ be ever more widely known in your land: the crucified and risen Christ. Christ, the Way and the Truth and the Life. Christ, true God: the Son of the living God. Christ, true man: the Son of the Virgin Mary.

Once at Emmaus two disciples recognized Christ “in the breaking of the bread”. On Korean soil may ever new disciples recognize him in the Eucharist. Receive his body and blood under the appearances of bread and wine, and may he the Redeemer of the world receive you into the union of his Body, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

May this solemn day become a pledge of life and of holiness for future generations. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and is living in his Church today. “Yes it is true. The Lord has risen”. Amen. Alleluia!

With thanks to – Libreria Editrice Vaticana (1984)

(3) Background info. on some of the martyrs

Saint Paul Chong Hasang

St. Paul Chong Hasang(1795-1839) was one of the lay leaders who have participated in the establishment of the early Korean Catholic Church. He was also the second son of Chung, Yak Jong, a martyr who was killed during the Shin-Yu Persecution (1801). During this persecution, the Korea’s only priest, Chu, Moon Mo and many prominent leaders of the early Korean Catholic Church were martyred. After these incidents, it seemed impossible to reconstruct the devastated Korean Catholic community. It was St. Paul Chong Hasang who gathered the scattered Korean Catholic members and ignited their hearts with the raging flames of faith. Furthermore, he reorganized the structures and activities of the Korean Catholic church and initiated a movement for the Beijing Bishop to send priests to Korea.

To accomplish this mission, from 1816, he has crossed the China borders nine times, overcoming many dangers and fiercely cold weathers, totaling 2000 Km of round trips. He entered the China territory as a lowly servant to the Korean diplomatic members who have made their annual tributary missions to China to exchange gifts with the Chinese Emperor. By using these opportunities in Beijing, St. Paul Chong requested many times that the Beijing Bishop send priests to Korea. As many of his attempts failed, he directly pleaded the case to Pope Gregory X. Finally, on September 9th, 1831, the Pope proclaimed the legitimacy of the Korean Catholic Diocese to the World.

The followings are St. Paul Chong Hasang’s main achievements:

First, he was the leader of the early Korean Catholic Church during the persecution period, during which he provided the essential momentum to establish the Korean Catholic Diocese with progressive and worldly vision.

Second, he contributed greatly to the development of the Korean Catholic Church by dedicating his life to accommodating and assisting the priests who were sent to Korea after the establishment of the Korean Catholic Archdiocese.

Third, he was one of the seminary students of Bishop Imbert to become a priest. However, during the Gi Hye Persecution in 1839, the bishop and St. Paul Chong Hasang were martyred, unfortunately he was unable to actualize his dream of becoming a priest.

Fourth, he wrote a document declaring the position of the Korean Catholic Church that the Catholic faith is good for the nation but not a threat, the Sang-Je-Sang-Su. In this document, he firmly pleaded to the persecutors to stop persecuting Catholic members. The document, Sang-Je-Sang-Su, is a short writing of only two thousands words but, it is a well written Catholic doctrine explaining why the Korean government should not persecute Catholics.

Fifth, his martyrdom became the testimony of his faith toward Christ and through his eternal glory, he became the pinnacle of the Korean Catholic faith.

St. Paul Chong Hasang was martyred at the age of forty-five on September 22, 1839 during the Gi Hye Persecution. Two months later, his mother, Yu Cecilia, passed away during the imprisonment and the following month, his younger sister, Jung Hye was also martyred. The three martyrs were beatified on June 6th, 1925 and were canonized, declared as saints, on May 6, 1984 by Pope John Paul II.

Korean martyrs

The lives of a few more of these martyrs, from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea.

Saint Kim Ob-I Magdalene (1774-1839)

Saint Kim A-gi Agatha (1787-1839)

Saint Han A-gi Barbara (1792-1839)

Kim Ob-I Magdalene and Han A-gi Barbara were arrested together in September 1836. It is not certain whether Kim A-gi Agatha was captured with them or at her own home. In any event, the three of them were taken into custody on the same day.

In prison they found themselves in the company of several other Catholics. They were Nam Myong-hyok Damian, accused of hiding the bishop’s vestments, Kwon Tug-in Peter, accused of making and selling crucifixes and holy pictures, Pak A-gi Anna, who remained in prison despite the apostasy of her husband and children and Yi Ho-yong, Peter’s sister Yi Agatha.

The first to be questioned was Pak A-gi Anna. In spite of the torture she remained unbowed.

“So what if my husband and son have apostatized! I choose to keep my faith and die for it,” she lightly answered the police. Next was Han A-gi Barbara. No less brave than Pak A-gi Anna, her body was a bloody mess when they had finished with her. While Han A-gi Barbara was undergoing torture, Kim Ob-I Magnalene have witnessed her faith by explaining Catholic doctrine to the police commissioner. Next Kim Agatha was called.

“It is true you believe in the Catholic Church?”

“I don’t know anything but Jesus and Mary.”

“If you could save your life by rejecting Jesus and Mary, wouldn’t you reject them?”

“I would rather die than reject them.”

And in spite of the tortures Agatha could not be persuaded to change her mind. Seeing this the police commissioner had them moved to prison. When the other Catholic prisoners saw Kim A-gi Agatha arriving they cheerfully greeted her.

“Here comes Agatha who doesn’t know anything but Jesus and Mary,” they said, congratulating her on her bravery.

Because of her inability to learn the doctrine and prayers Kim A-gi Agatha had not yet been baptized. She was the first to be baptized in prison during the persecution.

Baptism gave her new strength and with it she went on to overcome terrible torture and punishment.

After all the investigations and trials, death sentences were handed down on Nam Myong-hyok Damian, Kwon Tug-in Peter and Pak A-gi Anna on May 11, 1839. The next day Yi Kwang-hon Augustine and Pak H.I.-sun Lucy were also sentenced to death.

It took three more days of discussion before Kim Ob-I Magdalene, Han A-gi Barbara and Kim A-gi Agatha were given the sentence for believing in Catholicism and refusing to give up that belief.

Finally May 24, 1839, arrived. The events of that day are described by Cho Shin-ch’ol Charles as follows “On the appointed day ox carts, with crosses taller than the average person erected on them, were brought to the jail. When all was ready guards brought the condemned prisoners out and tied them to the crosses by the arms and hair. A foot rest was put under their feet and the signal given to depart.

When they arrived at the steep hill on which the Small West Gate is situated the guards suddenly pulled away the foot rests and the drivers urged the oxen to run headlong down. The rad is rough, with many stones. The carts lurched, causing extreme agony to the prisoners who were hung on the crosses by their arms and hair. The execution ground is a the foot of the hill. The guards took the prisoners from the crosses and tore off their clothes. The executioners tied their hair to the wooden beam and proceeded to cut off their heads.”

The nine martyrs received their crown at three o’clock in the afternoon, the same time as Jesus breathed his last on the cross several tens of centuries. In accordance with the law the bodies were left at the execution site for three days.

Korean martyrs 2

In the court record of the time it is written:

“On April 12, Yi Kwang-hon Augustine, Kwon Tug-in Peter and others, in all none criminals, were executed for following the false religion.”

Bishop Imbert wrote as follow:

“With difficulty we reclaimed the bodies at dawn on April 27. We buried the bodies of the martyrs at a place I had prepared earlier. I would have liked to have dressed the bodies in fine clothes and anointed them with expensive perfume, in the European manner. However, we are poor and to dress the bodies in this way would have been a burden on the Catholics, so we just wrapped them in straw matting. Now we have many protectors in heaven. When the day of religious freedom comes to Korea, as I know it will, these bodies will be a precious heritage.”

Saint Kim Ob-I Magdalene, Saint Kim A-gi Agatha and Saint Han A-gi Barbara were beatified on July 5, 1925 and together they were canonized on May 6, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

Saint You Chin-gil Augustine (1791-1839)

St. Yu Chin-gil Augustine came from a family of government officials. Among the Korean martyrs, he was one of three who held government posts and the father of the 13-year-old martyr, St. Yu Tae-ch’ol Peter, the youngest of the 103 Korean Martyr Saints.

He was known as a man of deep contemplation. Curious about the origin and meaning of natural phenomena, especially philosophical and religious truths on the origin of man he spent much of the night examining the texts of Neo-Confucianism looking for answers. However, the more he studied the classics the more dissatisfied he became with the Tae-geuk-eum-yang (traditional Korean explanation of reality). His search led him on to investigate the teachings of Taoism and Buddhism. What is the origin of the universe? Is it the Li (basic principle) that Neo-Confucianists talked about or is it the Kong (emptiness) of Buddhism or the Mu (nothingness) of Taoism?

In his youth he heard of the Catholics who had been arrested and killed. He began to wonder if the books they had studied could be of any help to him. One day he came upon an old chest hidden away in a corner of the house. Inside it was lined with sheets of paper on which words like “spirit of life”, “spirit of understanding””and “soul” were written. Such terms had not appeared in any of the books he had read. On tearing off the sheets and putting them together he found the parts of the book called the Cheon-ju-sil-ui (True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven).

The first Catholic writings had been brought into Korea by envoys or interpreters who had gone on official business to Beijing. Since Yu Chin-gil’s family members had visited China as interpreters they were among those who brought back such books. However, during the persecution of 1801, when people were ordered to destroy all books on Western Learning, Yu’s family used the book to repair a tattered storage chest.

Yu Chin-gil went over the torn pages a number of times. They touched on the questions that had bothered him. But the few torn pages were not enough to satisfy him. So in the hope of finding a complete copy he began to inquire as to where he could meet Catholics. One day he met Yi Kyong-on Paul who was the younger brother of Yi Kyong-do Charles and Yi Soon-I Lutgardis who had been martyred in 1801. They had a long conversation and found that they were of the same mind. Yu borrowed True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven and other books on Western Learning. He discovered the one who created and supervised the world. It was not the basic principle that Neo-Confucianists talked about nor was it the Kong of Buddhism or the Mu of Taosim. It is the Lord who resides in Heaven. Humans have not only bodies but also souls, so when people die their bodies are disintegrated but their souls are immortal and subject to the final judgement of God.

He got down on his knees and marvelled.

“The true nature of humans is not to grow and get fat but to burnish their soul till it becomes bright and beautiful. This indeed is the correct truth.” He felt as if the eyes of his soul opened and he began to see the sun shining through dark clouds.

He went back to Yi Paul from whom he learnt Our Father and Hail Mary as well as the Ten Commandments. Soon he was ready to enter the Church. Through a meeting of Western and Eastern thought, Yu Chin-gil solved the question that had troubled him most. He was introduced to Chung Ha-sang Paul and other Catholics.

At that time, following the persecution of 1801 when Father Chu Mun-mo, Chinese priest sent from Beijing, was martyred, there was not a priest in Korea. The Catholics who had survived were struggling to re-establish the Church and to have another priest sent in from China. Even though he had not yet received baptism, on the instructions of Chung Ha-sang Paul, he recited morning prayer and evening prayer each day and faithfully followed the Ten Commandments.

In October of 1824 the winter diplomatic delegation was preparing to go to China. Yu Chin-gil did not want to miss this opportunity, so he made every efforts to be included as an interpreter and to have the noble-born Chung Ha-sang Paul to accompany him disguised as a servant.

Korean martyrs3

The delegation safely arrived in Beijing. Avoiding their companions, the two Catholics slipped off to meet the Bishop of Beijing. In Chinese, Yu asked him for baptism. The Bishop was delighted to receive visitors from so far away but felt he should question Yu Chin-gil to find out how much he knew about the teachings of the Church. Yu Chin-gil replied with the answers exactly as they were in the catechism. Why are humans born into the world? To know and honor God and to save their souls…” The Bishop was amazed that such zealous and well-instructed believer could come out of a Church that was being persecuted and had no clergy. “This is indeed a miracle of God,”” he exclaimed.

Yu Chin-gil was baptized during a special Mass. When the priest recited, “Receive and eat this. It is my body which will be offered up for you,”” he felt as if the blood of Jesus was flowing through his own veins.

He returned to his lodgings but was unable to sleep. He felt as though his heart was shining brightly in the dark room. He was moved by a deep religious experience. He knelt down and prayed.

“God, I thank you for the wonderful way in which You have led me to baptism. Send priests to our land so that the people there who live in darkness might have the joy of receiving the Eucharist. May this foolish servant, no matter what suffering or persecution is to come, give witness to You by offering my life in Lord’s work of opening the eyes of our nation. Give me the deep faith, strength and courage that I need. Amen.”

The Korean envoys learned from the priests in Beijing about practical sciences and Western inventions. In their discussions with the Western priests they became familiar with many aspects of Western learning. They were particularly surprised to learn that China was not the center of the world nor the most enlightened nation in the world. They were surprised to hear that humans were not created as nobles or commoners, but the division was a social system by which the nobles oppressed the commoners. Humans were all equal before God and all brothers and sisters in Christ, the Son of God. With words like equality, universal love and freedom ringing in his ears, Yu Chin-gil Augustine felt as if the teachings of the Chinese sages had come crashing down around him. It was as if he had heard the roar of thunder and seen Jesus rise from Golgotha. It was a sign of faith and a discovery of God. Even before he had set out for Beijing he had a faith that did not fear death, but after meeting the Western priests his understanding had deepened and his eyes had grown brighter.

Korean Martyrs 10 St__Nam_Chong-sam_John_B__(Kim_Tai,_90x72,_1984)

Korean Catholics, because of their faith, were to lead a profound change in the consciousness of the Korean people. In a nation which did not know such a God, they were to sow seeds which would alter lives. This was due to their own love of truth and the providence of God. Yu Chin-gil, Augustine and Chong Ha-sang Paul asked the priests to see the bishop who welcomed them and asked about the need of the Church in Korea. Yu Chin-gil Augustine told him of the difficulties they had to overcome in order to meet the bishop. Their Church was in a pitiful state. For almost 20 years it was without a priest. Yu Chin-gil Augustine was fortunate in being able to come to China and receive baptism, but there were many catechumens in Korea who were unable to receive baptism and many Catholics who could not receive Confirmation, Confession, the Eucharist or the other sacraments. The bishop was moved by what they said. He replied regretfully that, because of the persecutions in China, priests could not go into that country freely either and so he had no one to send to Korea. However, if they wrote directly to the Pope explaining the situation the bishop would do all he could to support their request. Yu Chin-gil Augustine and Chong Ha-sang Paul took courage from the bishop’s promise to help them. They returned to their lodging and composed the following letter requesting priests. Knowing that if this letter was discovered by the Korean authorities it would lead to another persecution, they signed it with the name “Ambrose”.

Holy Father, With troubled heart we greet Your Holiness and seek your help. Since Fr. Zhou Mun-mo was martyred, the spread of the Gospel has been blocked by persecutions. About one thousand believers remain in hiding and can do little by way of witness or evangelization.

No matter how much truth the teaching of the Korean Church contains, if the Church continues in its present form that truth will be wasted. Because our brains are dull the teaching of the Church do not bear fruit and the grace of God is being blocked. Those dying from old age or sickness cannot receive the Last Rites and go to their graves in sorrow. Those they leave behind endure in grief and are tired of life. Sorrow and pain are gradually eating into our hearts. Therefore, despite the dangers involved, we have on a number of occasions asked the Bishop of Beijing to help us. The bishop sympathizes with us in our concern and would like to send priests to give new life to souls that have fallen into sin, but he has no one available.

Having explained the situation in Korea in this way, they suggested that there might be missionaries in Macao who could come to their assistance. They went on to state the way that the priests should come, if they came by boat, how many sailors they would need, what dangers to avoid, the best places to land and how to handle any officials they might encounter.

When they had finished the letter to the Pope they gave it to the bishop. The bishop, in turn, sent it to the representative of the Congregation for Evangelization in Macao, Fr. Umpierres, who translated it into Latin and sent it on to the Pope on December 3, 1826. On their return to Korea, Yu Chin-gil Augustine and Chong Ha-sang Paul gave a full report to Nam Myong-hyok and the other leaders. News of the letter they had sent to the Pope gave new hope and courage to the fragile Church. When Yu Chin-gil Augustine returned home good news awaited him. He now had a son whom he named Tae-ch’ol Peter.

Due to appeals by You Chin-gil Augustine and his companions, Pope Gregory XVI, on September 9, 1831, established Korea as a Vicariate Apostolate separate from Beijing and appointed Bartholomew Bruguiere of the Paris Foreign Mission Society as its first bishop. This initiative was due to the letter of 1826 which so moved the Pope.

Bishop Bruguiere, who had been working in Bangkok, Thailand, received news of his appointment as first bishop of Korea sometime after July 25, 1832. Unfortunately, in his efforts to enter Korea, Bishop Bruguiere fell ill in Yodong while traveling towards Korea and died on October 20, 1835. This news soon reached Korea. You Chin-gil Augustine and his companions were much saddened, but determined to keep up their efforts to help other priests to enter the country. Meantime, You Chin-gil Augustine acted like a priest and converted many prominent people and scholars. However he couldn’t convert his own wife and daughters although his son followed him in faith. His 13-year old first son, You Tae-ch’ol Peter, became the youngest of the 103 Martyr Saints of Korea.

You Chin-gil Augustine was arrested at home in July of 1839. Many of his relatives begged him to renounce his religion, but he refused to do so. They reminded him of what would happen to his family, position and property, but You Chin-gil Augustine told them that it was more important to save souls than to take care of bodies, although he was sorry to cause trouble for them. The police chief interrogated. “As a government official, how can you adhere to a religion prohibited by the government? Reveal where the Catholics and the books are hidden.”You Chin-gil Augustine did not reveal anything, and so he was severely tortured on five occasions, and his flesh was torn apart.

The police chief asked You Chin-gil Augustine about Bishop Imbert and two other missionaries. Augustine told him that they came to Korea to teach Korean people about God and to help them save their souls. He said that the missionaries didn’t seek their own glory, wealth and pleasure. The police chief questioned who brought them to Korea. You Chin-gil Augustine said that he did. The police chief then brought in Bishop Imbert and questioned them together. The bishop told You Chin-gil Augustine that the government already knew that Fathers Maubant and Chastan were in Korea.

However, You Chin-gil Augustine refused to reveal the names of the Church leaders in Korea. His legs were twisted and tied with ropes, and were bleeding profusely.

Police interrogation continued. “This is not the sort of crime a stupid and low class person like you could do on your own. Who among the Catholics masterminded this? Since you have abandoned the beautiful customs and ritual of your country and accepted the treacherous ways of the foreigner, even if you were put to death ten thousand times, would the punishment not be too light? This is a solemn interrogation. So answer carefully without any deceit.” They stressed that since Catholic teaching was false, treacherous and anti-social, those who brought foreign priests into the country had committed treason.

However, You Chin-gil Augustine answered them calmly. “I have already told the investigating officers all that I did. Ten years ago I joined Chong Ha-sang Paul and his group in studying about the Catholic Church. When I reflected on what I learned, I realized that there are various sacraments and procedures in the Church which can be performed only by a priest. Since God is the supreme Lord of heaven and earth, we have to believe in Him and praise Him. The only crime I committed is to deceive the king since this teaching is prohibited in our country. I have already spent three months in jail. Among the Catholics I know, some have suffered the death penalty, some are held in prison and the rest have been scattered like the wind. Since I was born and have lived in the capital how could I know anything about the people in the country? If I have committed any great crime, I’m alone the responsible.” The police chief asked again. “How did you come to brake the law of the country and fall into these traitorous acts?” He replied. “how can you compare suffering the death penalty with going to hell after death? Which is the worse?” You Gin-gil Augustine said and did not want to argue with them further. So, he said. “I have nothing to say further. My only sin was to deceive the king.”

After this, You Chin-gil Augustine was tortured on two further occasions. His flesh was torn apart and his bones terribly crushed. But his faith did not waver and received the death sentence.

On September 22, 1839, You Chin-gil Augustine and Chong Ha-sang Paul were taken outside the Small West Gate in Seoul. On the way to the place of execution You Chin-gil Augustine showed no sign of fear. It was as if he had no interest in the things of the world and was lost in contemplation. With serene faces he was beheaded. You Chin-gil Augustine was beatified on July 5th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

Korean martyrs5

Saint Kim Song-im Martha (1787-1839)

In the “Diary of the Persecution of 1839”, Saint Kim Song-im Martha is referred to as Pup’yong House, a title referring to the fact that she was married to someone from Pup’yong.

Kim Song-im was a 50-year old pagan widow. Her husband was of a very uncompromising temperament and they did not thave a peaceful relationship. This was before Kim Song-im became a Catholic. The situation became so bad taht she had no choice but to separate from her husband. She left quietly and went to live in Hanyang. There she met and lived with a blind man who made a living by telling fortunes. At this stage she was over fifty but she still had not learned about the Catholic faith.

One day she heard about the God and His Only Son, Jesus, from a Catholic who was living in the same house. With this encounter she began to believe in God and her faith grown eventually.

Life with her blind husband had been difficult but when he suddenly died Kim Song-im Martha’s future looked bleak. Some Catholic came to her aid. Martha began working in the houses of the Catholic firneds to repay their help. It was during this period that her faith grew deeper and she repented of her past sins, her inability to put up with her first husband and her subsenquent living by superstition.

At times Martha felt deep sorrow but in her total dependence on the Lord she came through her depression The concern and Christian example of the other Catholics made her realize and confirm how great is the love of God.

One day Martha was with Yi Magdalena, Yi Theresa and Kim Lucy talking about the persecution, the courageous martyrs and the happiness of Heaven. They were so deeply moved by the love of God that all decided to give themselves up to the government authorities to profess their faith.

They wanted to do mortification and sacrifice following the cross of Jesus Christ. The Hisotry of the Catholic Church in Korea says: “Voluntary surrrender is not in accordance with the ordinary rules. However, it might have been evoked by divine grace, or God might have given His tacit approval to them, because the women were steadfast in their faith and wanting to be witness of God by being martyrs. There are other laudable examples in church history, such as St. Plollina, St. Aurelia and others.”

By the end of March or in the beginning of April of 1839 these courageous women went to the police station and told the police to put them in prison because they were Catholics. To the unbelieving policemen they showed their rosaries. The police tied them up and put them in prison. Therefore, it can be easily understood that these pious women courageously endured all tortures and pains for the love of God.

The police chief interrogated the women.

“Do you believe that the Catholic religious in the true religion?”

“Of course, we do. Otherwise we woudln’t be here.”

“Deny God.”

“We can never deny God. Even if we have to dies.”

” Are you not afraid of turtures?”

“You are wasting time in persuading us to deny God. We surendered ourselves for the sake of God. How can we deny Him” We will die if required by the law of the country, but we can never deny God.”

They were repeatedly and severly tortured. The courageous women were sent to the higher court, where they were interrogated atain.

“Do you still believe that the Catholic religion is the tru religons?”

“Yes, we do. We worship God, and we are determined to die for Him.”

The police chief tortured the women more severly than others to punish them for surrendering themselves. But they didn’t succumb to him. They were finally sentenced to death.

According to the government Sungjongwon Diary, these four pious women and four otehr Catholics were beheaded outside the Small West Gate on July 20th, 1839. Martha was 53 years old, when she was killed for her faith.

She was beatified on July 25th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

Won Kwi-im Maria (1819-1839)

Won Kwi-im Maria was boarn in 1819 in Yongmori, Kyuanggun. She lost her mother when she was a child, and followed her father, who wandered around begging for food. When she was nine years old, one of her relatives, Won Lucy, who was a very devout Catholic, took her and taught her prayers and the catechism. She also taught Maria embroidery for her lifelihood. Maria was very intelligent, genial and pious. Her aunt was proud of Maria’s devotion and faithfulness. Maria was baptized at the age of 15. Soon after that she received an offer of marriage. But she refused to be married because she wanted to offer herself to God. The next year she put her hair up in a style which indicated that she was a married woman.

Maria was accused of being a Catholic by a neighbor and was arrested. She looked a little discouraged when she first was put in prison. But she thought that everything was according to God’s Will, and regained her usual peacefulness. Mary was interrogated by the police chief.

“Are you a Catholic?”

“Yes, I am, as you say.”

“Deny God, and you will be saved.”

“I want to worship God and save my soul. If I have to die, I would rather die for God to save my soul.”

Maria’s legs were twisted and she was beaten with a cudgel. Many of her bones were dislocated, but her faith was not shaken.

According to the government document Sungjongwon Diary, Maria and seven other Catholics were beheaded outside the Small West Gate on July 20th, 1839. Maria was 22 years old, when she was crowned with martyrdom.

She was beatified on July 25th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.


Saint Kim Barbara (1805-1839)

Saint Kim Barbara was one of those who died of disease while in prison. According to Hyon Sok-mum Charles in the “Diary of the Persecution of 1839”, over sixty people died of torture and disease in prison.

In fact, while the pain of torture was terrible, every day prison life was even worse and unbearable. There were many who bravely witnessed through all forms of torture, but finally gave in because of the hunger and thirst. Given no more than two fistfuls of rice a day the prisoners were often reduced to eating the dirty straw they lay on. Also, with a large number of people crammed into the small cells, it was inevitable that disease would break out and spread very quickly. Bishop Daveluy, who would himself later die as a martyr, wrote of the prison situation: Our Catholics were packed in so tightly that they could not even spread out their legs to sleep. Compared to the suffering of imprisonment the pain of torture was nothing. On top of everything else the stench from their rotting wounds was unbearable and in the heat typhoid would break out killing several in a few days.

People like Kim Barbara suffered the extremes of prison life. Those in prison worried most whether they would live long enough to claim the glory of martyrdom from the executioner’s sword.

Kim Barbara was born to very poor family in Kyonggi Province. Her family was Catholic, but not very devout. At the age of thirteen Kim Barbara was sent as a servant to the wealthy Catholic family of Hwang Maria. It was there she spiritually met God and her devotion for Jesus grew. She was forthright and diligent, inscribing in her heart the teachings of the Lord. Very much aware of the Lord’s grace in her life, she was determined to remain a virgin.

One day her father came to tell her that a match had been made for her with a young Catholic man.

“It is very good match and we have already agreed to it so you must now prepare for marriage,” he told her.

“It is my wish to preserve my chastity for the Lord.”

“If husband and wife are both believers there are no obstacles for a faithful life and this match will be advantageous for you, so do not be so obstinate,” her father responded and she had no choice but to agree to the marriage.

However, it turned out that her husband was a pagan and all her efforts to convert him were of no use. She had several children of whom she only managed to baptize a daughter. Differences in faith created many difficulties between the couple and these problems were never resolved. After her husband’s death she was able to devote herself to prayers and good works.

With the arrival of foreign priests in the country she was able to lead a more fervent and happy spiritual life. Barbara was arrested in March, 1839, and subjected to torture, but she refused to apostatize or reveal the name of other Catholics. During the three months of her prison life she suffered from torture, hunger, thirst and disease. On May 27th, 1839, Kim Barbara died of typhoid fever lying on the dirty mat of her cell at age of thirty-five. She was beatified on July 5th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

Korean martyrs6

Saint Kim Rosa (1784-1839)

In June 1839, Cho Pyong-ku who had a pathological hatred for Catholics took control of the Korean government. On July 5th, a decree came down to completely eradicate the Church. The first to be martyred after this decree were eight Catholics who were already in prison. Of these Kim Rosa was the first to have been arrested.

Kim Rosa was born in a non-Catholic family in 1784, Hanyang. She was married, but she and her husband subsequently separated. After the separation Kim Rosa went to live with a Catholic relative and this was her first contact with the Church. Although it was late in her life she happily applied herself to learning the doctrine. She was intelligent and could communicate well so she was able to make others understand the value of her belief. She taught her mother and older brother the truths of the faith helping them to repent of their past. Thus the family was able to live in harmony, practicing the teaching of the Church.

Kim Rosa lived according to her faith, examined her conscience frequently, repented her sins and prayed constantly. She had high respect for priests and did all she could to help them. She was a model to other Catholics.

On January 16th, 1838, in the middle of the night, the police surrounded her house but she did not show any concern. Happy that at last her time had come, she went to prison calling on the names of Jesus and Mary. She never betrayed her faith, but testified to all in the prison. Even the guards were impressed by her attitude. However, she could not avoid the fury of the government. When she first appeared before the judge he displayed all the instruments of torture before her and said,

“Criminal Kim Rosa, before we use these instruments to break your leg and lacerate your flesh, give up your God and report the names of other Catholics.”

“Judge! I cannot give up my God. He is the Creator and Father to all of us. He loves virtue and punishes sin, so how could I abandon Him? Harming others is also a sin. A long time ago I decided to shed my blood for these truths. Do as you please.”

“Listen to me, criminal. Your religion’s doctrine has been forbidden by our king, yet you still insist on belnging to that Church?”

“My body is now in the hands of the king but before that it belonged to God. We are all God’s sons and daughters. How is it that Your Excellency does not know this simple fact?”

The judge was furious and had her tortured before sentencing her to death. The sentence was carried out on July 20th, 1839. She was fifty-six years old. Kim Rosa was beatified on July 5th, 1925 and canonized on May 6th, 1984 at Yoido, Seoul, by Pope John Paul II.

Korean martyrs 8 Sts__Chong_Chong-hye_Elisabeth,_Yu_So-sa_Caecilia,_Chong_Ha-sang_Paulus_(Chung_Chang-sup,_98x75,_1985)

The Coming of Christianity To Korea

In 1984, Pope John Paul II visited the flat sands of the Han River and there forty seven Korean women, fort seven Korean men, seven French priests and three French Bishops, all martyred for their Christian faith, were canonized as saints. It was the first time that such a ceremony had been performed away from Rome. Those chosen were a representative group from among thousands who lost their lives refusing to renounce their religious beliefs.

John Paul described the Korean church as “a community unique in the history of the church.” Although her story is one of great suffering and endurance that is not what makes the coming of Christianity to Korea unique: it is unique because of the manner of its coming. It was a church formed without foreign missionaries and by lay people.

The first news of Christianity came to Korea in the seventeenth century. It entered via the caravan which travelled each winter to China – where, to Peking, goods, gifts and slaves would be taken in tribute to its powerful neighbour. Returning travelers brought news of agriculture, astronomy and mathematics – part of the early “scientific diplomacy” practiced by the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

The Cambridge scholar, historian and Fellow of Jesus College, Mary Laven, in her superb “Mission to China” charts the late sixteenth, early seventeenth century encounter of the remarkable Italian Jesuit, Matteo Ricci, with China. These were the ideas with which Korean travelers would connect.

Laven forensically analyses the challenges which faced Ricci and his compatriot, Michele Ruggieri, and details the more than two thousand conversions and the widespread dissemination of the Christian narrative which followed Ricci’s arrival in the Orient.

On reaching China the Europeans initially shaved their heads and dressed as monks but soon realised that by identifying with Buddhist and Taoist idolatry they were failing to reach the literati – the educated Confucian elite. So, Ricci chose instead to dress and behave as a Confucian scholar – engaging China’s culture and leadership through science, books and reason – fides et ratio.

“The Chinese have a wonderful intelligence, natural and acute” he wrote…”From which, if we could teach our sciences, not only would they have great success among these eminent men, but it would also be a means of introducing them easily to our holy law and they would never forget such a benefit.”

Unlike his more aggressive Portuguese and Spanish counterparts, whose presence in Macao became a source of conflict with the Chinese authorities, Ricci’s admiring embrace of Chinese culture, language and customs, gradually made him persona grata in many circles.

Ricci’s publication of his world map, the Mappamondo, along with translations of Western classical scholarship; his knowledge of astronomy and mathematics; his decision to import hitherto unknown musical instruments, such as the harpsichord, along with Venetian prisms and mechanical clocks, gained him acceptance and, despite occasional attempts to close the missions, the ultimate forbearance of the Emperor.

His legacy included astronomical instruments and installations brought by Jesuits to Beijing, which remained untouched even during China’s disastrous Cultural Revolution and may be seen to this day, beautifully preserved at Beijing’s Ancient Observatory. An even more enduring memory has been Ricci’s admirable willingness to find ways through difficult situations and his innate respect for Oriental culture and civilisation.

His reasoned approach also bore spiritual fruit – with the Jesuit’s work blessed by healings and miracles. In his diary, Ricci wrote: “From morning to night, I am kept busy discussing the doctrines of our faith. Many desire to forsake their idols and become Christians”.

Ricci brought the hugely admired Plantin Bible to China – eight gilded folio volumes with printed parallel texts in Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. His True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven was printed and distributed widely, drawing heavily on Aquinas but also appropriating Confucian ideas to bolster the Christian cause. He brilliantly re-positioned the important Chinese custom of ancestor worship by tracing everything back to “the first ancestor” – the Creator, the Lord of Heaven.

Among Ricci’s seventeenth century writings were his Catechism and a treatise “On Friendship” building on Confucius’ belief, expressed in the Analects, that “To have friends coming from distant places – is that not delightful?” Simultaneously Ricci introduced his readers to Cicero’s assertion that “the reasons for friendship are reciprocal need and mutual help.” Amicitia perfecta – perfect friendship – was, for Ricci, the highest of ideals. The Chinese came to value him as a true friend.

On his death, on May 11th 1610, he was uniquely accorded a burial site in Beijing by the Emperor – which, according to Laven was “an extraordinary coup, which testified to the success of nearly thirty years of careful networking and diplomacy.”

In 1644, thirty years after Ricci’s death, the Crown Prince of Korea returned to Seoul from Peking with five baptised Chinese eunuchs and three baptised Court ladies.

There are also accounts from the same period in Korean records mentioning England, France, and Catholicism. Books on Christianity became prized by certain young Koreans and some of Christianity’s radical teaching about the innate value of every person began to be discussed in a country where poverty was rife, worsened by the punishing strain of Manchu tutelage. The population topped five million but more Koreans died of famine and epidemics in 1671 than during all of Japan’s repeated raids and invasions. In the decades following people stole clothes from graves, babies were abandoned, and the starving were eating the dead. Floods added more misery.

It was in this climate that a young Korean intellectual, Yi Pyok, read about Christianity from Chinese books circulating among a group of friends. In 1777 he brought them together to make further study. They met in a Buddhist monastery happily known as The Hermitage of Heavenly Truth.

They concluded that the Confucian ideals of personal goodness, mutual forbearance, reverence for ancestors, meekness, dignity, and respect for the aged – the Confucian “way” – which permeates Korean culture- and, to this day, make Koreans such wonderful people – sat very comfortably with the Catholic tradition of the Christian faith.

Curious Korean youths were eager to plumb the depths of this religion, impressed by a doctrine where all were loved equally by God; and where they were struck by the Jesuit demands for justice for the poor and an end to slavery.

On a subsequent winter embassy to Peking one of Yi Pyok’s young associates, Yi Sunghun, travelled to China with his father and sought out the Christian community. He was baptized by a Jesuit and took the name Peter, returning to Korea in 1785.

Korea’s first priest, Father Zhou Wenmo from China, entered the country during the same period and ministered until 1794. There would not be another priest for 35 years. Yet without missionaries or priests, belief in Christ spread rapidly, first among the nobles and educated, then protected by these aristocrats, among thousands of poor.

Within a year of Yi Sunghun pilgrimage to Peking, in 1786 a secret church had been established in Pyongyang. The authorities raided the house church and discovered a prayer group. The owner of the house, Thomas Kim, was so badly injured during interrogation that he died of the injuries.

That same year, 1786, belief in Christ had been banned. Notwithstanding its Asian antecedents Christianity was perceived by most powerful Koreans as “western learning” and as such treacherous, dangerous. It omitted ancestor worship and was therefore considered “opposed to human morality”.

State hostility was harsh, even toward the royals and members of the nobility who had converted. In 1790 there were 4,000 believers in Korea, and while there were executions every year, by 1800 the number of believers had risen to 10,000. In 1801 more than 300 Christians were executed.

One fearful Christian penned a letter to Jesuits in China appealing for military protection. The letter was intercepted and brought to Korea’s dowager Queen. Immediately she decreed that to hold the evil learning was high treason. Capital persecution now became policy.

Some Christians died in prison. Many others recanted their faith. One who had renounced his beliefs and then returned to the faith and given himself up, was sentenced to “25 blows of the big paddle”. The beating left him insensible and a few hours later dead. Yi Sunghun (who had been baptised as Peter Yi), would, like his name sake, also, under pressure, repudiated his faith but then re-embraced it and in 1801 was martyred along with three hundred others, including two royal princesses.

Many of the ordeals faced by prisoners are described in Martyrs of Korea by the late Msgr. Richard Rutt ( a noted Korean scholar and one time Anglican Bishop of Korea, Canon Rutt became a priest of the Plymouth Diocese and was given the title Monsignor by Pope Benedict XVI) : “a cord was passed under the thighs, crossed over the front then held taut by men on either side who applied a sawing motion that cut through the flesh like a cheese-cutter, right to the bone”. Prisoners were given boiled millet twice a day. Those who could not buy or acquire more food were reduced to eating the foul straw and lice. Many who had not recanted under torture, cracked because of prison.

Intermittently, itinerant priests arrived in the country – most were executed. For 35 years the fledgling church was without a single priest. Only one sacrament could be given – and thousands came forward to be baptised.

In 1834, a French priest, Fr Pierre Maubant, who had been working in Sichuan in Western China, volunteered to go to Korea to minister to the country’s Christians.

Border guards along the Yalu River would not allow Europeans to enter so Fr Pierre waited until the river froze. In January 1836 he crossed into Korea, taking two weeks to walk to Seoul where he was greeted by a Chinese priest called Fr Pacifico. From there he arranged for three young men to be smuggled out to Macao to study as seminarians. He was joined by another Frenchman, Fr Jacques Chastan, and in 1838, a third, Laurent Imbert, who became the first bishop of the Korean diocese.

To conceal their features the three men wore capacious Korean mourning costumes and very wide-brimmed hats. They carried out their duties at night, three priests for thousands of believers. Within weeks 2,000 had been baptised bringing the total number of Korean Christians to 9,000. Two years later, with two other priests, he was decapitated. Hundreds of Korean Christian suffered the same brutal fate, including many members of the same family: fathers along with their sons and daughters, wives and mothers.

Typical was Peter Yu, aged 13, who was tortured on 14 occasions. In his defiance he even picked up shreds of his own flesh and threw them before his interrogators. He was strangled in the prison in October 1839. 150 years later he would be among those canonized by John Paul II.

Perhaps most famous among the Korean martyrs is St.Andrew Kim, born on August 21st 1821. His parents had become Christians. His father, Blessed Ignatius Kim, was martyred in 1839. Andrew was baptized at the age of fifteen.

He was one of the three seminarians who had been secreted out of Korea by Fr Pierre Maubant five year earlier in 1836. The British consul in Shanghai had arranged shelter for him and having, in 1844, become the first Korean to be ordained as a priest and having experiencing all sorts of adventures attempting to return to his homeland, later that year he crossed the Yalu River. By the autumn of 1846 Father Andrew Kim was on trial. He impressed the judges with his eloquence and good manners, and they might have considered a lenient sentence. But during the trial two French warships, commanded by Admiral Cecile, appeared off the Korean coast. The admiral sent insulting letters to the King, demanding an accounting for the deaths of the three French clergy, and saying he would return the following year. This soured the mood against those who colluded with foreigners. Fr Kim’s fate was sealed

Andrew Kim, aged just 25, was arrested, stripped naked, and decapitated. On 16th September 1846, he was taken to the Han sands and beheaded, proclaiming as he died:

“This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively: if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die. My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.”

It required eight strokes of the sword to kill Andrew Kim. Customarily his head would have been displayed on a pole for three days but the authorities were afraid of the public reaction. They buried Kim immediately.

Forty days later his relics were recovered and in 1984 he was among those canonized by John Paul II – one of at least 8,000 Korean martyrs from the time the first house church was planted in Pyongyang.

Pyongyang, -which is located on a majestic S-curve of the Taedong River– would become known as “the Jerusalem of the East” because of the scale of Christian conversion which followed the Great Revival of 1907 – would itself be the scene of another hugely significant martyrdom.

It occurred in 1866 – twenty years after the execution of Andrew Kim and during a year of increased persecution. What happened links Korea’s Christian story to a small chapel in South Wales and also to one of North Korea’s most hopeful contemporary stories, the creation of a university of science and technology, of which the author is a trustee. The tale is recounted by Stella Price, with whom I was in North Korea in 2011, in her “Chosen for Chosun”. It is the story of a remarkable Welshman.

Robert Jermain Thomas was born in Rhayadar South Wales in 1839. He enlisted with the London Missionary Society and in 1863 he went to Peking where his wife, Caroline, died of fever.

In 1865 Thomas met two Korean traders who told him that there were about 50,000 Catholics in Korea, and they recounted the story of how Koreans had spread the Christian message and baptised many others. .

Funded by the Scottish Bible Society Robert Thomas decided to take bibles to the beleaguered Catholic community. He obtained work as an interpreter on the American schooner the General Sherman and as the boat traveled around Korea Thomas handed out Bibles. Near Pyongyang the boat became involved in an altercation with the Korean army and Thomas leapt overboard with his Bibles and, while calling on the name of Jesus, he handed them to the angry crowd which had gathered at the river side.

It is said that he handed out more than 500 Bibles before being captured and executed, giving his lat one to his executioner. The authorities ordered the people to destroy the Bibles they had received. However, some removed the pages and used them as wallpaper in their homes. It was from these people that a Presbyterian congregation would be formed. One of its leaders was Thomas’ executioner, who, having picked up Thomas’s own bible, and impressed by the Welshman’s courage and ardor, read the Scriptures and later asked for baptism. The executioner’s son would, in turn, become an Elder of the Presbyterian church – the Thomas Memorial Church.

After Thomas’ execution Pyongyang was subsequently visited for two weeks in 1890 by the American Presbyterian, Samuel A.Moffett. He returned the next year with James Scarth Gale and in 1893 returned to establish a mission station – which, despite attempts on his life, opened in 1895. By 1935 the 120 acre Presbyterian campus consisted of secondary academies for boys and girls; a college; industrial shops; a facility for the provision o vocational training for abandoned wives and widows; a seminary; a Bible school; a foreign school; the Union Christian Hospital and the West Gate Presbyterian Church.

Thomas’ church was destroyed by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea. It is, however, the site where Pyongyang University of Science and Technology ( PUST) now stands. Its founder and President, Dr. James Kim, believes it is “the hand of God bringing two histories together.”

After the ferocious wave of persecutions in 1866 a trade treaty was concluded with the United States. This Treaty of Amity and Trade, concluded in 1882, included a clause requiring toleration and protection for Christian missionaries. Proselytising was still forbidden but missionaries were permitted to embark on educational and medical initiatives. This is turn led, in 1884, to the arrival of Horace Allen, the first American missionary in Korea, to be followed by Horace Underwood in 1885. These Presbyterians were followed by Methodists, including Henry Appenzeller.

The Korean King, Gojong, allowed Allen to establish previously unknown Western medical facilities – initially known as The House of Extended Grace and later as the House of Universal Helpfulness – and to train Koreans in Western medicine. Gojong granted Appenzeller permission to open a school- Pai Chai Hak Dang – and Underwood created an orphanage – later becoming Gyeongsin High School. Mary Scranton, meanwhile, with the support of Queen Min, created Korea’s first school for girls at Ewha Hak Dang. From these seeds, some of the great Korean schools and universities would germinate and grow.

Christianity was also having a fundamental impact on the mores of Korean society. Despite the clash over ancestor worship (which often arose from a mistaken belief that Koreans deified their ancestors rather than venerating their memory) there was much which Koreans had embraced in Christian teaching and which revolutionised feudal attitudes towards women and children. From the outset, in the eighteenth century, the Catholic Church allowed widow to remarry ( normally not permitted in East Asia); it prohibited concubinage and polygamy; it forbade cruelty to or desertion of wives; and . Catholic parents were taught that each of their children – girls and boys – was a precious gift from God – not merely the first-born son. Along with the other denominations which arrived in Korea it insisted that girls should be educated as well as boys. The Church also placed a prohibition on the traditional arranged child marriages.

Beyond all this activity a new danger was, however, looming – one which would shape contemporary Korea and the role of the Christian community: the invasion of the peninsula and its occupation by Japan. The Japanese would rule Korea from 1905 until 1945 and the refusal of many Christians to worship the Japanese emperor would lead to more martyrdom – and ruptures within the Christian community as those who collaborated were ostracised. This, in turn, would lead to the identification of Christianity with Korean nationalism and independence and increase its standing, reputation and reach within the Republic of Korea during the post war years.

Open discontent with Japanese rule erupted on March 1st, 1919, with a Proclamation of Independence and the emergence of the March First Movement which saw many street demonstrations led by Christians and followers of the Cheondogyo native Korea religion challenging Japanese rule. The predominantly Catholic Ulmindan (Righteous People’s Army, a movement for independence) was formed and a Methodist, Syngman Rhee – a future South Korean President – formed a Korean Government-in-exile. Hatred of the Japanese was consolidated as seven million people were either exiled or deported and Japan sought to culturally assimilate Korea’s people – even banning the Korean language. As the world came to terms with the enormity of Japanese ambitions, and became embattled in the Second World War, in Korea worship at Shinto shrines became mandatory, and any attempt to preserve Korean identity or culture was asphyxiated.

A similar asphyxiation – this time of religion itself – would follow the withdrawal of the defeated Japanese from the peninsula accompanied by the severance of Korea, divided by the Korean War, at the 38th parallel.

In 1945, at the end of Japanese occupation there was still a thriving Christian presence in Pyongyang although different factions had emerged – some had chosen to collaborate with the Japanese, others were persecuted. That year Presbyterian Ministers Yoon Ha-yong and Han Kyong-jik, formed the Christian Social Democratic Party, the first political party in North Korea. Communists raided a planning meeting at a church in Yong-am-po, resulting in the death of twenty three people. Meanwhile, in Pyongyang, Kim Hwa-sik, a Christian leader was arrested with forty others, as they met to create a Christian Liberal Party.

The Communists then enrolled a Protestant Minister, Kang Yang-uk, Kim IL Sung’s maternal uncle, one of the Christian Ministers who had told believers to worship at Shinto shrines during Japanese rule. In 1946 they helped him establish his pro-Communist Christian League. By 1949 those who refused to collaborate and to join the League were being rounded up and thrown in jail. Simultaneously, church property (along with 15,000 Buddhist temples) was being confiscated and schools and other church-run projects sequestrated. Divisions and denominational rivalries – and the mistaken belief that they could simply remain quiet and survive – had blinded many Korean Christians to the enormity of the threat which Communism posed. Typical of the consequence was the massacre which occurred in a cave at Wonsan, where the mass murder of 530 religious and political dissenters, many of them children, occurred. A journalist who visited the site in October 1950, as the North Korea army retreated, described the carnage, a mass grave of twisted bodies, many of them women and children, all shot in the back of the neck.

Another foretaste of what awaited Christians in the new Communist State was the fate of some of the Christian clergy captured during the hostilities.

In 1955 one of the most vivid accounts of these depredations appears in a harrowing account by an Australian Columban missionary priest, Fr.Philip Crosbie.

“March Till They Die” is the story of his imprisonment between 1950 and 1953.

Unlike seven of his Columban colleagues who died in prison, Philip Crosbie survived to tell his story.

Those who paid with their lives included the Chicago born Msgr. Pat Brennan and Fr.Tony Collier, who worked with Fr.Crosbie at the mission station of Chunchon.

During his epic ordeal Fr.Crosbie and others imprisoned with him, were marched from place to place, given starvation rations, and frequently left exposed to the elements.

One of his companions was Msgr. Thomas Quinlan who originated from Thurles in Tipperary – one of a pioneering group of Columban missionaries who went to Korea from Ireland – and Fr.Frank Canavan from Galway. Another was a Maryknoll priest, Bishop Patrick Byrne.

Others on the forced march included a captured group of Carmelite nuns along with French nuns from the Community of St.Paul of Chartres, and their provincial superior, 76-year-old Mother Beatrix.

They were later joined by other prisoners: members of the British and French Legations in Seoul; the Anglican Bishop, Cecil Cooper, and the Reverend Charles Hunt; members of the Methodist mission; Herbert Lord, head of the Salvation Army in Korea; and a clutch of South Korean politicians. Later they were joined by a group of American Prisoners of War.

The title of Fr.Crosbie’s book is drawn from the remarks of a North Korean major.

When Commissioner Lord protested that many of the group was elderly or infirm “…but they will die if they have to march” the Korean major responded “Then let them march until they die.”

Following his capture in July 1950 Fr.Crosbie saw many deaths and terrible suffering. Among the fatalities was Mother Beatrix – who had given more than fifty years of her life caring for the sick, the poor and orphans in Korea.

When she could walk no further and lay by the roadside one of the guards shot her dead.

On November 18th, Mother Mechtilde – a Belgian Carmelite succumbed and was followed, on November 25th, by that of Bishop Byrne.

Fr.Crosbie records his burial “The only sign of his rank was a light cassock of black silk, with red buttons and piping. The buttons under their covering of red cloth were of metal. Some day they may help to identify the remains.”

Charles Hunt and Fr.Canavan died a few days later.

The remaining prisoners were marched ever onwards – and their peregrinations took them to the River Yalu (close to where the American journalists would be arrested in 2009), to the Chinese border, and back again to Pyongyang. Some, including Msgr Quinlan, Bishop Cooper and Herbert Lord, survived and were eventually freed.

Msgr. Quinlan would return to South Korea in 1954 as Regent to the Apostolic Delegation.

In 1953, on May 25th, Fr.Crosbie was handed over to an official of the Soviet Union, taken to Moscow and was freed. Staff at the Australian Embassy welcomed him: “And so”, he wrote, “I came to freedom.”

Movingly, describing his return to “laws that respect an individual’s freedom while providing for the good of the State; …a land where the Muses are not completely chained to the chariots of politicians; where books and newspapers are freely published, and I can freely read them. …All this I prize; but I have gained a still greater and more precious freedom. It is the freedom to believe in God and openly profess my faith.” Philip Crosbie prized his regained freedom but he also observed that the cruelty and atrocities had not only flowed in one direction and he had seen enough to know that the South Koreans had blood on their hands, too.

He concluded his account with a prayer for those who did not live to see freedom; and a prayer for those who had captured and abused them: “May there be none of us who will not find Him at the end!”

Kim IL Sung’s antagonism towards Christianity stemmed from his embrace of Marxism and his belief that Korean Christians and his American opponents in the Korean War amounted to one and the same thing. Although his mother, Kang Pan-sok, was a Presbyterian deaconess, in his writings Kim IL Sung frequently criticized religion. North Korean literature and movies caricature religion as a negative force and as unscientific while the Juche philosophy of self reliance has been presented as an alternative.

In Article 14 of his 1948 Constitution, Kim IL Sung did, however, decree that “citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shall have the freedom of religious belief and of conducting religious services.” By 1972 this had been modified to permit “freedom to oppose religion” (Article 54) of the 1972 constitution, which amounted to open season – and open hostility – on religious adherents.

Further modification came in 1992 with Article 68 granting freedom of religious belief and the right to construct buildings for religious use and religious ceremonies. It, too, was tempered by a prohibition on any person using religion “to drag in foreign powers or to destroy the state or social order.” Social order, of course, refers to every aspect of the tightly controlled apparatus of the state.

So, regardless of the theoretical constitutional provisions, what is known about the fate of the Jerusalem of the East and of North Korea’s Christian believers?

Comprising around 47,000 square miles and around 23 million people North Korea has an unknown number of religious believers – although the Government claim there are around 10,000 Protestants, 4,000 Catholics, 10,000 Buddhists and 40,000 Chendogyo practitioners.

Religious Intelligence UK suggests different numbers: 64.3% professing atheism; 16% followers of Korean Shamanism; 13.5% Chendoists; 4.5%. Buddhists; and 1.7% (406,000) Christian.

In Pyongyang there are four Christian churches which are heavily controlled by the State: two Protestant churches —the Chilgol (dedicated to the memory of Kim IL Sung’s mother, Kang Pan-sok) and Bongsu churches— the Changchung Roman Catholic Church, opened in 1988, and a new Russian Orthodox Church, opened in 2006. No Catholic priest has been permitted to serve in North Korea for more than sixty years, and North Korea has refused to normalise its relations with the Holy See – which would send an immediate signal to the world’s one billion Catholics that North Korea wants friendly relations with Catholic people.

Since 1988 there has been some attempt to use the churches to open dialogue beyond North Korea’s borders and agencies such as the Catholic relief organisation, Caritas, have been permitted to bring food and medicine into the country. However, the officials who run the Korean Christian Federation are Party officials whose job is to control not to enable. But, in a hopeful move, it is reported that five North Koreans have been selected by Cardinal Nicholas Chung Jin-Suk to study at Seoul’s Incheon University. It would be a highly significant step forward if they are permitted to return to the North once ordained.

Such pastoral provision was “an unfulfilled dream” of the widely admired and revered late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-Hwan – the great champion of Korean freedom and democracy. It is an aspiration which, during each of our visits, Lady Cox and I have repeatedly raised with the officials who control religious belief. In another conciliatory move the North Koreans have also extended an official invitation to Dr.Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, to visit the country.

Another development has seen the visit of some South Korean Protestant pastors to the North and they have been permitted to hold regulated services in their churches and to carry out extensive refurbishment and to build a small seminary. The students pursue a five-year course and are then admitted to the Korean Christian Fellowship as pastors upon graduation.

The author has visited all four churches and has spoken to the congregation at the Changchung Catholic church and met with members of the congregations at the other churches. At Changchung I met Jang Jae On, the Communist Party official who regulates religious belief.

Much about these “Potemkin” – or show churches – is aimed at creating an illusion of religious freedom but, not-withstanding the illusion, the author has had conversations with a handful of North Koreans who have favourably mentioned their family’s religious antecedents and understood the value and importance of religious belief.

Wholly unverifiable reports suggest that there may be several hundred permitted family worship centres and many more underground unregulated house churches.

In Anju, a town about 80 kilometers north of Pyongyang, visited by the author, the mayor said that Catholics meet in the rubble of their church, destroyed during the Korean War, and have continued to do so every Sunday without pastors.

However, it is those Christians who refuse to be controlled by the State whose fate is the most disturbing.

Becoming an illicit Christian is a serious crime. Some who have escaped say that they had never seen a church or a Bible before leaving the country. Many are in camps or prison – where they are kept in horrific conditions, fed on starvation rations. Deprived of sleep they are crammed into overcrowded cells. They are unable to even lie down straight.

In 2011 there were further reports of the execution of Christians in North Korea. At least 20 other Christians were arrested and sent to Camp No. 15 in Yodok.34 . In several meetings, I raised this case with North Korean officials, but was told that these reports were “lies” and that the execution of Christians was “impossible”

The United Nations estimate that 400,000 people have died in the camps in the past 30 years. Ironically, many of the barbaric practices which characterise the camps were pioneered by the Japanese during their occupation of the Korean Peninsular. After the Korean War, the Communist regime in the North and the military dictatorship in the South used many of the same methods to stamp out dissent.

Since being elected Chairman of the British Parliamentary All Party Group on North Korea seven years ago I have chaired several open hearings at Westminster where we have taken evidence and heard first hand accounts from North Koreans who have escaped from prison camps – and these have included Christians.

Yoo Sang-joon was a North Korean Christian defector who came to Westminster eight years ago. Having seen his wife and children die during the famine he has become an Asian Raoul Wallenberg, bravely re-entering North Korea and helping people flee across the border. This led to his arrest by the Chinese, who as a result of international representations showed clemency and repatriated him to South Korea rather than the North as they had originally intended.

On one occasion we were addressed by two diminutive North Korean women who, speaking through an interpreter, recounted their experiences in North Korean prison camps. From time to time their stories were interrupted as the women wept.

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.” Many of her compatriots were among the 2 million who starved to death during the 1990s famine.

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.”

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.”

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.”

Those camps were created at the conclusion of the Korean War when many Christians fled from the Communist North and from what they knew would be the beginning of another period of phenomenal persecution.

Chastened and strengthened by the suffering which had preceded the emergency of the South’s Republic of Korea came a determination that they would not settle for a military dictatorship or for a degraded form of totalitarianism. Christianity has, therefore, been the leitmotif against which South Korea’s social and political policies have been formed. In particular, during the 1970s a theology called Minjung evolved. Minjung is formed from Chinese character min which means people while the character jung means the mass. When combined the phrase translates as the common people.

Minjung theology interprets the Bible, history and the political challenges of the

moment in relationship to their working out and impact on the common people not

on the rulers, the politically powerful or economic elites. Jesus’ appearance in

history is a defining moment for the common people – and betokens the need for

justice, mercy and compassion for the common people. During the 1970s

dictatorship of General Park the theology manifested itself in the emergence of

several Christian initiatives such as the Catholic Farmers Movement and the

Protestant Urban Industrial Mission, which campaigned for better remuneration

and working conditions for agricultural and industrial workers; a period of

widespread social unrest. It was also a key influence on two men who served prison

sentences for their democratic beliefs and who would be future Presidents o the

Republic of Korea, following the restoration of democracy in 1988, Kim Young

Sam, a Presbyterian, and Kim Dae Jung, a Catholic.

The story of Christianity on the Korean peninsula seems to be the perfect proof of Tertullian’s ancient assertion that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church”. The shedding of so many lives did not deter Koreans from embracing Christianity. As St.Augustine Yu, who was martyred along with his wife, son and brother, said: “Once having known God, I cannot possibly betray him.”

As the Christian faith was passed from father to son, from mother to daughter, some families would produce four generations of martyrs. One of those who would die for his faith was John Kim Bo Hyeon. His life ended in prison while preaching his faith to his fellow inmates. His grandson, Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, born in 1922, and doubtless inspired by the heroic witness of his grandfather, would become Korea’s first Catholic Cardinal, outspoken defender of human rights, and fearless opponent of military dictatorship. His Cathedral church in Seoul, Myeongdong Cathedral, where some of the relics of the early martyrs are preserved and honoured, would become the scene of the twentieth century showdown between democracy protestors and the military dictatorship of South Korea

Perhaps his family history was also the necessary preparation for his service as Apostolic Administrator of the Pyongyang Diocese of North Korea – which he was never allowed to visit and where the church would be violently suppressed by the Communists in the aftermath of the Korean War.

But on a happier note, I allowed myself a wry smile that as I arrived for my third visit to North Korea with my colleague (Baroness) Caroline Cox in 2010, aboard an Air China plane, the piped music which accompanied our landing was Isaac Watts’ Christmas hymn, “Joy to the world! The Lord has come! Let earth receive her King.” Along with the sight of diplomats from the once Marxist Russia arriving to worship at Pyongyang’s Russian Orthodox church, I couldn’t help reflecting on twists in ideological and social history. Although Marx was wrong in suggesting that religion is “the opium of the people” perhaps the rest of that much cited quotation does has great application and resonance in the story of Korea where: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of the soulless condition.”


Korean martyrs

The following text was compiled by the late Monsignor Richard Rutt, one time Anglican Bishop of Korea and later Catholic priest of the Plymouth Diocese. Published by the Catholic Truth society it is no longer in print.



Msgr.Richard Rutt

All booklets are published thanks to the

generous support of the members of the

Catholic Truth Society




Land of Morning Calm ……………………………………………………4

A Chinese culture …………………………………………………………5

Confucianism ………………………………………………………………6

Buddhists and shamans …………………………………………………7

Science and democracy …………………………………………………8

A Church founded without missionaries ………………………….9

The First Martyrs ………………………………………………………….12

A woman in charge …………………………………………………….13

Arrest and torture ……………………………………………………….15

Execution …………………………………………………………………..17

1801, The Year of the White Cock ……………………………….19

Thirty-five years waiting for a priest ……………………………..20

French missionaries ………………………………………………………23

A pastoral bishop ………………………………………………………..26

1839, The Year of the Yellow Pig ………………………………..27

Three men and four women, 24 May 1839 …………………….28

One man and seven women, 20 July 1839 ……………………..29

The maker of straw shoes …………………………………………….30

Father of a priest …………………………………………………………31

The good shepherd gives up his life for the sheep …………..32

Strong women ……………………………………………………………35

Three male martyrs and three more women ……………………37

Boy martyr ………………………………………………………………..38



Paul’s mother …………………………………………………………….39

Winter martyrs …………………………………………………………..39

Strangulations …………………………………………………………….40

Five men and five women ……………………………………………41

Rebellions and poor harvests ……………………………………….45

Saint Andrew Kim …………………………………………………………47

Eight friends ………………………………………………………………52

A twenty-year lull ………………………………………………………54

1866, The Year of the Red Horse…………………………………..56

8,000 martyrs ………………………………………………………………..59

Princess Mary …………………………………………………………….60

The martyrs’ heritage ………………………………………………….61

Flowering of the Church in Korea ………………………………….63

Korean Martyrs inscribed in the list of Saints …………………63

103 Martyrs of Korea Canonised 6 May 1984 …………………67

The Korean names in this story are pronounced with consonants as in

English, vowels as in Italian. The sound for ö varies from that of o in

‘word’ to that of o in ‘song’; and the sound for ü resembles that of oo in

‘book’. The surname Ch’oe sounds like chwè.

Canon Richard Rutt worked as missionary in Korea for 20 years. He is

now attached to St Mary Immaculate, Falmouth, Cornwall. (Honorary

D.Litt. of the Confucian University, Seoul. Joint author with Keith Pratt

of Korea: a Historical and Cultural Dictionary, London 1999.)



Korea in the late 18th century was a land of peace and

prosperity. There were poor people in plenty, but the

harvests were generally good, there was no trouble

from abroad, and the King maintained a benevolent rule

that kept the court free of the bloody strife to which it

was so liable.

The country was beautiful. Even in the broadest of

rice-growing plains, the horizon was lined with blue

peaks: distant mountains covered with luxuriant forest

trees, among which Siberian tigers roamed. In spring

apricot and peach blossom canopied the villages, while

the hills were veiled with bright purple azaleas. High

summer brought bright green foliage, autumn a rich medley

of gold, scarlet and purple. In winter the bald rocks

and dark pines were draped in frost and snow. Bamboo

delighted poets at all times of the year.

The common people’s houses, both in the cities and in

the villages that nestled on the sunny slopes of the hills,

were built of cob and stone with mushroom-shaped roofs

of barley thatch. The houses of the gentry were more elaborate,

built of wood with grey tiled roofs turning up at the

eaves in Chinese style, with windows of white paper

stretched on delicate wooden lattices; but without upper

storeys. Similar graceful roofs covered Confucian temples

near the towns, and Buddhist temples hidden in the deep

mountain valleys. Nearly every beauty spot had its kiosk

or pavilion, where in spring and autumn local men would

hold picnics at which they all composed Chinese poems.

A Chinese culture

Every educated man could turn out verses in Chinese

rhyme and metre. Education was indeed restricted to mastering

the classical Chinese language – pronounced in a

Korean fashion – in order to read Chinese literature and

Chinese history. All serious books and papers were written

in Chinese, and Korean personal names were modelled

on Chinese names: surname first, given name afterward,

two or three syllables in all. As in China, there

were very few surnames, and married women retained

their maiden names.

The king was theoretically a vassal of the Chinese

Emperor and sent tribute to Beijing every year. Apart from

this annual embassy and a few tightly controlled annual

markets at border towns, the country had no relations with

foreigners. Like China and Japan, Korea was a closed land,

allowing neither foreigners in nor its own people out.

Yet the Koreans were a distinctive non-Chinese race

with their own language, distantly related to Manchu and

other north-east Asian languages. In the 15th century a

gifted king had created an alphabet that all but the most

underprivileged knew, but only women and labourers



used very much. Chinese was the only writing for men –

save that they too enjoyed the popular novels and songs

that could be written only in Korean.


With Chinese writing came Confucianism, which provided

Korea’s whole philosophy, morals, manners and politics.

Confucius himself was a Chinese sage who flourished at

the beginning of the 5th century BC and taught a ‘way’

based on personal goodness, mutual forbearance, reverence

for ancestors and respect for seniors. Confucian temples

were simply halls for honouring ancestors and great sages.

There were no priests or monks: the head of the family or

community officiated at ancestral sacrifices, and there was

no other form of worship, though there were meetings for

instruction of the young and for discussion of principles.

There was a concept of Heaven, which meant both the sky

and a vaguely defined universal deity. Some scholars, both

oriental and Western, have thought that this Heaven was

another name for God, but the records of the 19th-century

martyrs’ trials show that this was not the opinion of most

Koreans at that time.

The state was carefully constructed on a Confucian pattern.

The king’s power was absolute, and since there was

no parliament, there could be no political parties. There

was, however, an unwieldy bureaucracy that provided the

only career possible for a gentleman. Financial corruption


and factional strife were endemic. One group would accuse

another of treason or of Confucian heresy, and when the

accusation was upheld, the losers were banished to remote

corners of the country or barbarously executed. One of the

reasons for 18th-century prosperity was the success of a

strong king in putting an end to most of these bloodbaths.

Buddhists and shamans

The heart of Confucian morality was the family. It was

a moral duty to marry and have children – celibacy was

very wrong in Confucian eyes. Family ancestral sacrifices

were the core of Confucian religious practice, and

were seen as vital for the unity of the nation. The ceremonies

were stately and solemn, strictly non-emotional.

They were important for bonding men in both local and

national society; but women were excluded. Even had

they not been excluded, they found little comfort in the

stark rituals. Buddhism, on the other hand, had many

prayers, rosaries and ceremonies with incense and

lights, which were all more appealing to women. In the

Middle Ages it had been the state religion, but the

power and politicking of monks had been so abused

that since the 16th century no Buddhist temples or

monasteries had been allowed in urban areas. The relatively

small numbers of monks and nuns withdrew to

the mountains, where women of all social classes

flocked for picnic and pilgrimage.



There was also a third religious strand: shamanism.

Every village would have at least one shaman, usually a

woman, a medium who would call up spirits in nightlong

ceremonies in clients’ homes. The noise of her gongs,

songs and dances went on from dusk to dawn. This was a

primitive faith with no formalised doctrine, but with a

strong hold on the people.

As for Christianity, well-read men had sometimes

heard of it. Since the Churches of the Reformation had

not yet begun missions in East Asia, for Koreans

‘Christian’ meant ‘Catholic’. They knew there were some

Christians in China; but Christianity had been virtually

extinguished in Japan, and was kept out of Korea because

of respect for Confucius.

Science and democracy

Korea’s unified society, apparently so contented and stable,

had in-built flaws, of which none was more keenly felt than

the rigid class structure. The educated gentry enjoyed everything

that was good in life. They had the privileges of an

aristocracy and used their position to extort all they could

from the labourers and the poor, who survived at subsistence

level. Outdoor folk plays gave vent to their sense of injustice,

and the gentry themselves wrote satirical poems about

it, but the social system seemed indestructible. Illegitimate

sons were most likely to nurse discontent, because the social

class of a gentleman’s son was determined by the rank of his



mother. While the sons of a rich man’s wife would be gentlemen,

their half-brothers, born to his concubines, would be

slaves. There were many such illegitimate men, highly conscious

of injustices of all kinds, and from time to time they

raised rebellions. Thoughtful people realised that the class

system needed to be changed.

Intellectual change was coming too. At the beginning

of the 17th century, western scientific ideas had begun to

interest the Chinese, not least because of the mathematical

and astronomical skills of the French Jesuit mission in

Beijing. Western ideas began to enter Korea when

Chinese books, some of them Christian, were brought

back in the baggage of men who had been with the annual

embassy to Beijing at the winter solstice. Not all Koreans

were impressed; but many became interested in the new

mathematics, better agricultural methods, novel building

techniques and developments in machinery. In a society

that had always treasured the ancient above all, some of

the younger scholars started valuing what was new. There

was no organised movement, but 20th-century historians

named the new wave ‘practical learning’.

A Church founded without missionaries

One of these young intellectuals was 30-year-old Yi Pyök.

He was intrigued by what he read in books from China

that were circulating among his friends. He discovered

that the God of the Christians loved all men equally. This


very reasonable doctrine might lead to changes in social

justice. Perhaps he overestimated the stress placed on this

point by the Catholic Church of that period, but it led him

to further study of the Christian religion, and in 1777 he

gathered a few friends of his own age for group study.

Such quasi-retreat seminars were typical of the time. They

met in a small Buddhist monastery south of the River Han

near Seoul, auspiciously named Ch’önjin-sa ‘Hermitage of

Heavenly Truth’. Politically they were all connected with

an old faction that was now in the political wilderness and

had no influence at court. Among them were two brothers,

Chöng Yakchong and Chöng Yagyong. Yagyong was

eventually to be recognised under his pen name, Tasan, as

the greatest thinker of the day.

They needed more books from China. One of the

group, 28-year-old Yi Sünghun, a relative of Yi Pyök and

brother-in-law of the Chöng brothers, had so far spent a

quiet life studying at home; but in 1784 his father was

sent as envoy on the annual winter embassy to China.

Sünghun was thus able to gain a place in the great caravan

that made its way over the northern mountains and

across the Manchurian plain to Beijing. Members of the

embassy always had plenty of time for sightseeing in the

capital, and Sünghun contrived to visit the French missionaries.

The Catholic mission was now in the hands of

the Lazarists (the Company of the Mission, also called

Vincentians) under the Portuguese Bishop Alexandre de


Gouvea. Sünghun contacted an ex-Jesuit, Fr Jean

Grammont, who had stayed in the city after the Jesuit

Order was suppressed by the Pope a year earlier. He gave

the young Korean some books, crucifixes and other

objects, and baptised him with the name of Peter before

he returned to Korea at the beginning of 1785.

Yi Pyök and his friends were fascinated by what they

now read. Within twelve months they set up a secret church

in Seoul at the house of Kim Pömu, one of the royal interpreters

of contemporary Chinese, who was a member of the

Hermitage group. (The site of his house is now part of the

Catholic cathedral compound in Seoul.) Peter Yi (Sünghun)

began baptising them, beginning with Francis Xavier

Kwön, a man of about 50. Yi Pyök became Peter, Kim

Pömu Thomas, and Chöng Yakchong Augustine. Since

Korea knew nothing of a seven-day week, they kept the 7th,

14th, 21st and 28th of each Chinese lunar month as Sunday.

By 1787 they realised a Church needed clergy.

Choosing Francis Xavier Kwön as bishop, they also chose

a few as priests and began to celebrate mass, confession

and confirmation. A few months later they began to have

doubts and suspended these ministries until they could

consult Bishop de Gouvea through a friend on the annual

Beijing embassy. The bishop’s reply came in 1790. They

had to dismantle their makeshift and invalid priesthood.

They must also renounce all Confucian rites. The bishop

promised to send them a real priest as soon as he could.



Persecution began when they were discovered at prayer

in Thomas Kim’s house. This socially aberrant behaviour

led to them all being questioned. The names of the gentlemen

were not published, but, as an interpreter, Thomas

was not a gentleman. He belonged to the so-called ‘middle’

or professional class that included doctors, architects,

artists, astronomers and others. He was questioned under

torture, found guilty of impiety to the state and banished

to Tanyang in the central mountains. On the way there he

died in the city of Wönju from the injuries he had

received during his interrogation. Today he is regarded as

the first martyr of the new Church.

A young man named Yun, whose home was in the far

south-west of the country and who was in Seoul successfully

working his way through the state examination

process, had joined the group at Thomas Kim’s house in

1784. He was baptised as Paul. In 1789 he joined the

embassy to Beijing and while he was there received the

sacrament of confirmation from Bishop de Gouvea. On

returning home he destroyed the ancestral tablets in the

family’s Confucian shrine, and when his mother died in

1791 he had her buried without Confucian rites. He and

an elder cousin named James Kwön were arrested for this

impiety that threatened the whole structure of the nation.


They were taken to the provincial capital at Chönju and

beheaded. At least eight other men were martyred in the

south-western regions before 1799. To become a

Christian was dangerous.

Defections were to be expected. Yi Pyök, Chöng

Yagyong, Francis Xavier Kwön and even the first baptised,

Peter Yi, were among those who withdrew, persuaded by

their families. Many Korean Catholics today are convinced

that some of them returned later, but we can be sure of

Peter Yi only. He was destined for martyrdom.

A woman in charge

Bishop de Gouvea did not forget his promise. He

despatched a priest in 1791, a Fr Wu; but Fr Wu was

unable to enter Korea and returned to Beijing, where he

died two years later. Then in winter 1794 Fr Zhou Wenmo,

baptised James, managed to reach Seoul. He celebrated

mass for the first time at Easter 1795. Alexander Hwang, a

brilliant young son-in-law of the Chöng family, served as

his interpreter and Korean tutor. As a Chinese in Korean

dress, Zhou would attract no attention, but when he spoke

his accent would betray him as a foreigner and the fact that

he was a priest would have led to his arrest. For the next

seven years he worked secretly among the 4,000 or so

Christians in the capital and surrounding countryside, making

his base in the house, or rather in the woodshed, of a

woman called Columba Kang. He made her a catechist.



The Korean word for catechist literally means ‘leader of

the congregation’ and catechists had a broad pastoral role

in teaching, organising, guiding and encouraging the

faithful. Columba became the most powerful member of

the Church, because she controlled access to Fr Zhou, and

she alone always knew where he was.

She had become a Christian in her home region in the

Naep’o district south of Seoul, near the west coast, one of

the first districts to be evangelised and one that produced

more martyrs than any other. Her husband divorced her

because of her Christian faith and she moved to Seoul

with her mother-in-law, daughter and stepson, all

Christians. She had independent means and partly

financed Fr Zhou’s journey from China. As catechist, she

recruited and trained women workers and generally oversaw

the Christian women. She converted two royal

princesses: Princess Song, a sister-in-law of the King, and

Princess Song’s daughter-in-law, Princess Sin. Astute and

capable, Columba kept Fr Zhou’s presence secret until

1801, when he was arrested. She and four of her helpers

were arrested too and fiercely tortured.

Fr Zhou was executed by the elaborate and sickening

ritual of ‘decapitation and display’. The two princesses

were convicted of having dealings with a foreign male,

adopting evil teachings and leaving the palace precincts.

They too were executed. Columba was beheaded at the

West Gate prison on 3 July. She has not yet been beatified,


because the documentation is incomplete, but the Korean

Church is now forwarding her cause, together with the

causes of 16 other martyrs. Even though more Korean

women than men have been canonised, the canonisation

of Columba Kang would bring more attention to the powerful

role of women in the story of Korea’s martyrs. In

periods of persecution women are always vital to the

strength of the Church: they train their sons and daughters

to be ready for martyrdom. Columba did more. She was

for seven crucial years the chief organiser of the Church.

Arrest and torture

The martyrs were treated as ordinary malefactors. They

were arrested by the police, who bound them with red

cord and took them to the Police Prison, often called in

English the Thieves’ Prison. This appalling place was an

unpaved yard – usually mud or dust – surrounded by sheds

with fronts of stout wooden bars, built against the walls.

Men and women were separated, but otherwise all prisoners

were packed in together, with no protection against

freezing cold in winter or scorching heat in summer.

Prisoners were allowed into the central open space during

daylight hours. At night they were forced into the sheds,

where they usually had no room to stretch or to lie down.

Once the doors were closed they were not opened until

dawn for any purpose at all. There was no sanitation.

Disease was rife. Prisoners were given a pitifully small



ration of boiled millet twice a day, though some were

able to buy or bribe extra food. Others ate foul straw and

lice. It was said that some Christians who bore tortures

with fortitude collapsed and apostatised under the strain

of prison conditions. Others often claimed that imprisonment

was harder to bear than torture.

After interrogators had compiled the evidence against

the prisoners under the police procedure, which might

take many days, those who were not released were sent to

the Criminal Court Prison. This was similar to the Police

Prison, though sometimes less crowded.

Interrogations were normally accompanied by torture.

Merciless beating was administered with a variety of paddles,

besoms, scourges, rods and wands, each inflicting its

own peculiar kind of pain. Savage beating caused bloodshed

and there are accounts of martyrs whose flesh fell off

in shreds, even of bones being exposed. Wooden blocks

and ropes were employed to bend leg and arm bones, even

to break them and dislocate joints. Pointed bamboo rods

might be stuck into the victim’s flesh. In another torture a

cord was passed under the victim’s thighs, crossed over

the front and then held taut by a man on either side who

applied a sawing motion that cut through the flesh like a

wire cheese-cutter, right through to the bone. Such tortures

would be repeated over many days, even weeks. Few

martyrs, if any, escaped being tortured again when they

were brought to the execution ground.




Some executions were carried out by strangling. This was

usually done in the Police Prison. The prisoner was placed

between two posts. The rope was passed round his neck, the

ends crossed at the front. Each end was then wound round

one of the posts and drawn tight by an executioner. Most of

the martyrs were, however, beheaded at an execution ground

outside the Little West Gate of the city. The condemned person

was tied by hands and hair to a large cross erected on a

bull-cart, and deliberately driven by a rocky and steep road,

calculated to make the journey as painful as possible. At the

site there was a block at which the victim was made to

kneel. The head was cut off with a huge sword. Several

blows were needed to finish the work. (During the decapitation

of St John Pak the executioner actually withdrew after

striking a few blows in order to whet his blade. Then he

returned and finished severing the head.)

When the authorities wanted to make the public more

widely aware of an execution, it was not performed at

one of the relatively small execution grounds, but at a

place where a far larger number of spectators could be

assembled. At Seoul that usually meant the broad sands

of the Han River, near the big flat island of Yöüido and

the army training camp, a mile or so further west than

the regular execution ground.

The procedure was called ‘displaying the head before

the military camp’. It was a military function, with one of


the commandants of the capital garrison in attendance at

the head of a hundred or so soldiers. A tall stake was

erected on the sands for each of the condemned. The man

was brought to the place, bound in a rough wooden chair,

carried by two soldiers with an escort. On arrival he was

stripped to his floppy white trousers, and his topknot

unravelled (Buddhist monks alone did not wear topknots).

An arrow was thrust downwards though the top

and lobe of each of his ears. His face was dashed with

water and lime, his hands tied in front of his chest. Two

poles were put under the rope binding his wrists and one

pole pushed under each armpit. Two men, one in front

and one behind, took the ends of these poles, lifted the

victim and carried him three times round the arena, to the

execration and insults of the crowd. A soldier attached a

banner to the top of the stake, inscribed with the crime in

Chinese, while another read out the sentence. The man

was then ordered to kneel back to the stake. His hair was

gathered in a bunch and tied to the stake to stretch his

neck so that his head was ready for severing. A small

troop of soldiers then performed a slow dance round the

stake, chanting and brandishing heavy sabres, with which

they struck his neck. Several blows were needed to sever

it. As the head rolled off, another soldier picked it up and

presented it on a tray to the presiding commandant. The

head was then displayed on a stake, as a warning to the

public, and left there for three days. It was forbidden that


anyone should touch the corpses. This ritual execution was

used for all foreign missionaries and for other Christians to

whom the authorities wanted to draw attention.

1801, The Year of the White Cock

Three hundred Christians were executed that year in an

outburst of violence that has gone down in history as the

‘Persecution of the White Cock Year’, because the

Koreans numbered their years according to the twelve

Chinese ‘zodiacal’ animals. Although there had been

martyrdoms nearly every year since 1791, there was no

policy of seeking out Christians until the Year of the

White Cock, 1801, when a change of policy followed the

accession to the throne in 1800 of a ten-year-old boy.

When a child became king, the senior Queen

Dowager acted as regent until he was of an age to rule

for himself. Since there were no other royal families in

Asia for the kings to marry into, they had to marry

women of their own country, which inevitably gave

political power to the families from which the queens

came. In 1800 the Queen Dowager was from a family in

the conservative tradition, which disapproved of

Christians because they were favoured by those who

followed the ‘practical learning’ vogue. Christianity was

already being called ‘Western teaching’. She ordered

that Catholics should be sought out, and executed if they

would not apostatise.



Things were made worse by the incident of the ‘silk

letter’. During the year Fr Zhou’s 25-year-old tutor,

Alexander Hwang, wrote a letter on a roll of silk to the

Bishop of Beijing, asking for the Pope to send military

assistance to the Korean Christians. The letter (now in

the Vatican) was intercepted, Hwang was executed,

and there was further reason for the government to

attack Christians.

Peter Yi – the man who had first brought Christian

books to the scholars at the Hermitage of Heavenly Truth

27 years before, but apostatised – returned to the faith and

was among those martyred in the Year of the White

Cock. So was Augustine Chöng.

Thirty-five years waiting for a priest

For its first ten years (1784-1794) the Korean Church had

no sacrament but baptism. Now again it had no priest.

This time it would have to wait for thirty-five years. Soon

the young king married a woman from the Andong Kim

family, which was sympathetic to the liberalising intellectuals.

Persecution eased, but the frontiers remained tightly

closed. There were probably 7,000 or 8,000 Christians

throughout the country, mostly in Seoul and the southwestern

provinces, drawn almost entirely from the gentry

and professional classes.

A natural leader appeared among them: Peter Yi’s

cousin, Paul Chöng Hasang, son of the martyred


Augustine Chöng. Paul’s brother also was martyred in

1801. His mother and sisters, though reduced to poverty,

brought him up as a devoted Christian and provided him

with an excellent home education. At the age of 20 he got a

post as a servant on the annual embassy to Beijing. He was

able to do this again on nine subsequent occasions, and

thus to maintain contact with Bishop de Gouvea. In spite of

his youth, he was appointed catechist and effectively

became the lay pastor of all the Christians in the country.

He persisted in efforts to get another priest from China,

and very nearly succeeded with a Fr Shen in 1826, but that

plan came to nothing. Korea still had to wait for a priest.

In 1823 Paul was introduced to a man four years his

senior named Yu, a remarkable scholar and famous bookcollector.

One day Yu had noticed that the paper used to

line a drawer in his furniture had scraps of philosophy

printed on it. Intrigued, he succeeded in stripping all the

fragments from the cabinetwork and found he had part of

a treatise on the true meaning of God, written by Mateo

Ricci, the greatest of the China Jesuits. In his attempts to

find someone who would explain more about Ricci’s

ideas, Yu met Paul Chöng. They became firm friends. Yu

held a senior post in the royal interpreters’ bureau and

frequently went on the annual mission to Beijing. Paul

found a place as a servant on the embassy in 1824 and

they both went to see Bishop de Gouvea. While they were

there, Yu was baptised, taking the name of Augustine.



Soon his authority in the Korean Church was less only

than that of Paul Chöng.

On one of these Beijing journeys Paul and Augustine

got to know a servant in his twenties named Cho, an

able man with an unusual spiritual history. For a while

he had been a Buddhist monk. Paul and Augustine

recognised his qualities and encouraged him to become

a Christian. He was baptised and confirmed in Beijing,

with the name of Charles. On return to Korea he became

a trusted helper, willing to undertake difficult and dangerous


The instruction of new Christians continued with zeal.

Every year saw more manuals and prayerbooks arriving

from China, including stories of saints. Saints’ names

were always given at baptism, in Chinese form and with a

seeming preference for the names of martyrs – Lucy,

Agnes, Sebastian, Protase and the like. Korean Christians

knew they might need the help and example of earlier

Christian martyrs.

In 1825 Paul and Augustine, with some others, sent an

earnest letter for help to Pope Leo XII. It was received

two years later, but nothing came of it until Pope Gregory

XVI, as part of his revival of world missions (he established

some 70 new dioceses and vicariates), created the

Korean Vicariate Apostolic in 1831. This was the first

step towards creating a Korean diocese.




The new vicariate was entrusted to the Paris Foreign

Missions Society, which had been working in east and

south-east Asia for two centuries. Barthélemy Bruguière,

a priest who had been two years in Bangkok, was

appointed Vicar Apostolic and ordained bishop. He set

out for Korea overland from Thailand in 1831. A young

priest called Jacques Chastan, recently arrived at Penang

in Malaya, was detailed to join him. Then Fr Pierre

Maubant, who was working in Sichuan (western China),

volunteered to join the Bishop as he passed through

Sichuan on his way to Korea.

Before any of them could get there, however, a

Chinese priest named Pacifico Yu, who was studying in

the Chinese College at Naples, volunteered to work in the

new vicariate. Paul Chöng, Augustine Yu and another of

the gentry class, Sebastian Nam, helped him to enter the

country in 1833. Sebastian lived with Fr Pacifico in Seoul

and took care of him.

Meanwhile Bishop Bruguière and Fr Maubant travelled

the length of China by separate routes. They met in

Manchuria and stayed in a tiny Christian village they

thought was a suitable place from which to attempt crossing

the Korean border. While waiting there the bishop fell

ill and died on 20 October 1835, broken by the exertions


of the journey. He was 43 years old. Fr Maubant, a strong

man in his twenties, went on alone. No European could

get through the frontier guardposts. The only way he

could enter Korea was to wait till the depth of winter and

struggle over the River Yalu when it was frozen. Helped

and guided by Paul Chöng, Fr Maubant crossed the ice at

night in January 1836.

He had to disguise himself as a mourner, because

mourners wore huge umbrella-like straw hats that hid

their faces and his brown beard would show he was not a

Korean. Travelling on foot in severe winter weather, usually

at night and in constant risk of discovery, he took 15

days to reach Seoul, where he was greeted by Fr Pacifico,

Sebastian Nam and others. Immediately he was swamped

with pastoral work, travelling among the scattered flock

in the two central provinces, often accompanied by

Charles Cho, he who had once been a Buddhist monk but

now became the Frenchman’s guide and interpreter.

People who had not been able to make their confessions

for thirty-five years could do so at last. Some made their

confessions in written Chinese, others had to use interpreters.

On Holy Saturday they celebrated the Vigil of

Easter in the cramped space of an ordinary Korean house

– a clandestine liturgy lasting five hours.

Fr Maubant’s most important achievement was the

selection of three teenage boys to become seminarians:

Francis-Xavier Kim, Andrew Kim and Thomas Ch’oe.


Accompanied by Fr Pacifico (who never returned), they

were smuggled out of Korea in 1836 and sent to the Paris

Society’s seminary at Macao. Paul Chöng, Augustine Yu

and Sebastian Nam saw them out of the country.

The other French priest, Jacques Chastan, had reached

the northern frontier in 1833. He was the same age as

Maubant. He had come by sea routes from Penang to

Macao, thence to Fujian, and finally by a fishermen’s boat

to Manchuria. Though he came within sight of the mountains

of Korea, he could find no way to cross the frontier.

He therefore withdrew and worked for about two years in

Shandong until he could get a message to Fr Maubant,

who was by then in Seoul. Fr Maubant arranged for

couriers to meet and help him; but they then had to wait

until the Yalu froze. Fr Chastan crossed the ice on the last

day of the year 1836, arriving in Seoul in January 1837.

During the summer both priests managed to give a few

weeks to language study, though they never dared stay

long in one place. They had to acclimatise themselves to

rough food, especially the standard meal of turnip pickled

in brine, served with rice and thin soup. Dried persimmon

fruit served them as iron rations, for they were constantly

travelling on foot, sleeping by day, saying mass and

doing pastoral work at night. Fr Maubant fell ill. Fr

Chastan rushed to see him in Seoul and gave him the last

rites. Miraculously, he recovered, and after three months

rest returned to the punishing work that had brought him



low. They had some 6,000 Christians to look after.

During 1837 they heard over 2,000 confessions and baptised

1,237 new Christians.

A pastoral bishop

Communications with Europe were very slow. At length

Laurent Imbert, a priest of the Paris Missions who had

been working in Sichuan, western China, since 1820, and

knew Pierre Maubant, was appointed bishop for Korea,

and ordained in May 1837. By November he had arrived

at Mukden (now Shenyang) in Manchuria. In mid-

December, he crossed the frozen Yalu and on New Year’s

Day 1838 he met Fr Maubant in Seoul. Fr Chastan was

away in the south, and did not meet the bishop until May.

Between the bishop’s arrival and November 1837,

2,000 were baptised. By the end of the year there were

9,000 Korean Christians. Imbert soon recognised that

Paul Chöng would make a good priest. He even went so

far as to start teaching him some Latin and a little theology.

In spite of the enormous difficulties, there were

gleams of hope.

The bishop’s life scarcely differed from that of his

priests. He rose at 2.30 a.m. At 3.30 he began baptising,

confessing, confirming, celebrating mass and caring for the

Christians, who rarely dared to be seen coming and going

in daylight. He suffered from hunger, because he often

could not eat until his pastoral work was finished for the


day. He went to sleep at 9 in the evening. ‘A life so hard’,

he wrote, ‘we hardly fear the sword-blow that must end it’.

1839, The Year of the Yellow Pig

The premonition was apt. A new king had come to the

throne in 1834, one whose in-laws were opposed to what

they called ‘western learning’ – meaning Christianity.

Christians had to be more careful, and by the time the

bishop arrived, persecution was intensifying. Peter Yi, a

catechist, had been imprisoned for four years but not executed.

He died on 25 November 1838 in the Criminal

Court Prison. His sister Agatha had been arrested in

February 1836 and was still held in prison. Pressure on

Christians increased during spring and summer 1839, the

Year of the Yellow Pig. A stern new decree against

Christianity was published in April.

We have records of some 140 martyrs during the

whole year, in Seoul and several southern provincial

cities, but this can be only part of the whole story.

Dispossessed Christians were taking refuge in the further

parts of the country. Already some of them were becoming

potters, because makers of earthenware traditionally

travelled from place to place in search of suitable clay,

setting up earth kilns in waste places and moving on

when they had exhausted local clay deposits. Itinerant

potters were to remain a feature of the Korean Catholic

Church for two hundred years.



In mid-May Protase Chöng, a man of 41, was arrested

and questioned by a kindly magistrate who persuaded

him to deny his faith. Protase went home, but could not

rest. A few days later he presented himself to the police,

demanding to be re-arrested. They refused to take him

seriously. He redoubled his demand. Finally they beat

him severely and threw him into prison, where, a few

hours later, he died during the night.

Three men and six women, 24 May 1839

On 24 May Agatha Yi was beheaded with eight others,

including the catechist Augustine Yi, on an execution

ground outside the Little West Gate of Seoul. The police

had found a silver mitre (whose workmanship astounded

them), a chasuble and a Latin prayerbook in the catechist’s

house. This discovery strengthened the government’s

determination to find the illegal foreign entrants.

Most of that day’s martyrs were of the gentry class.

Lucy Pak had rich relations in the royal palace. Damian

Nam, however, declared that he would be happy to enter

heaven with no other rank than ‘Damian Nam of the

Scapular Confraternity’. Anna Pak was devoted to the Five

Wounds of Christ. Agatha Kim was such a simple soul that

she could only repeat the names of Jesus and Mary. She

was baptised in prison. The others were Magdalene Kim,

Barbara Han and Peter Kwön, whose beatific smile was

said to have survived on his severed head.


A day or two later there were three deaths in the Police

Prison. One of these was 14-year-old Barbara Yi. The

others were Barbara Kim and Joseph Chang the herbalist.

One man and seven women, 20 July 1839

Executions continued throughout the summer. The

next canonised names are those of a man and seven

women beheaded on 20 July. The man was John Yi,

brother of Augustine Yi, martyred in May. John had

been baptised in Peking when he was there as a member

of the annual embassy.

The eldest woman was Rosa Kim, a convert widow in

her mid-fifties, who calmly murmured the names of

Jesus and Mary as she was arrested. Anna Kim was a

few years younger. Maria Wön was only 20. She had

been orphaned at 9 and was brought up as, Christian. She

was determined to stay a virgin. For that reason she

dressed her hair like a married woman’s and earned a

living by needlework. When neighbours delated her to

the police, she tried to run away but failed – she had

some difficulty in coming to terms with her situation.

Magdalene Yi had never seen Seoul before she left her

pagan father’s house in the countryside to find a

Christian family to live with in Seoul. She followed her

father to Seoul without his knowledge, and by leaving

bloodstained shreds of her clothing in the woods on the

way, successfully persuaded her family that a tiger had



killed her. Her father soon learned the truth, but forgave

her. Lucy Kim had a fine head of hair, which she sold in

prison in order to buy thin soup for other starving prisoners.

She had joined with Theresa Yi, Martha Kim and

Lucy Kim in a pact to surrender themselves to the

authorities and seek martyrdom. The judges gave them

extra tortures to punish their presumption.

Agnes Kim also died that day. She was the younger

sister of Columba Kim, a remarkable woman who was to

die a fortnight later.

The maker of straw shoes

On 3 September another man and five women were

beheaded outside the Little West Gate. The man was

John Pak, a maker of straw shoes who had often said he

needed to die a martyr in order to atone for his sins,

striking his shin with the mallet of his trade as he said it.

He had sent his wife away to stay with relations the night

before he was arrested.

The eldest of the women was Maria Pak, whose sister

Lucy had died on 24 May. Barbara Kwön and MariaYi,

wife of Damian Nam, had each made her house a masscentre

for Bishop Imbert. Barbara Yi had insisted on marrying

a Christian, and had put off a pagan suitor by staying

abed for three years pretending to be unable to walk.

She had then married a Christian, but he had died after

only two years. Her sister Magdalene and her aunt


Theresa had been beheaded on 20 July, her young niece,

also called Barbara Yi, had died in prison at the end of

May; and she left her mother Magdalene Hö in jail, waiting

for martyrdom.

Father of a priest

A week later, on 12 September, Francis Ch’oe, aged only

34, father of the lad Thomas who had been sent to the

seminary in Macao with two other boys in 1836, died in

prison. Francis had been baptised when young. He had a

fiery temperament, which he succeeded in controlling, so

that the impression he left on others was one of generosity

and gentleness. When he realised persecution was growing,

he hid his pious medals and other devotional objects,

but did nothing to hide his Christian books. He said the

images must be protected against sacrilege, but the books

were his manuals of strategy in the coming battle.

When police came to his home in the country to fetch

him, he entertained them overnight – and gave new

clothes to one of them whose clothes were threadbare.

Then he persuaded a group of nearly forty Christians to

go to prison with him, saying it would be better to die by

the sword in Seoul than to starve in the country – for there

was a famine that year. Only three of the forty stayed to

the end. When asked to renounce his Christian faith,

Francis replied that if asked to live without eating, he

would try, though it would be very difficult; but it was



impossible for him to pretend not to believe in God. At one

point he was asked to put on the bishop’s vestments. He

refused, and they were put on another prisoner. Francis

straightway prostrated himself before the man. When

asked whom he was reverencing, he replied, ‘The crucifix’.

The questioner raised his hand to strike Francis; then

thought better of it.

The officers goaded a repulsive thief to insult and

pester him, even to opening and hurting the sores from

his beatings. Francis bore everything with such resignation

that the thief exclaimed, ‘He really is a Christian.

You other Christians! Do as he does!’

On 11 September he was beaten with 50 blows – having

been beaten every second day since the beginning of

August. The next day he died in prison, disappointed that

God had not allowed him to shed his blood, but accepting

the Divine Will.

The good shepherd gives up his life for the sheep

So many of his flock were being imprisoned, tortured and

executed that Bishop Imbert wondered whether he and

the two priests should try to leave the country, in order to

save the laity. The three Frenchmen met near Suwön, but,

deciding that any plan to leave Korea would be impracticable,

they separated on 3 July and went into hiding.

On 10 August a new Christian named Andrew Chöng

came to the bishop in the middle of the night, saying a


messenger had come from Seoul, where the government

had changed its mind and would now treat him with due

honour. Imbert realised at once that his hiding place had

been betrayed. He wrote straightway to his two priests,

then went to meet the ‘messenger’ in a nearby village.

The messenger turned out to be an apostate called Kim

Yösang. The bishop went with him to Seoul. There he

was soon bound with the red cord of arrest, and taken for

questioning with the usual tortures. He had persuaded the

police to allow Andrew Chöng return to his own home.

Anxious now to find the two priests, the police

deceived two more Christians, one of whom went along

with the ruse so far as to meet the bishop, from whom he

was able to take a note for Fr Maubant and Fr Chastan,

written in Latin. The note said: ‘In extreme circumstances

the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep, so if you

have not already left, come with the officer Son Kyejong,

but do not let any of the Christians follow you. Imbert,

Bishop of Capsa.’ (Capsa was his titular see, because

Korea was not yet a diocese.)

The letter soon reached Fr Maubant, who sent it on to

Fr Chastan and at the same time wrote to Son, telling

him that Fr Chastan was away, but they would both

arrive in about ten days. Jacques Chastan received the

message on 1 September. He at once sat down and wrote

a farewell letter to his family in France, giving thanks to

God for calling him to be a martyr. When the two met,



near the town of Hongju, they both wrote further letters

on 6 September, to the Maubant family, to the Roman

Propaganda and to the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

They reported to Cardinal Fransoni of the Propaganda

that the mission had about 10,000 Christians. They also

reported 1,200 baptisms, 2,500 confirmations, 4,500 confessions,

4,000 communions, 150 marriages, 60 anointings

of the dying, and 600 catechumens under instruction.

For three men this was a huge accomplishment,

especially when the necessary travelling and the language

difficulties are taken into account. They both then

wrote letters to their Christians, exhorting them particularly

to ensure that Christians married Christians.

From Hongju they were taken on ponies to Seoul. On

12 September they were in Seoul with their bishop, all

three being interrogated by the Criminal Court. They were

beaten on the 15th and 16th and again on the 19th. They

were finally sentenced late on the 21st, and executed on

the sands by the Han that evening. The whole ritual of

military decapitation with display of the heads was gone

through. When Fr Chastan received the first sword blow it

fell on his shoulder and he started up, but immediately fell

back on his knees. Otherwise they remained still till they

died. Not until three weeks later were Christians able to

disinter the three bodies surreptitiously and take them

away. Many decades later they were enshrined in the crypt

of Seoul cathedral.


Late in the afternoon of the next day Paul Chöng and

his fellow-worker Augustine Yu were beheaded outside

the Little West Gate.

So the leadership of the infant Church was destroyed

in two days. Bishop Imbert, realising that this would happen,

had committed the Church to the care Charles Hyön,

a gifted catechist of the professional class.

Strong women

Four days after Paul and Augustine were killed, nine

other Christians were martyred outside the Little West

Gate on 26 September. The six women among them had

been under arrest for many weeks – Magdalene Pak for

six months. She and Agatha Chön had connections with

the palace, where she had lived and worked. Perpetua

Hong had been in prison for over four months, Columba

Kim since June and Julietta Kim since July. Magdalene

Hö was the mother of Barbara Yi and Magdalene Yi, who

had been beheaded on 20 July and 2 September.

The life of women, especially those of the gentry class,

was severely circumscribed. They rarely travelled, indeed

rarely left the house and were not allowed in the streets in

daylight. Most of them could not read Chinese characters.

They were conventionally regarded as unintelligent. The

truth was very different. In spite of their manner of life,

women were often of strong character, perceptive, and

influential in the lives of the men.



Their steadfastness is illustrated by their response to torture.

It was allied to a meekness and dignity that were in

themselves virtues for Confucians too. Most of these

women had been looking forward to martyrdom, some for

many years. Perpetua Hong had long said she wanted ‘to

wear the red dress (of martyrdom)’. When they came to

interrogation they surprised the questioners by the cogency

of their arguments for believing in God and Christ.

Columba Kim made a great impression by her poise

and lack of fear. She had been imprisoned with her sister

Agnes, who had been beheaded three weeks earlier. They

were aged 26 and 23. Their questioners were so exasperated

by their constancy that the women had been stripped

of all their clothing and put into a men’s section of the

Police Prison, with a suggestion that the ruffians already

there were welcome to treat the women as they liked.

After two days they were given back their clothes and

returned, untouched, to the women’s prison. When they

were next under torture Columba complained about this

incident with calm dignity. She said she would not complain

about treatment that was legal, but she and her sister

had been treated illegally. The court was appalled and

sent a report to higher authority. Some of the prison staff

were punished with severe bastinado.

Columba could be satirical too, as she was in describing

the nonsense involved in believing that the souls of the dead

would come and enjoy the meal prepared for them in the


Confucian ancestral sacrifice ritual. She won admiration for

her intelligence and courage, but these virtues could not

spare her; nor would she have wished that they might.

Also in September another Lucy Kim, 70 years old and

generally known as ‘the hunchback’, died in prison.

Three male martyrs and three more women

On 26 September three more men were executed with

the six women: Charles Cho, Sebastian Nam and

Ignatius Kim. They represented the second level of

leadership in the Church

Charles Cho and Sebastian Nam had been among those

who went on the embassies to Beijing. Charles, who went

every year, had helped to arrange for the foreign priests to

enter Korea and had acted as guide for Maubant in his

pastoral journeys. On his return from China at the beginning

of 1839, he had received a vision of Christ with St

Peter and St Paul, which he had interpreted as a promise

of martyrdom. When he was taken from the cross on the

cart that took him to the execution ground, Charles Cho

noticed some of his relations, not Christians, present there

in great distress. He gave them an affectionate smile.

Sebastian Nam had been Fr Pacifico’s helper and was

an experienced leader in the Church. He also was taken

through the treachery of a Christian.

Ignatius Kim, whose own father had been martyred in

1814, was father of the boy Andrew Kim who had gone



to Macao in 1836 to study for the priesthood. Ignatius

broke under torture, but was still condemned to punishment

for having let his son go abroad. When he was

returned to prison, the others encouraged him to reassert

his faith. This he did three times, under increased torture;

and so died a martyr.

On the last night of the month two more women died

in prison, both of them sick with disease contracted from

the conditions under which they were detained: 57-yearold

Catherine Yi and her 33-year-old daughter Magdalene

Cho. Catherine had been reduced to poverty by her persistence

in the faith and earned a meagre living as a seamstress.

She realised her ambition of dying a virgin.

Boy martyr

Augustine Yu’s family, of whom only two had accepted

their father’s faith, was outlawed and banished from the

capital. Before then, however, his younger son Peter, aged

13, had become the youngest of the martyrs who would be

canonised 150 years later. This remarkable boy had begun

to hope for martyrdom long before. After his father was

arrested he had gone to the police early in August and

urged them to arrest him. They did so and proceeded to

question him with torture on 14 occasions. At least once he

picked up shreds of his flesh from the ground and threw

them defiantly before the judges. To many of the onlookers

it seemed that he was happy throughout the five horrific


weeks, hoping to be beheaded. In the event he was strangled

in the prison on 31 October.

Paul’s mother

Paul Chöng’s mother, Cecilia Yu, was 79 years old. The

police arrested her on 19 July and subjected her, old as

she was, to 230 strokes of the wand in her first 5 interrogations.

She wanted to join her beloved Paul in martyrdom,

but because of her age the authorities would not

behead her. She resigned herself to dying in prison, and

lingered on until she fell asleep on 23 November, quietly

murmuring the names of Jesus and Mary. Her daughter

Elisabeth was still alive in prison for her faith.

Winter martyrs

On the day Cecilia died, 23 November 1839, the State

council issued an even stronger edict against Christianity.

On 29 December, seven more martyrs were killed.

Benedicta Hyön was sister to Charles Hyön, the catechist

who had become leader of the new generation. Their

father had died for the faith in 1801. Magdalene Yi was

an impoverished lady of the gentry class who had

watched her mother die in prison. Peter Ch’oe, father-inlaw

of Charles Cho, was a man of the professional class

who after a dissolute youth had become a Christian and

tamed his wild ways. Magdalene Han was married to a

distinguished scholar who had been baptised in articulo



mortis. Cecilia Yu’s daughter and Paul Chöng’s sister,

Elisabeth Chöng, had always lived in poverty and was

accustomed to earn her pittance by needlework and weaving.

She was the fourth member of her family to be executed.

Bishop Imbert declared she should have been made

a catechist. As she left the prison on her way to execution,

she exhorted those she left behind to pray always for

the poor and for the suffering. Barbara Cho was the wife

of Sebastian Nam, who had died among those killed on

26 September. She was also cousin of Paul Chöng and

had kept house for Fr Pacifico. Barbara Ko had been a

toddler when her father had been martyred in 1801. She

left her husband Augustine Pak in prison, awaiting his

inevitable death before long.


January 1840 saw four martyrs strangled in the Police Prison.

On the 9th the two victims were women. Theresa Kim

was an aunt of the boy Andrew Kim who had gone to

Macao to study for the priesthood four years earlier. Her

husband Joseph Son had died in prison for the faith in

1824 in the country town of Haemi. She had provided a

home for Fr Pacifico till he went with the three boys to

China. Later she joined Bishop Imbert’s household. She

was strangled after nearly six months’ imprisonment.

Agatha Yi, who died the same day aged only 17, had

been imprisoned in April, with her father Augustine


(beheaded in April) and her mother Barbara Kwön

(beheaded in September).

Later the same month, the same brutal death put an

end to the sufferings of two more men. The first was

35-year-old Andrew Chöng, the naive convert who had

fallen into the trap set by the apostate Kim Yösang to

capture Bishop Imbert. Andrew had been duped again

into betraying some new converts; but he woke to the

truth when Kim tried to persuade him to betray Fr

Maubant and Fr Chastan. In his distress at that time

Andrew spoke of giving himself up to martyrdom. The

priests dissuaded him; but he was soon caught and subjected

to rigorous tortures. Five months later he was

strangled on 23 January 1840.

His companion in martyrdom, Stephen Min, was killed

a week later. He was nearly 60, a childless widower,

reduced to staying in other peoples’ houses, earning a living

by hand-copying books. His sufferings climaxed in

40 strokes of the paddle, at every one of which he cried

‘A rascal fit only to die!’ Yet in those last weeks of misery

this rather solemn soul managed to persuade two

apostates to repent: Dominic Yi and Cosmas Yö – both of

whom were executed before Stephen himself.

Five men and five women

Ten martyrs died on 31 January and 1 February 1840 –

five men and five women.



Paul Hö was a soldier of the city garrison. At first he

broke down under the torture, but soon he recovered his

courage and was subjected to depraved tests by the

guards, who made him eat and drink filth to prove his

fidelity to Christ. He died while being tortured by beating

with the heavy paddle.

The other nine were beheaded at Tang-Kogae, another

place of execution outside the western walls of the city.

The five women were all at least acquaintances, if not

friends. Maria Yi was sister of Magdalene Yi, beheaded

with six others on 29 December. Magdalene Son was the

wife of Peter Ch’oe, who had also been martyred on that

December day. Barbara Ch’oe was their daughter, whose

husband Charles Cho had been martyred in September.

Magdalene was another seamstress, and both she and her

daughter each arrived in prison with a tiny daughter. Both

children were sent away into the care of others.

The fourth woman, Agatha Kwön, was a stranger case.

She died at the age of 21 and was the daughter of

Magalene Han, who had been beheaded outside the Little

West Gate at the end of December. Magdalene’s husband

had been converted on his deathbed. They had arranged

for Agatha to be married at the age of 12. Marriage at this

age was more common than not, and the bride and groom

were not expected to cohabit until some years later. This

bridegroom’s family, however, was too poor even to take

Agatha to live in their house and she was confided to his


relations. When Fr Pacifico arrived in Korea she entered

service in his household. He became very fond of her,

and approved her wish to break off her marriage and live

as a virgin. Their relationship became too close and gave

cause for scandal. Fr Maubant talked to her and she

became overwhelmed with penitence, claiming that only

martyrdom would expiate her sins. Kim Yösang, who had

betrayed Bishop Imbert, sank further into depravity by

trying to persuade her to go off with him, but she was

steadfast. She entered the prison with some happiness.

The guards were sorry for Agatha and set her free, but

she soon returned voluntarily to the prison. Her martyrdom

was a singular triumph at the close of a life of frailty

and great trials.

The fifth woman was Agatha Yi. She had been married

to a eunuch. Bishop Imbert advised that she should leave

him, but her mother was too poor to support her. She

moved in with Agatha Kwön and was arrested with her.

Of the four men, two were brothers aged 39 and 42:

Peter and Paul Hong from Sösan district in the central

province, grandsons and nephews of two martyrs of 1801.

Both were catechists and had helped shelter Fr Maubant

and Fr Chastan in spring and summer 1839. The dastardly

Kim Yösang fingered them as he did the bishop and the

two priests.

Augustine Pak was 48, a member of the professional

class, cultured and kind, but very poor. His wife Barbara



Ko, whose own father had been martyred in 1801, had

been beheaded in November. Augustine had been one of

the group that arranged for the three Frenchmen to enter

the country and Bishop Imbert had made him a catechist.

It is recorded that he was insulted and tortured even by

other prisoners. The torturers left him unable to use either

arms or legs.

The last of the group was John Yi, 31 years old. He was

of the gentry class, a widower without children. He had

accompanied Fr Maubant on pastoral journeys. During

1839 he had been at pains to offer relief to imprisoned

Christians; and he had led the group that secretly removed

the bodies of the three French martyrs from the Han River

sands at the end of September. Six days before he died he

wrote a lengthy letter of advice to his fellow-Christians, trying

to strengthen their faith. He advised them particularly to

practise the Stations of the Cross frequently and to have

recourse to the prayers of the Ever-virgin Mary.

Barbara Ch’oe and Paul Hong could not be executed

with the others, because no one could be beheaded on the

same day as a close relation. Paul had a brother, and

Barbara her mother, among the condemned. Seven of the

group were therefore beheaded on 31 January, but these

two and John Yi on 1 February.

The list of those canonised for the persecution of the

Year of the Yellow Pig ends with Antony Kim strangled

on 29 April 1841, after 15 months in prison.



Rebellions and poor harvests

For the next six years there were few martyrdoms. The

royal in-laws were Kims again, favourable to modern

learning, and the police stopped searching out Christians.

The Church however could not lower its guard. Most

Christians were hiding in the countryside, and all had

been impoverished. Few remained who belonged to the

gentry. Not only had they lost all their priests; they had

lost their Korean leaders too. Three men remained who

could give some leadership, but they were less gifted than

Paul Chöng and his companions: Fr Chastan’s servant,

Charles Hyön; Fr Maubant’s servant, Peter Chöng; and

Thomas Yi, a grandson of the very first Korean to be baptised

in Beijing, Peter Yi, martyred in 1801.

The state of the whole country was now far from being

as prosperous as it had been when Peter Yi collected

Christian books in Beijing for the scholars of the

Hermitage of Heavenly Truth. Government by the royal

in-laws had been corrupt; the kings had lacked charisma;

there had been too many poor harvests; and a succession

of uprisings, led by illegitimate sons and other malcontents,

showed the general malaise of the nation.

The Paris Foreign Missions Society and the Office of

Propaganda in Rome appointed John Joseph Ferréol as

Vicar Apostolic for Korea. He arrived in Manchuria by

sea and reached Shenyang (then called Mukden) in 1840.

He was unable to get further for four years. Had Paul


Chöng still been alive, things might have been different.

Christians were still able from time to time to get on the

embassies from Seoul to Beijing, but the network had been

broken. Ferréol withdrew beyond the Mongolian border

and stayed with the little Christian community that had

sheltered Bishop Bruguière five years earlier. Not until

1842 was contact established with Charles Hyön. The way

would soon be open. The route would again be over the

frozen Yalu River, in the coldest, darkest part of the year.




By this time the three boys who had been sent to the Paris

Missions seminary in Macao should have finished their

studies there. Francis-Xavier, alas, had died. The other

two had fared well, and it was judged expedient to think

of their return. They were to be put as interpreters on two

French naval vessels that were planning to visit Korean

waters, with the intention of complaining about the execution

of the three French nationals in 1839. The vessels

were under the command of Admiral Cécille – a name

that was destined to bring more sorrow than help.

Andrew Kim was to accompany two French priests, one

for Manchuria and one for Korea. The plan had to be

changed. Andrew and the two priests eventually went to

Manchuria in a Chinese junk, arriving there at the end of

October 1842. Andrew and the priest for Korea, Fr

Maistre, began planning to enter Korea disguised as beggars,

but the Vicar Apostolic of Manchuria quashed the

plan as unworkable.

Andrew then planned to go alone. At the end of the

year he got himself to a place on the road to Beijing where

he was likely to meet the winter embassy as it passed

through from Seoul. There were frustrating delays, but he

finally succeeded and met a Christian Korean named

Francis Kim, from whom he learned how the persecution


had raged, and that there was now a lull. On 24 January

1843 Korean Christians in the embassy said Fr Ferréol

should not attempt to cross the border. Andrew had hairraising

adventures, suffering much from cold and hunger;

but he had to return to his superior. Again they waited for

many months. There was some consolation when, on the

last day of 1843, the Vicar Apostolic of Manchuria

ordained Fr Ferréol as third Vicar Apostolic of Korea. On

17 October 1844 Andrew was ordained to the diaconate.

A fortnight later the bishop, accompanied by Andrew,

reached the Korean border again. They met Francis Kim

as the embassy went through. Francis was insistent that

no foreign missionary should attempt the crossing, but

Andrew went on alone and succeeded in crossing the

frozen river. He left a vivid account in Latin of his journey,

through gullies and alleys, through snow-bound

mountains and over frozen streams, constantly aware that

he might be discovered and questioned. If he were

caught, it would be impossible to hide for long the fact

that that he had illegally left and re-entered the country.

At P’yöngyang he met Charles Hyön and Thomas Yi,

and his journey under their guidance to Seoul was a little

easier. Andrew had brought some money with him

(explaining how he came by it would have been hard if he

had been arrested on the way) and he soon bought a

house in Seoul. He could now move about fairly easily,

and Bishop Ferréol instructed him to investigate sea routes


in and out of Korea. He bought a wretched little boat and

gathered an ad hoc crew of inexperienced sailors. In this

craft he and Charles Hyön set sail across the Yellow Sea,

intending to reach Shanghai. A tremendous storm arose.

They cut their masts and entrusted their souls to God.

Although many ships were lost in the Yellow Sea during

that storm, this damaged craft stayed afloat long enough

for them to be rescued by a Cantonese ship that took them

in tow… Even so they encountered pirates. When they discharged

their firearms, the pirates fled.

Eventually they were towed into the anchorage at

Wusung, the port of Shanghai, which was then in the

first stages of becoming an international trading centre,

full of sailing vessels from European nations. The

strange Korean boat and the costume of the Koreans

caused a sensation. Andrew recognised a British ship.

Knowing about the British from his years in Macao,

Hong Kong’s neighbour , he cal led out : ‘ I am a

Korean. I ask your protection!’ The British sailors

responded, and guided him to the Chinese authorities,

who suggested he return to Korea by land. Andrew

was having nothing to do with that idea, which would

have defeated his purpose. With the help of the British

officers he made his way into Shanghai and saw the

British consul, who had been forewarned by Bishop

Ferréol, and found a place for him to stay with a

Christian family.



A few weeks later Bishop Ferréol himself arrived in

Shanghai, accompanied by Fr Antoine Daveluy, who

was also destined for Korea. On 17 August 1845, the

Vicar Apostolic of Jiangnan – the local bishop – ordained

Andrew priest.

The bishop, Fr Daveluy and Fr Kim prepared to sail

for Korea. They arrived at Kanggyöng on the west coast

on 12 October. A particular joy for Andrew was being

able to see his mother, Ursula, again. As we have seen,

his father Ignatius had been beheaded in 1839. Soon the

two bishops and Andrew were established in Seoul,

where they were now fairly safe so long as they did nothing

to attract attention. The bishop asked Andrew to continue

working at the idea of entering and leaving Korea

by sea. In the spring Andrew went to the west coast of

Hwanghae province, to a group of islands which was

well known as a haunt of Chinese fishermen at that season.

He was apprehended there by the Korean authorities

in July. They took him to their provincial capital at

Haeju before they put the red cord of arrest on him and

took him to Seoul.

His trial took a long time. He made a good impression

on his judges, who admired his manners and his education.

The records hint that they had some hope of dealing

leniently with him, but Admiral Cécille now arrived off

the coast, and sent peremptory messages to the Korean

government about the execution of the three Frenchmen


in 1839. Cécille’s behaviour left no hope of pardon for

Andrew, against whom the most serious charge was his

treasonous contacts with Europeans. He was condemned

to death. The execution place was prepared on

the sands of the Han, where Bishop Imbert and his two

priests had been slain seven years earlier. Here Andrew

was brought on 16 September 1846, stripped and prepared

for decapitation. He made a brief speech, declaring

he had contacted foreigners for God’s sake only,

and that he was dying for God. Then he charged all

those present to enter eternal life with him. When all

was ready he asked the soldiers if he was correctly

placed for beheading. One them adjusted the tilt of his

head. The young priest did not move again. His head

fell at the eighth stroke.

Fearing what might happen to the body, the authorities

had it dressed in a purple coat, wrapped in reed mats

and buried at once, together with the head, there on the

execution ground. Christians retrieved the relics forty

days later.

St Andrew is the best-loved of the Korean martyrs. Not

only was he the first Korean priest, only 25 years old and

not yet a year in the priesthood, he was an impressive and

loveable young man. Bishop Ferréol said he loved him like

a son. His judges acknowledged his fine character, and

pitied him for the hard life that had been his lot. It is right

that his name should stand at the head of the canonised.



Eight friends

Three days later Charles Hyön, the catechist to whom

Bishop Imbert had committed the Church, was beheaded

with the gruesome ceremonies of military display on the

sands of the Han. His father, sister, wife and son had

already been martyred. He would have surrendered himself

to martyrdom in 1838, had not the Bishop and the

two French priests dissuaded him. Since then he had led

the Church bravely. He had punctiliously collected

accounts of all the martyrs, amassing the basis of documentation

that would later be used for the canonisation

process. He had been in prison since 16 July, when he

was arrested with four women who happened to be in his

house at the time of the police visit.

The four women were beheaded outside the Little

West Gate the day after Charles was executed on the

sands. Susanna U was a widow of the gentry class. She

was arrested and might have been executed in 1828, but

was released because she was then pregnant. She was

however tortured, despite the unborn child. She had a

friend with her now, Teresa Kim, a widow who worked

as a household servant in Fr Andrew’s household. With

them were another widow, Agatha Yi, who had run away

from home so that she could live as a Christian, and had

been baptised by Fr Pacifico; and Catherine Chöng.

Catherine had been violently beaten by her master when

she would not take part in pagan sacrifices. She ran away

from home and joined the women in Fr Andrew’s house.

She still bore the marks of her beating.

Three men were killed with them. Joseph Im had

been the only non-Christian in his own household, not

well educated, but earning his living as a merchant.

One of his sons had gone with Fr Andrew to contact the

Chinese fishermen off the west coast in June. On learning

that they had been apprehended, Joseph, who had

joined the police in the hope of helping Christians,

went to Haeju to claim his son. Unsurprisingly, he was

himself arrested and taken to Seoul. He was tortured

with particular cruelty, being told at one time that if he

made the slightest sound it would be interpreted as

apostasy. Fr Andrew’s charm worked on him. He suddenly

declared his faith and became the second of the

martyrs to be baptised in prison. (The first was Agatha

Kim in 1838.)

Peter Nam, a member of the capital garrison, was

arrested in July. Although a Christian by 1839, he had

escaped capture, and shortly afterwards fell into sinful

ways. After a while he reformed himself and undertook

severe penances, such as living in an unheated room

throughout the winter. He said only martyrdom could

obliterate his guilt. In prison he carefully surrendered his

military tally as part of his welcome for martyrdom. He

asked his pagan brothers not to visit him in prison, lest

they should break his determination to die.



The last of the group was Laurence Han, member of

the gentry with a rather solemn mien, but an acknowledged

gift of contemplative prayer. Like many of the

martyrs, he thought Christian belief involved charity of

something like Franciscan prodigality. He often gave

away his clothes. Bishop Imbert had appointed him catechist.

Arrested at the end of August, he was tortured with

particular ingenuity, having his feet cut and crushed with

pottery shards. In spite of this, he refused to be taken to

Seoul on a pony, even though it was impossible for him

to wear shoes. As a result he walked barefoot on his

wounded feet for more than 50 kilometres.

All seven were beaten to death in prison. Some of

them lasted a long time under the blows. When this happened

it was customary for the executioners to ease their

own labours by strangling the victim. This happened to

Peter Nam. It was said that a strange light appeared over

his body during the night of his death. The prison guards

were so moved by this that they did not throw his body

out in the usual way, but gave it careful burial.

A twenty-year lull

After autumn 1846 there was a sudden lull in the execution

of Christians. This must have been because of a

change of heart in the palace. The queen’s family was

now politically less inclined to hate Christians. Then in

1849 the king died suddenly at the age of 22, leaving no


son to succeed him. The queen who had come to the fore

after the Year of the White Cock was now the senior

dowager. She made one of the most surprising appointments

of the dynasty. She called in from the island of

Kanghwa an uneducated 18-year-old farmer, an outrigger

of the royal clan, whose princely ancestors had been

exiled there 150 years earlier. Since he was utterly unprepared

for the throne, the dowager’s family again took

over the reins of government. Things became easier for

Christians. The new king was grandson of the princess

Song who had been martyred in 1801, and may have had

some latent sympathy for Christianity.

Bishop Ferréol worked secretly in Seoul for eight

years. In 1853 he fell ill and died, worn out by heavy

work and harsh conditions. The man appointed to succeed

him was Siméon Berneux. Berneux had arrived in

the Orient in 1840, when for a few weeks in Macao he

was given care of the two Korean students, the future

martyr Andrew Kim and Thomas Ch’oe. Still in his

twenties he was sent to work in Vietnam, where he

spent two years in prison for his faith. His superiors

transferred him against his will to Manchuria, where he

was to become bishop as Pro-Vicar-Apostolic in 1854,

but hardly had he been ordained, when he was appointed

to Korea. It took nearly two years for him to reach

Seoul. He arrived by a junk from the Yellow Sea in

January 1856.



He had his own house, but a gentleman and his family

also lived in it, leaving the bishop just one room, in which

he slept, ate his two daily meals and said mass. He could

never go out into the courtyard during the day because

women hawkers and beggars might come in at any time

and his red beard would have given him away as a foreigner.

He dared not open a window, even in summer, and

could never raise his voice above a whisper. Twice a year

he visited his flock, who were mostly very poor and had

tiny houses, inside which it was impossible for him to

stand upright, even for mass. He would arrive at a house

before daybreak and recite the breviary while the catechist

listed those coming for the sacraments. He would have

breakfast, hear confessions and give instruction all day

long. He lay down at night dead tired. Gentlewomen

would come during the night, disguised as poor women,

make their confessions, hear mass at 3 in the morning and

get back home before daylight, for they had to keep their

faith secret from heir husbands. Baptisms, confirmations

and occasionally unction followed the mass. Then he hurried

to the next congregation in another house, arriving

there before dawn. This pattern was repeated daily for two

months every spring and autumn.

1866, The Year of the Red Horse

In 1857 Fr Daveluy was ordained coadjutor bishop. The

church that had begun as a group of gentry was now largely


a Church of the poor, but some gentlemen and their families

still belonged. One of these was John Nam, who was a

tutor to the royal household. When the ploughboy king

died leaving no son in 1863, the senior queen dowager of

the day made another bizarre decision. She appointed as

king an 11-year-old boy, whose father was still alive.

There were two precedents for this, however, and the protocol

was for the king’s father to be known as the ‘Great

Prince of the Palace’. He naturally functioned as regent, a

man who was famous for his beautiful ink drawings of

orchids, but proved to be an unpredictable schemer.

Koreans were just becoming aware of the interest

being taken in them by the western powers. European

ships were appearing in Korean waters. Russia was particularly

worrying. Surprisingly, there were three

Christian women in the palace: the Great Prince’s wife,

his eldest daughter, and the boy king’s nanny. These three

discussed the situation with John Nam, who eventually

suggested to the Great Prince that he might use Bishop

Berneux as a contact with the French and British governments

for an alliance against Russia. It seems that the

Prince asked to meet Berneux, but there were mistakes in

protocol when letters were drafted. There was a delay of

ten months, perhaps partly because the missionaries were

hard to contact. The Great Prince was angry and called

the matter off. He also had political debts to the senior

Queen Dowager’s family, which was anti-Christian. He



asked to meet the two bishops. They were in Seoul by the

end of January 1866, the Year of the Red Horse; but they

already knew that the Prince’s intention now was to arrest

them. Bishop Berneux was arrested on 23 February. The

gory processes that led to execution were gone through

again on the Han River sands on 6 March. The bishop

was 52. With him were executed three French priests, all

in their twenties: Juste de Bretennieres, Pierre Dorie and

Louis Beaulieu. John Nam was executed outside the

Little West Gate the same day. Three days later John

Chön, a flour merchant, and Peter Ch’oe, both of whom

had edited and published Christian books, were beheaded

in the same place.

Another two days later, two Korean laymen were martyred

on the Han River sands with full military ceremonial

and display of their heads. Mark Chöng the catechist was

71. He had been converted after seeing some of the martyrs

of 1839 meet their deaths. Bishop Ferréol made him

chief catechist of Seoul. Alexius U was only 21. He was

something of a prodigy, passing the national examinations

in his middle teens. He had been an ardent missionary in

Hwanghae-do, the Yellow Sea Province just north of

Seoul, and by the age of 18 had brought 100 converts to

Seoul. Arrested in 1865, he had apostatised under torture,

but had returned to the Church and was arrested in the

house of John Chön.




Bishop Daveluy and two more French priests, Luc Huin

and Pierre Aumaitre, whom he had asked to surrender in

the same way that Laurent Imbert had asked Frs Maubant

and Chastan, were to have been executed in the same

place. The palace soothsayers objected that too much

blood was being shed in Seoul and this would have a bad

effect on the king’s wedding, which was to happen that

spring. Bishop Daveluy and the priests had been arrested

with him in the district 150 miles south of Seoul where Fr

Andrew Kim and so many earlier martyrs had been bred,

were taken back there for execution. Decapitation with

display of the heads was performed at Poryöng on Good

Friday, 30 March 1866. Thus Bishop Daveluy, who

became the 5th Vicar Apostolic for Korea when Bishop

Berneux died, held that office for only 22 days. With him

also were martyred Luke Hwang, a catechist who had

helped him with translation work, and another catechist,

Joseph Chang.

Ten other names appear among the canonised for the

Year of the Red Horse. Catechist Peter Yu was beaten to

death in P’yöngyang on 17 February. On the day of

Bishop Daveluy’s death a farmer named Thomas Son was

strangled at Kongju. Seven men were beheaded in Chönju,

the south-western provincial capital, on 13 December:


Bartholomew Chöng, of the gentry class; farmers Peter

Cho and 20-year-old Peter Chöng; catechists Peter Son

and 20-year-old Peter Han; and Peter Yi. Peter Cho’s 18-

year-old son, Joseph Cho, was beaten to death the day

before. Another catechist, John Yi, was beheaded in the

south-eastern city of Taegu on 21 January 1867.

These names from the 1860s are woefully unrepresentative.

The choice of those canonised in 1984 depended on

the collection of evidence of the standard required for the

canonical process. Not only are there no women among

them, though large numbers of housewives and mothers

were killed, but these saints of the Year of the Red Horse

form only a tiny selection from what are thought to be

have been about 8,000 martyrs who died between 1866

and 1886. Few Churches can muster such a roll.

Persecution continued for several years. Families that

suffered in 1801 and 1839 continued to suffer until the

early 1870s. Among them were a son, grandson and two

great grandsons of Peter Yi who took Chinese books to the

Hermitage group in 1775 – four generations of martyrs in

one family. Long after persecutions ceased, priests continued

to live and work in secret. Only in 1886, when the first

Franco-Korean treaty was signed, did the law relax.

Princess Mary

When Gustave Mutel became Vicar Apostolic in 1891,

the Great Prince of the Palace was still alive. It was no


longer a crime to be a Christian, and the new bishop was

approached by the Great Prince’s wife, asking for baptism.

This proved impractical because as head of the

palace household she was in charge of preparing food for

the ancestral sacrifices. The situation changed when in

1896 she retired from the headship because of her age

(she was 78). The bishop visited her after dark on 11

October and baptised her as Mary in the house of one of

her palace ladies. On 6 September 1897 he visited her

again for her confession and first Holy Communion. It

was also her last communion, for she died four months

later on 8 January 1898. Her husband, who had started

and organised the greatest of the persecutions, died on 22

February. Some time before he had sent a small gift to

Bishop Mutel, together with an ambiguous message saying

he regretted what he had done to the Christians and

that he had been deceived.

The martyrs’ heritage

In the days of the martyrs there were no separate Korean

words for ‘Catholicism’ and ‘Christianity’. The Chinese

name for Christianity, devised by the great Mateo Ricci

in the 16th century, served for both. It meant, literally,

‘the God Doctrine’. Belief in one almighty and loving

Creator God was indeed the crucial subject on which the

martyrs were most frequently questioned and for which

they were derided during their trials. They died for their

8,000 MARTYRS 61


belief in God and salvation by the blood of Christ. The

Christian virtues they most prized were humility, love,

and care for the poor.

When the Churches of the Reformation began their

missionary work in Korea after 1882, all of them save the

Anglicans introduced a different word for God and chose

to call their teaching not ‘God Doctrine’ but ‘Jesus

Doctrine’. Thus Korean Protestants came to think of the

Catholic martyrs as having died for a different religion.

Some wise Protestant missionaries, however, expressed

great reverence for the martyrs, and today Korean

Christians all increasingly see themselves as their heirs.

In the 1960s the Catholic Church in Korea agreed to use

the word for God preferred by Protestants.

In 1984 Pope John Paul II visited Korea to celebrate

the second centenary of the baptism of Peter Yi in Beijing

and the birth of the Korean Church. On 6 May at the Han

River sands where St Laurent Imbert, St Andrew Kim

and many others had suffered and died, he canonised 103

martyrs: 3 French bishops, 7 French priests, 46 Korean

men and 47 Korean women. It was the first canonisation

ever performed outside Rome.

The calendar of saints used by the Catholic Church

now contains a commemoration on 20 September of

‘Saint Andrew Kim Taegön, Saint Paul Chöng Hasang,

and their Companions, Martyrs’. They are remembered

at altars all over the world.




Pope John Paul II visited South Korea in 1984. On leaving

Seoul Cathedral on Sunday morning, 6th May, the Holy

Father went to Youido Square where he celebrated Mass

and canonized 103 Korean Martyrs in the presence of an

estimated more than half a million people.

Korean Martyrs inscribed in the list of Saints

“Today it is given to me, the Bishop of Rome and

Successor of Saint Peter – In that Apostolic See, to participate

in the jubilee of the Church on Korean soil. I have

already spent several days in your midst as a pilgrim, fulfilling

as Bishop and Pope my service to the sons and

daughters of the beloved Korean nation. Today’s Liturgy

institutes the culminating point of this pastoral service.

For behold: through this liturgy of Canonization the

Blessed Korean Martyrs are inscribed in the list of the

Saints of the Catholic Church. These are true sons and

daughters of your nation and they are joined by a number

of missionaries from other lands. They are your

ancestors, according to the flesh, language, and culture.

At the same time they are your fathers – and mothers in

the faith, a faith to which they bore witness by the shedding

of their blood. From the thirteen-year-old Peter Yu



to the seventy-two-year-old Mark Chong, men and

women, clergy and laity, rich and poor, ordinary people

and nobles, many of them descendants of earlier unsung

martyrs they all gladly died for the sake of Christ.

Listen to the last words of Teresa Kwon, one of the

early, martyrs: “Since the Lord of Heaven is the Father of

all mankind and the Lord of all creation, how can you ask

me to betray him? Even in this world anyone who betrays

his own father or mother will not be forgiven. All the

more may I never betray him who is the Father of us all.”

A generation later, Peter Yu’s father Augustine firmly

declares: “Once having known God. I cannot possibly

betray him.” Peter Cho goes even further and says: “Even

supposing that one’s own father committed a crime, still

one cannot disown him as no longer being one’s father.

How then can I say that I do not know the heavenly Lord

Father who is so good?

And what did the seventeen-year-old Agatha Yi say

when she and her younger brother were falsely told that

their parents had betrayed the faith? Whether my parents

betrayed or not is their affair. As for us, we cannot betray

the Lord of heaven whom we have always served.”

Hearing this, six other adult Christians freely delivered

themselves to the magistrates to be martyred. Agatha, her

parents and those other six are all being canonized today.

In addition, there are countless other unknown. humble

martyrs who no less faithfully and bravely served the Lord.



Like unto Christ

The Korean Martyrs have borne witness to the crucified

and risen Christ. Through the sacrifice of their own lives

they have become like Christ in a very special way. The

words of Saint Paul the Apostle could truly have been

spoken by them: We are “always carrying in the body the

death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be

manifested in our bodies. We are always being given up

to death for Jesus’ sake; so that the life of Jesus may be

manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Cor 4:10-11).

The death of the martyrs is similar to the death of

Christ on the Cross, because like his, theirs has become

the beginning of new life. This new life was manifested

not only in themselves – in those who underwent death

for Christ- but it was also extended to others. It became

the leaven of the Church as the living community of disciples

and witnesses to Jesus Christ. “The blood of martyrs

is the seed of Christians”: this phrase from the first

centuries of Christianity is confirmed before our eyes.

Today the Church on Korean soil desires in a solemn

way to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the gift of

the Redemption. It is of this gift that Saint Peter writes:

“You were ransomed… not with perishable things such as

silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (I Pt

1:18-19). To this lofty price, to this price of the

Redemption, your Church desires, on the basis of the witness

of the Korean Martyrs, to add an enduring witness of

faith, hope and charity.



Through this witness may Jesus Christ be ever more

widely known in your land: the crucified and risen Christ,

Christ, the Way and the Truth and the Life, Christ, true

God: the Son of the living God. Christ, true man: the Son

of the Virgin Mary.”

(Extracts from the Homily of John Paul II at the canonization of the

Korean Martyrs, 6th May 1984)




No. Name (Age) Notes (Numbers refer to list)

Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 16 September 1846

1. Kim Taegön/Andrew (25) First Korean priest. Son of 41,

nephew of 57. Gentry class.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 22 September 1839

2. Chöng Hasang/ Paul (44) Catechist. Son of 49, brother of 54.

Gentry class.

Died in the Criminal Court Prison, Seoul 25 November 1838

3. Yi Hoyöng/ Peter (35) Catechist. Brother of 7. Gentry class.

Beaten to death, Police Prison, Seoul 20/21 May 1839

4. Chöng Kukpo/ Protase (40) Apostatised, then gave himself up.

Gentry class.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 24 May 1839

5. Kim Agi/ Agatha (52) Widow. ‘Agi’ means ‘daughter’ and

is not a name.

6. Pak Agi/ Anna (56)

7. Yi/ Agatha (55) Widow. Sister of 3.

8. Kim Öbi/ Magdalene(65) Widow.

9. Yi Kwanghön/ Augustine (52)Catechist. Husband of 26,

father of 58, brother of 21. Gentry.

10. Han Agi/ Barbara (47) Widow.

11. Pak Hüisun/ Lucy (38) Virgin. Sister of 25. Palace servant.

12. Nam Myönghyök/ Damian (37)Catechist. Husband of 29.

13. Kwön Tügin/ Peter (34) Maker of devotional articles.

Died in the Police Prison, Seoul 26-29 May 1839.

14. Chang Söngjip/ Joseph(53) A herbalist.


15. Kim/ Barbara (34) Widow.

16. Yi/ Barbara (14) Granddaughter of 36, niece of 22

and 28. Gentry class.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 20 July 1839.

17. Kim/ Rose (55)

18. Kim Söngim/ Martha (49) Gave herself up.

19. Yi Maeim/ Theresa (51) Sister-in law of 36, aunt of 22 and 28.

Gentry class.

20. Kim Changgüm/ Anna (50) Widow.

21. Yi Kwangnyöl/John (44) Brother of 9, brother-in law of 26,

uncle of 58. Gentry class.

22. Yi Yönghüi/Magdalene (30) Virgin. Daughter of 36, sister of 28,

niece of 19, aunt of 16.

23. Kim/ Lucy (21) Virgin. Gave herself up.

24. Wön Kwiim/ Maria (21) Virgin. Seamstress.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 3 September 1839

25. Pak K’ünagi/ Maria (53) Sister of 11. ‘K’ünagi’ (‘eldest

daughter’) is not a name.

26. Kwön Hüi/ Barbara(45) Wife of 9, mother of 58,

sister-in-law of 21.

27. Pak Hujae/ John (40) Straw shoe maker.

28. Yi Chönghüi/ Barbara (40) Widow. Daughter of 36,

sister of 22, niece of 19, aunt of 16.

29. Yi Yönhüi/ Maria (35) Wife of 12.

30. Kim Hyoju/ Agnes (23) Virgin. Sister of 44.

Died in the Criminal Court Prison, Seoul 12 September 1839

31. Ch’oe Kyönghwan/ Francis (34)Catechist. His son Yangöp (Thomas)

was 2nd Korean priest.

Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 21 September 1839

32. Laurent Imbert (43) 2nd Vicar Apostolic (French bishop).


33. Pierre Maubant (35) French priest.

34. Jacques Chastan (35) French priest.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 22 September 1839

35. Yu Chin’gil/ Augustine (48) Father of 48. Professional class.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 26 September 1839

36. Hö Kyeim/ Magdalene (66) Mother of 22 and 28.

37. Nam Igwan/ Sebastian (59) Catechist. Husband of 51.

38. Kim/ Julietta (55) Virgin. Palace servant.

39. Chön Kyönghyöp/ Agatha (52)Virgin. Palace servant.

40. Cho Sinch’öl/ Charles (46) Husband of 70, son-in-law of 50 and 64.

41. Kim Chejun/ Ignatius (43) Catechist. Father of 1.

42. Pak Pongson/ Magdalene (43)Widow.

43. Hong Kümju/ Perpetua (35) Widow.

44. Kim Hyoim/ Columba (25) Virgin. Sister of 30.

Died in prison, Seoul September 1839.

45. Kim/ Lucy (70) Nicknamed ‘Hunchback’.

Died in prison, Seoul September-October 1839.

46. Yi/ Catherine (56) Widow. Mother of 47.

47. Cho/ Magdalene (32) Virgin. Daughter of 46.

Strangled in the Police Prison, Seoul 31 October 1839.

48. Yu Taech’öl/ Peter (12) Son of 35. Professional class.

Youngest in the canonised list.

Died in prison, Seoul 23 November 1839

49. Yu/ Cecilia (78) Mother of 2 and 54. Gentry class.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 29 December 1839

50. Ch’oe Ch’anghüp/ Peter (52) Husband of 64, father of 70,

father-in-law of 40. Professional.

51. Cho Chüngi/ Barbara (57) Wife of 37. Gentry class.

52. Han Yöngi/ Magdalene (55) Widow. Mother of 67.

53. Hyön Kyöngnyön/ Benedicta (45)Catechist. Sister of 72.

Seamstress. Professional class.


54. Chöng Chönghye/ Elisabeth (42)Virgin. Daughter of 49,

sister of 2. Gentry class.

55. Ko Suni/ Barbara (41) Wife of 62.

56. Yi Yöngdök/ Magdalene (27) Virgin. Sister of 66. Gentry class.

Strangled in the Police Prison, Seoul 9 January 1840

57. Kim/ Theresa (44) Aunt of 1.

58. Yi/ Agatha (17) Virgin. Daughter of 9 and 26,

niece of 21.

Strangled in the Police Prison, Seoul 30 January 1840

59. Min Kükka/ Stephen (53) Catechist. Gentry class.

Strangled in the Police Prison, Seoul 23 January 1840

60. Chöng Hwagyöng/ Andrew (33)Catechist.

Beaten to death, Seoul 31 January – 1 February 1840

61. Hö Im/ Paul (45) Soldier.

Beheaded, Tang-kogae, Seoul 31 January 1840

62. Pak Chongwön/ Augustine (48)Catechist. Husband of 55.

Professional class.

63. Hong Pyöngju/ Pete (42) Catechist. Brother of 68. Gentry class.

64. Son Sobyök/ Magdalene (39) Wife of 50, mother of 70.

65. Yi Kyöngi/ Agatha (27) Virgin.

66. Yi Indök/ Maria (22) Virgin. Sister of 56.

67. Kwön Chini/ Agatha (21) Daughter of 52. Apostatised

and recanted.

Beheaded, Tang-kogae, Seoul 1 February 1840

68. Hong Yöngju/ Paul (39) Catechist. Brother of 63.

69. Yi Munu/ John (31) Catechist. Gentry class.

Companion of Fr Maubant.

70. Ch’oe Yöngi/ Barbara (22) Daughter of 50 and 64, wife of 40.

Strangled in prison, Seoul 29 April 1841

71. Kim Söngu/ Antony (46) Catechist.



Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 19 September 1846

72. Hyön Söngmun/ Charles (49) Catechist. Professional class.

Strangled or beaten to death in the Police Prison, Seoul 20 September 1846

73. Nam Kyöngmun/ Peter (50) Soldier. Professional class.

74. Han Ihyöng/ Laurence (47) Catechist. Gentry class.

75. U Surim/ Susanna (43) Widow. Gentry class.

76. Im Ch’ibaek/ Joseph (42) Policeman.

77. Kim Imi/ Theresa (35) Virgin.

78. Yi Kannan/ Agatha (32) Widow.

79. Chöng Ch’öryöm/ Catherine (29)

Beaten to death, P’yöngyang 17 February 1866

80. Yu Chöngnyul/ Peter (29) Farmer.

Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 6 March 1866

81. Siméon Berneux (52) 4th Vicar Apostolic (French bishop)

82. Juste de Bretenières (28) French priest.

83. Pierre Dorie (27) French priest.

84. Louis Beaulieu (26) French priest.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 6 March 1866

85. Nam Chongsam/ John (49) Royal secretary of the 3rd grade.

Beheaded outside Little West Gate, Seoul 9 March 1866

86. Chön Changun/ John (55) Flour merchant.

Published Catholic books.

87. Ch’oe Hyöng/ Peter (52) Published Catholic books.

Decapitation with display, Han River sands, Seoul 11 March 1866

88. Chöng Üibae/ Mark (71) Catechist.

89. U Seyöng/ Alexius (21) Apostatised in P’yöngyang,

then gave himself up in Seoul.

Decapitation with display, Kalmae-mot, Poryöng 30 March 1866

90. Antoine Daveluy (49) 5th Vicar Apostolic (French bishop).

91. Luc Huin (30) French priest.


92. Pierre Aumaitre (29) French priest.

93. Chang Chugi/ Joseph (63) Catechist.

94. Hwang Söktu/ Luke (53) Catechist. Helped Bishop

Daveluy in translation work.

Strangled, Kongju 30 March 1866

95. Son Chasön/ Thomas (22) Farmer.

Beheaded, Chönju 13 December 1866

96. Chöng Munho/ Bartholomew (65)Gentry class.

97. Cho Hwasö/ Peter (51) Father of 102. Farmer.

98. Son Sönji/ Peter (46) Catechist.

99. Yi Myöngsö/ Peter (45)

100. Han Wönsö/ Peter (Joseph) (20)Catechist. Farmer.

101. Chöng Wönji/ Peter (20) Farmer.

Beaten to death, Chönju 12 December 1886

102. Cho Yunho/ Joseph (18) Son of 97. Farmer.

Beheaded, Taegu 21 January 1867

103. Yi Yunil/ John (43) Catechist.

The first Korean item presented to the British Museum Library is

Additional Manuscript 14054. It is a copy of the Chinese Lord’s Prayer

transcribed in Korean script by Paul Yun who was martyred in 1795.

His cause for canonisation is being promoted by the diocese of Suwön.

Copyright © 2012 Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 40-46

Harleyford Road, London SE11 5AY. Permission limited to reproduce

this text in Korea on a non-for profit basis. For permissions beyond this,

contact the copyright holders in writing.

Korean Martyrs


The story of a Welsh Christian martyr who took bibles to Korea and was executed in Pyongyang – Robert Jermain Thomas



The story appears at:   – December 26th  2016

This  link is to a BBC Radio Wales documentary about Robert Jermain Thomas. It went out last week,– or you can listen anytime you want for 30 days on the iPlayer.

Here it is:

and the story of more than 8,000 Catholic martyrs who first brought Christianity to Korea:

Korean martyrs

Full transcript: House of July 16 Lords Debate on Article 18: Stop Killing Christians – including speeches by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, and other senior Peers from many faith and humanist backgrounds

Freedom of Religion and Belief

Motion to Take Note

Watch the debate at:


4.20 pm

Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To move that this House takes note of worldwide violations of Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the case for greater priority to be given by the United Kingdom and the international community to upholding freedom of religion and belief.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who take part in today’s debate. We have a speakers list of great distinction, underlining the importance of this subject. It is also a debate that will see the valedictory speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who has given such distinguished service to your Lordships’ House. The backdrop to all our speeches is Article 18, one of the 30 articles of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. It insists:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

The declaration’s stated objective was to realise,

“a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.

However, with the passage of time, the declaration has acquired a normative character within general international law. Eleanor Roosevelt, the formidable

16 July 2015 : Column 767

chairman of the drafting committee, argued that freedom of religion was one of the four essential freedoms of mankind. In her words:

“Religious freedom cannot just mean Protestant freedom; it must be freedom of all religious people”,

and she rejoiced in having friends from all faiths and all races.

Article 18 emerged from the infamies of the 20th century—from the Armenian genocide to the defining depredations of Stalin’s gulags and Hitler’s concentration camps; from the pestilential nature of persecution, demonisation, scapegoating and hateful prejudice; and, notwithstanding violence associated with religion, it emerged from ideology, nation and race. It was the bloodiest century in human history with the loss of 100 million lives.

The four great murderers of the 20th century—Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot—were united by their hatred of religious faith. Seventy years later, all over the world, from North Korea to Syria, Article 18 is honoured daily in its breach, evident in new concentration camps, abductions, rape, imprisonment, persecution, public flogging, mass murder, beheadings and the mass displacement of millions of people. Not surprisingly, the All-Party Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, in the title of its influential report, described Article 18 as “an orphaned right”. A Pew Research Center study begun a decade ago found that of the 185 nations studied, religious repression was recorded in 151 of them.

Today’s debate, then, is a moment to encourage Governments to reclaim their patrimony of Article 18; to argue that it be given greater political and diplomatic priority; to insist on the importance of religious literacy as a competence; to discuss the crossover between freedom of religion and belief and a nation’s prosperity and stability; and to reflect on the suffering of those denied this foundational freedom.

Although Christians are persecuted in every country where there are violations of Article 18—from Syria and Iraq, to Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran, North Korea and many other countries—Muslims, and others, suffer too, especially in the religious wars raging between Sunnis and Shias, so reminiscent of 17th-century Europe. But it does not end there. In a village in Burma, I saw first-hand a mosque that had been set on fire the night before. Muslim villagers had been driven from a village where for generations they had lived alongside their Buddhist neighbours. Now Burma proposes to restrict interfaith marriage and religious conversions. It is, however, a region in which Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the Foreign and Commonwealth are doing some excellent work with lawyers and other civil society actors, promoting Article 18.

Think, too, of those who have no religious belief, such as Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian atheist and blogger sentenced to 1,000 public lashes for publicly expressing his atheism. That has been condemned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as,

“a form of cruel and inhuman punishment”.

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Alexander Aan was imprisoned in Indonesia for two years after saying he did not believe in God. Noble Lords should recall that Article 18 is also about the right not to believe.

Later, we will hear from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recently said that the “most common feature” of Anglicanism worldwide is that of being persecuted. Twenty-four of the 37 Anglican provinces are in conflict or post-conflict areas. Referring to the 150 Kenyan Christians who were killed on Maundy Thursday, the most reverend Primate said:

“There have been so many martyrs in the last year … They are witnesses, unwilling, unjustly, wickedly, and they are martyrs in both senses of the word”.

We will also hear from my noble friend Lord Sacks, who offered his prayer on Hanukkah last year for,

“people of all faiths working together for the freedom of all faiths”.

My noble friend’s brilliant critique, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, is required reading for anyone trying to comprehend what motivates people to kill Christian students in Kenya, Shia Muslims praying in a mosque in Kuwait, Pakistani Anglicans celebrating the Eucharist in Peshawar or British tourists simply holidaying in Tunisia and for anyone trying to understand the dramatic rise in Christian persecution, the vilification of Islam in some parts of the world and, in Europe, the troubling reawakening of anti-Semitism.

My noble friend’s insights into the shared stories of the Abrahamic faiths—not least the displacement stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, and Joseph and his brothers—and how they can be used to promote mutual respect, coexistence, reconciliation and the healing of history underline the urgent need for scholars from those faiths to combat the evil being committed in God’s name and to give emphasis to the ancient texts in a way which upholds the dignity of difference—the title of another of my noble friend’s books. If Jews, Muslims and Christians are no longer to see one another as an existential threat, we urgently need a persuasive new narrative, which is capable of forestalling the unceasing incitements to hatred which pour forth from the internet and which capture unformed minds.

It is not just scholars but the media and policymakers who need greater religious literacy and different priorities. How right the BBC’s courageous chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, is when she says:

“If you don’t understand religion—including the abuse of religion—it’s becoming ever harder to understand our world”.

It is increasingly obvious that liberal democracy simply does not understand the power of the forces that oppose it or how best to counter them. At best, the upholding of Article 18 seems to have Cinderella status. During the Queen’s Speech debate, I cited a reply to Tim Farron MP—for whom this has been quite a notable day—in which Ministers said that the Foreign Office,

“has one full time Desk Officer wholly dedicated to Freedom of Religion or Belief”.

The Answer also stated that,

“the Head and the Deputy Head of HRDD spend approximately 5% and 20% respectively of their time on FoRB issues”.

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To rectify this, will we prioritise Article 18 in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office business plan and across government departments? Has the FCO considered convening an international conference on Article 18—something I have raised with her? Is it an issue we will raise at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta in November?

In May, the Labour Party gave a welcome manifesto commitment to appoint a Canadian-style special envoy to promote Article 18. The Foreign Office resists this, insisting that all our diplomats promote freedom of religion and belief. But that has not been my experience. On returning to Istanbul from a visit to a 1,900 year-old Syrian Orthodox community in Tur Abdin, which was literally under siege, I was told by our UK representative that his role was to represent Britain’s commercial and security interests and that religious freedom was a domestic matter in which he did not want to become involved. Self-evidently, there is a direct connection with our security interests, not least with millions of displaced refugees and migrants now fleeing religious persecution.

Paradoxically, if he had studied the empirical research on the crossover between freedom of religion and belief, and a nation’s stability and prosperity, he might have come to a very different conclusion. Where Article 18 is trampled on, the reverse is also true, as a cursory examination of the hobbled economies of countries such as North Korea and Eritrea immediately reveals. This is not a marginal concern, as the outstanding briefing material for our debate from many human rights organisations makes clear.

Last month, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and I chaired the launch of a report by Human Rights Without Frontiers. Among its catalogue of egregious and serious violations, it says that North Korea, China and Iran had the highest number of people imprisoned, in their thousands, for their religion or belief. It highlights Pakistan, where in 2011 two politicians who questioned the blasphemy laws were shot dead; where Asia Bibi remains imprisoned with four other Christians and nine non-Christians, facing the death sentence for alleged blasphemy; and where Shias and Ahmadis have faced ferocious deadly attacks.

When did we last raise these cases and other abuses of Article 18 with Pakistan, or the use of blasphemy laws in Sudan, where two pastors are currently on trial, facing charges that carry the death sentence? Have we urged Sudan to drop the charges against 10 young female Christian students who face up to 40 lashes because of the clothes they were wearing? What of the Chinese Christian lawyers arrested this week as part of a major crackdown? Will Article 18 be on the agenda for discussion with China’s President when he visits the United Kingdom?

I am a trustee of the charity Aid to the Church in Need, and the noble Baroness the Minister kindly launched its report, Religious Freedom in the World 2014, which found that religious freedom had deteriorated in almost half the countries of the world, with sectarian violence at a six-year high, nowhere more so than in the Middle East, where last week Pope Francis said that Christians are subject to genocide. In a recorded

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message for that launch, His Royal Highness the Princes of Wales condemned “horrendous and heart-breaking” persecution, and spoke of his anguish at the plight of Christianity in the Middle East, in the region of its birth, describing events in Syria and Iraq as an “indescribable tragedy”.

In 1914, Christians made up a quarter of that region’s population. Now they are less than 5%. Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, during a meeting that I chaired here in the House, underlined their traumatic, degrading and inhuman treatment, pleading with the international community to provide protection. Two weeks ago the same plea was made by a remarkable Yazidi woman who gave evidence at a meeting organised by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. The Yazidi, a former Iraqi Member of Parliament, told us:

“The Yazidi people are going through mass murder. The objective is their annihilation. 3000 Yazidi girls are still in D’aesh hands, suffering rape and abuse. 500 young children have been captured, being trained as killing machines, to fight their own people. This is a genocide and the international community should say so”.

This view has been reinforced this week by reports on “Newsnight” and “Dispatches”. How will we answer that woman? Do we intend to use our voice in the Security Council on behalf of the Yazidis and Assyrian Christians? Do we intend to have the perpetrators brought to justice in the ICC? Are we collating and documenting every instance, from genocide and rape to the abduction of bishops and priests, to the burning of churches and mosques, to the beheading of Eritrean Christians and Egyptian Copts by ISIS in Libya? What are we doing to create safe havens where these minorities might be protected?

In 1933, Franz Werfel published a novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, based on a true story about the Armenian genocide. His books were burnt by the Nazis, no doubt to try to erase humanity’s memory, Hitler having famously asked, “Who now remembers the Armenians?”. The Armenian deportations and genocide claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian Christians. Werfel tells the story of several thousand Christians who took refuge on the mountain of Musa Dagh. The intervention of the French navy led to their dramatic rescue.

A hundred years later, the Yazidis besieged on Mount Sinjar were saved, but their lives are still in the balance. Last week the Belgians made it to Aleppo and brought 200 Yazdis and Christians to safety. For fragile communities facing a perilous future, such as these, could we not do the same? Are we re-examining our asylum rules to reflect the lethal threats faced by families and individuals fleeing their native homelands?

In the longer term, should not the international community have a more consistent approach to Article 18? We denounce some countries while appeasing others who directly enable jihad through financial support or the sale of arms. Western powers are seen as hypocrites when our business interests determine how offended we are by gross human rights abuses. Take Saudi Arabia as one example.

The challenge is vigorously to promote Article 18 through our interventions and our aid programmes, unceasingly countering a fundamentalism that promotes hatred of difference and persecutes those who hold

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different beliefs. For the future, the three Abrahamic religions and Governments need to recapture the idealism of Eleanor Roosevelt, who described the 1948 declaration as,

“the international Magna Carta for all mankind”.

She said that Article 18 freedoms were to be one of the four essential freedoms of mankind. Who can doubt that this essential freedom needs to be given far greater emphasis and priority in these troubled times? I beg to move.

4.35 pm

Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on obtaining this debate, on the eloquent way in which he introduced it and on the tremendous illustrations that he gave of how bad the situation is throughout the world. I do not have the qualifications to follow him, and certainly do not have the qualifications to be in front of many leaders in this debate, but here I am, and I shall try to make the best of it. I also wish to express my deep gratitude to Edward Scott of our Library for the excellent brief he prepared for this debate, which shows the position in great and excruciating detail. I am sure that anyone who has read it will feel tremendous sympathy and a loathing for what is happening to so many of our fellow humans throughout the world for the simple reason that they have adopted a faith or belief, including a non-faith—no belief at all, which is also protected—in the execution of their ordinary lives and have been tremendously badly dealt with on that account.

I declare my interest as a professing Christian for most of my life, and a practising Christian so far as I can. I am sorry to say that I have not reached the extent of perfection in that area which I would have liked. I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester is speaking in this debate, although I am very sorry that it will be a valedictory speech. He has given most distinguished service in this House and also in his diocese in an area where there is a great deal of difference and, I hope, also the dignity of difference in ethnic and other communities. I wish him well in his retirement.

Speaking from the government Dispatch Box when she was a Minister in the Home Office, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, expressed the view that her religion defined her personality. This shows that the restriction of a person’s faith or belief is as serious as any other restriction of personal freedom. The brief to which I have referred and the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, show that mistreatment for faith and belief throughout the world extends to much more than restriction of bodily movement. It goes to serious injury and death in the most terrible circumstances.

Yesterday we had outside the House a demonstration relating to prisoners of conscience. This is a most important aspect of the human personality—the internal monitor which tells us that what we are doing is wrong, even when no human eye can see us, and whether or not what we are doing is in according with the tenets of the faith, belief or non-belief we seek to follow.

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In preserving standards in society, listening to conscience is an extremely effective activity. More so even than an effective enforcement system, it can preserve society’s standards. It was valued in our nation during two world wars. Persons with a conscientious objection to military service were exempted from the universal obligation to enlist. It was also shown in relation to the Abortion Act.

Charities based on faith have done tremendous service in many nations throughout the world. It surely is the most terrible damage to a nation’s people that they are debarred from having these services simply on the ground of the faith of the organisation that is providing them. In our own country, we had the problem of the Catholic adoption agencies that were providing an excellent service but which were debarred from continuing to do so because they were not able to offer as full a service as some would have required.

I am sure that leading by example is one important way to contribute in trying to help with this tremendous problem. I am sure there are many other ways, which will be illustrated by the distinguished speakers to follow.

4.41 pm

Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords, it is a privilege to participate in this debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing it, as well as on the work that he and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, have done over many months and years on this issue.

As we know, Article 18 is under threat in over a quarter of the nations in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has given eloquent testimony to what is happening. I want, however, to focus on the domestic—on us. To change the world, first we have to change ourselves. When the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury took office, he said that one of his three principles was the concept of good disagreement. That is a very important concept for us.

As I remember from my childhood in Scotland, the society had been scarred by what the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, has referred to as sibling rivalry—bigoted, religious, sibling rivalry. In 1923, the Church and Nation Committee of the Church of Scotland asked for Irish immigrants to be repatriated. More specifically, it was Catholic Irish immigrants, like my forebears. So if good people had not got together and ensured that that crusade failed, I, for one, would probably not be here today. It was good people walking together. There is still a legacy in Scotland; we have to recognise that sectarianism has not departed. Our own experiences should teach us a lot.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, said in his book, which makes compelling reading, we need faith to strengthen, not to dampen, our shared humanity. He made it very clear, as we all know, that it will be soft power that wins this battle—if we can call it a battle. It will not be hard power. War is won by weapons, but dialogue wins the peace.

I am delighted to see not only the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, but also the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester who

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have contributed greatly to the dialogue. It is a dialogue with strangers. The biblio-patriarch Abraham has been referred to. Abraham’s test of worthiness, as we know, is the question, “Did you show kindness to strangers?”. Abraham ruled no empire, he commanded no army, he conquered no territory, but today he is revered by 2.5 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims, and 13 million Jews. The Abrahamic faiths and others need to walk much closer together.

That is very hard to envisage today, but we can look back at our short history to see that there have been successes. With Vatican II in the 1960s, Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical Nostra Aetate, transformed the relationship between Catholics and Jews, and 2,000 years of pain and sorrow were diluted as a result of that engagement. That prompts the question: can the world be changed? If the Christian and Jewish relationship can be changed, can the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Sikh and non-faith relationships be changed as well? Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Laudato Si’, is an encouraging example because he embraces all humankind. He makes a call in the very first paragraph of the encyclical for care for our common earthly home. He says:

“Nothing in this world is indifferent to us”.

For a very short time in the Labour Government I had the privilege of being Minister for Northern Ireland. I saw examples in the peace process in Northern Ireland, but I shall illustrate just two examples today. The first is Gordon Wilson, whose daughter was killed in the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb. He had to hold her hand while she was dying and she said that she loved him. Immediately after that, he came out and said:

“I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge … I will pray for these men tonight and every night”.

The other example that I remember was Father Alec Reid, the late Redemptorist priest from Clonard monastery in Belfast, who was a silent architect of the peace process because he allowed Gerry Adams, John Hume and others to come together to ensure that there was a dialogue and an understanding there. The photograph of Father Reid giving the last rites to soldier David Howes, when he and another colleague ran into a republican funeral, is one that will stay with us.

That is an example of the good of two individuals confronting the evils of terrorism. In a 20th-century world dominated by violence and mayhem in the name of religion, our task, perhaps akin to the task of the miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Bible, is to multiply that number, not 1 millionfold or 10 millionfold but 100 millionfold. Eighteenth-century author Jonathan Swift’s statement is maybe as relevant today, and something for us to remember:

“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another”.

As we go on our journey together, it is worth remembering that.

The Earl of Courtown (Con): My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the debate for a few moments, but I ask noble Lords to remember that it is time-limited to five minutes per speaker. Once the clock reaches five, your Lordships are out of time.

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Lord Thomas of Swynnerton (CB): My Lords, it may be appropriate—

Lord Avebury: My Lords—

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: It is the turn of the Cross Benches.

The Earl of Courtown: Order. There is a speakers list for this debate.

4.48 pm

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, I join in the congratulations that have been expressed to my noble friend Lord Alton for the powerful way in which he introduced this debate, and indeed for the consistent and wonderful way in which he always defends the rights of people’s religious freedom. On no occasion have I heard him speak more powerfully on the subject than he did today.

My old friend Dennis Wrigley, founder of the Maranatha community, asks if we care that entire Christian communities have been wiped out in the Middle East and what we are prepared to do about it. Those are questions that I hope the Minister will be able to answer.

However, the challenge is in fact much greater than that. Daesh makes no secret of its intention to expand its so-called caliphate from its base in Syria and Iraq so that it covers the rest of the Middle East and north Africa. Ultimately it aims to spread its interpretation of seventh-century Islamic governance and beliefs across the whole world, eliminating all other faiths by conversion or assassination, as it has already demonstrated by the massacres of Yazidis, Christians and Shia and the enslavement of the martyrs’ widows in the territory that it occupies.

William Young of the RAND Corporation observed:

“Al-Baghdadi’s messages have resonated with Sunnis in the region, North Africa, Europe and the United States primarily because he appears successful”.

I agree with his conclusion:

“The faster the Muslim world can be shown that ISIS is not invincible and does not have a divine mandate to rule the Islamic world, the quicker young Muslims and others will stop listening to its messaging”.

The coalition needs to ratchet up military operations against the Daesh and we should explore the willingness of our partners in the 60-state coalition to provide troops for a multinational ground force in Syria. We are providing 75 military instructors and headquarters staff as part of the US-led programme to support the “moderate Syrian opposition”. Can the Minister please identity the groups included in that phrase. They do not include, apparently, the heroic YPG which successfully repelled the Daesh assault on Kobane at the end of last year. Operations on that frontier would have the merit of not undermining the Assad Government’s capacity to hold the Daesh at bay.

The so-called caliphate sends out a powerful signal to extremist Sunni Muslims elsewhere that they can help towards the realisation of the universal Islamic state by destabilising existing kufr Governments through acts of indiscriminate terrorism such as the attack on British tourists in Tunisia. However, the main thrust of Daesh operations this year outside its own territory

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has been attacks against the soft target of Shia mosques in neighbouring Arab countries. In March there were simultaneous attacks on two mosques in Sanaa, capital of Yemen, killing 137 people and injuring 357. In May there were two attacks on Shia mosques in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, killing 29 and injuring more than 85; and on 2 June, a Shia mosque in Kuwait was attacked, killing at least 27 and injuring 227 others.

However, it goes wider than that. In Pakistan, terrorist groups swearing allegiance to the Daesh have been responsible for three major atrocities so far this year: the suicide bombing of an imambargah at Shikarpur in January, which killed 80 and injured 100; a suicide attack on a Shia mosque in Peshawar, capital of troubled Balochistan, in February, killing a least 22 and injuring 80 at Friday prayers; and a gun attack by killers on motorcycles on a bus carrying Ismailis in Karachi in May, killing at least 26 and injuring 13. Eliminating the Daesh, its metastases and its wicked ideology taught in Saudi-funded madrassahs throughout the world must be the main goal of all who believe in freedom of religion.

4.53 pm

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in the debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing it and for all the work he has undertaken in this area over many years. I associate myself very closely with what he said in his very eloquent opening speech and also with the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I also pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. He will be much missed by this House and I will miss him enormously for the wise advice he has given me on numerous occasions.

We have already heard many examples of the horrific situations around the world where people are persecuted for their religion or for their absence of religion. I witnessed such persecution in its rawest form many times during my visits in 2013 and 2014 to the 37 other provinces of the Anglican communion. Almost half of these provinces are living under persecution; they fear for their lives every day.

I will make two points in the short time available in this debate The first is that the relationship between law and religion is invariably a delicate one. The passionately lived religious life or passionately lived humanist life of many people around the world and in this country cannot be compartmentalised within our legal and political systems. It is not good enough to say that religion is free within the law. As was eloquently pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, religion defines us—it is the fundamental element of who and what we are. Thus, religious freedom and the freedom not to have a religion stands beneath the law, supporting it and creating the circumstances in which you can have effective law, as has been the case in this country since the sealing of Magna Carta 800 years ago, negotiated by my predecessor Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. In its first clause, it says that,

“the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired”—

sorry, I had better declare an interest there.

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Religion gave birth to the rule of law, particularly through Judaism. The question is therefore: how do we translate this undiminished right and unimpaired liberty into the contemporary situation, where, too often, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, culture, law and religion seem to have incommensurable values? The foundational freedom of religious freedom in the state prevents the state claiming the ultimate loyalty in every area, a loyalty to which it has no right—never has done and never will do—if we believe in the ultimate dignity of the human being.

My second point is that religious freedom is threatened on a global scale, as we have heard, but also in a very complex way. Attacks on religious freedom are often linked to economic circumstances, to sociology, to history and to many other factors. Practically, if we are to defend religious liberty, we have to draw in these other factors. For example, if we want to defend religious freedom around the world—and again I say, the freedom to have no religion—do not sell guns to people who oppress religious freedom; do not launder their money; restrict trade with them; confine the way in which we deal with them; and, above, all, speak frankly and openly, naming them for what they are.

Where a state claims the ultimate right to oppress religious freedom, it stops the last and the strongest barrier against tyranny. From the beginning of time—from the beginning of the Christian era, when the apostles said that they would obey God rather than the Sanhedrin, through the Reformation to the martyrs of communism, to Bonhoeffer and to Archbishop Tutu—up to our own day around the world, we have needed religious freedom as a global defence of freedom.

4.58 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on his uncanny knack of being successful in the ballot for debates.

I join the most reverend Primate in celebrating Magna Carta, which opens with,

“the English Church shall be free”,

meaning from state intervention, which at that time of course meant the king. Freedom of religion or belief, as set out in Article 18, is another deeply constitutional statement. As the UN special rapporteur illustrated in his comment to me, “There is lots of religion in Vietnam but not a lot of it is free”. The declaration is founded on individuals enjoying human rights when the state knows how to behave, knows its own limits and understands its role as protector of its citizens’ human rights from violation by third parties. In old communist states such as Vietnam, religion is controlled by the state, but another common backdrop to many Article 18 violations is an inappropriate connection between a religious institution or a faith or a stream of one faith, and the state. Often, that institution or faith has such preference that pluralism is suffocated, and, in the extreme, a religion becomes identified with nationality. Is Myanmar’s identity becoming synonymous with being Buddhist? The Rohinga Muslims are denied citizenship and an outcry by Buddhist extremists led the Government to capitulate and confiscate their only identity document.

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I am intrigued that Her Majesty’s Government can exhibit the FCO priority of freedom of religion and belief in our newly opened visa office in Rangoon. I expect my noble friend will have to write to me on this, but how is the United Kingdom able to offer UK visas, regardless of religion, when Rohinga Muslims have no documentation? Is it only wealthy Buddhist tourists or business men—not Muslims or Christians—who can come to the UK? The Rohingans were disenfranchised in this year’s election. It is also proposed that half a million refugees from the Central African Republic, 90% of whom are Muslim, be denied their voting rights. What representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the CAR’s interim Government? Will this not increase the risk of refugees who are languishing in Chad being recruited to IS, which is already recruiting from neighbouring Sudan?

The trajectory on this issue has spiralled. However, I highlight Vietnam, Myanmar and CAR because they are in, I believe, the doable category. In 2006 Vietnam was removed, with American pressure, from the list of countries of particular concern, but has now fallen back. The UN special rapporteur visited in 2014 and found serious Article 18 violations and,

“credible information that some individuals whom I wanted to meet with had been either under heavy surveillance, warned, intimidated, harassed or prevented from travelling by the police”.

The Human Rights Watch report, Persecuting Evil Way Religion, details state persecution of central highland Christians, many of whom have fled to Cambodia. Cambodia refuses to allow them to claim asylum and returns them, rather like China does to those who escape North Korea. Will the Minister please make representations to Cambodia to allow the UN to process refugees there, if it is unwilling to comply with its international obligations?

It might also be worth mentioning how discerning the UK customer can be and how sensitive brands like Marks & Spencer can be when they source from many manufacturers in Vietnam and Cambodia.

The digital revolution could create further Article 18 violations. According to a report in the Economist, by 2020 80% of adults will have a smartphone that is able to receive different religious messages that state or religious leaders will scarcely be able to control. Will many more people start switching faith, challenging existing political and religious power structures?

We should also keep a close eye on what is happening under the new Government of India. We do not want to add into this space a rise of Hindu militancy which is semi-connected to identity, and to see the persecution of a large number of Muslims and Christians.

Who knows what the future holds? Many Governments, parliamentarians, religious leaders and royalty have, however, grasped the Article 18 issue, and the Pope’s celebrity status at the UN General Assembly in September is incredibly timely. The missing players—consumers and businesses—need to enter the stage, and it looks as if Brazil, at the Olympics, will be introducing the Global Business & Interfaith Understanding Awards, which they hope to become part of the Games. However, if by 2020 violations have flat-lined, that will indeed be an achievement.

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5.03 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB): My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate, and for his sterling work in putting concern for human rights high on the agenda of this House.

Article 18 of the 1948 UN declaration is unambiguous in its guarantee of freedom of religion and belief. Yet we live in a world where those rights are all too frequently ignored. We have been recently remembering the horror of Srebrenica, where, 20 years ago, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up by Serb forces and ruthlessly murdered simply because they were Muslims. Last year Sikhs commemorated the 30th anniversary of the brutal murder of thousands of Sikhs in India, simply for being Sikhs. The Middle East has become a cauldron of religious intolerance and unbelievable barbarity. The number of Christians has dwindled alarmingly. We hear daily of thousands fleeing religious persecution in leaky, overcrowded boats, with little food or water.

Where have we gone wrong? In commerce or industry, if a clearly desirable idea or initiative fails again and again, it goes back to the drawing board. Today we need to ask ourselves: why is there widespread abuse of the right to freedom of belief? This important right, like all others embedded in the UN declaration, needs the total commitment of countries with political clout to make it a reality. Unfortunately, even permanent members of the Security Council frequently put trade and political alliances with countries with appalling human rights records above a commitment to human rights. There are many examples, but time permits me to mention only a couple relating to our own country.

During the visit of a Chinese trade delegation in June last year, a government Minister said that we should not allow human rights abuses to “get in the way” of trade. His statement, undermining the UN declaration, went virtually unchallenged. At about the same time, we had a Statement in your Lordships’ House that the Government were pressing for a UN-led inquiry into human rights abuse in Sri Lanka. Fine, but when I asked whether the Government would also support a similar inquiry into the mass killing of Sikhs in India—yes, I know it is a much bigger trading partner—I received a brusque reply that that was a matter for the Indian Government.

I have asked on five occasions the question why the UK Government regard the systematic killing of Sikhs in India as being of no concern to the United Kingdom, only to get the same dismissive non-response. I ask it again today, and hope that noble Lords and Britain’s 500,000 Sikhs will get the courtesy of a proper, considered reply. The great human rights activist, Andrei Sakharov, said that we must be even-handed in looking at human rights abuse. If our country—one of the most enlightened in the world—puts trade above human rights, it is easy to understand why other countries turn a blind eye to rights such as freedom of belief. It is a right so central in Sikhism that our ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, gave his life defending the right of Hindus—a different religion from his own—against forced conversion by the then Mughal rulers.

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We can list human rights abuse for ever and a day without making a jot of difference if we and other great powers continue to put trade and power bloc politics above human rights. We start each day in this House with Prayers to remind us to act in accord with Christ’s teachings. He, like Guru Nanak, reminded us never to put material gain before concern for our fellow beings. We need to act on such far-sighted advice.

I look forward to hearing my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, and wish him well in his retirement.

5.08 pm

The Lord Bishop of Leicester (Valedictory Speech): My Lords, I want to add my thanks to that of so many others to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this matter before us, not least as it provides me with an opportunity to make a final speech to your Lordships’ House on a matter of such overwhelming importance.

My retirement, I am delighted to say, will in some small way enhance religious freedom in this House by providing a seat for the first female Lord Spiritual in history to occupy this Bench in the autumn. It is especially good to be following the noble Lord, Lord Singh, whose contributions here testify to the commitment of this House to religious freedom in so many ways.

The spread of global religious revival in the 21st century is described by Mickelthwait and Wooldridge in their book God is Back. They argue that it is fuelled by market competition and a customer-driven approach to salvation. In the five years since its publication, they could not have imagined how those principles would mutate into the present appalling world crisis, so vividly described by so many speakers. The challenge to religious freedoms derives in part from treating faith as a consumer preference rather than the most profound definition of what it is to be human.

In my 16 years as Bishop of Leicester, we have learned much about the principles and practice of religious freedom and the way it shapes the deepest contours of the human psyche. As well as having local applications, that also has international implications. The first principle is that it is not enough simply to defend religious freedom; it has to be positively exercised in ways that encourage others to embrace it. It involves drawing on the spiritual resources of faith to unlock the best in others, to speak on behalf of the voiceless and to create community. When a young Nigerian Christian was murdered in Highfields in Leicester two years ago, there was an immediate retaliatory attack on an entirely innocent Muslim family, killed by a fire bomb on the same day. The tensions were palpable, but were eventually calmed by systematic, careful conversations and the public ritualising of grief and reconciliation on both sides.

Secondly, the principle that religious freedom is an inalienable right means that we interpret an attack on one faith as an attack on all peoples of faith. Treasuring the dignity of every human being includes treasuring the rights of others to their beliefs, especially when we disagree. That is why the Muslim leadership turned out in strength the other day at Leicester Cathedral to respect the victims of the Sousse massacre two weeks ago.

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Thirdly, freedom is not a passive state. It results from the dynamic process of actively learning how others live and what they believe, and of sustained and co-operative support for each other in shared enterprises. Here, too, local practice can inform international strategy. We need to learn the best habits of face-to-face conversations with those we disagree with, especially over the big challenges of the day—climate change, poverty, conversions, gender equality and so on.

It has been an immense privilege to play a small part in the life of this House over the last 12 years and to Convene the Bishops’ Bench for six of them. It has confirmed me in the belief that the presence of the Bishops here serves rather than impedes religious freedom in countless ways. It has been rewarded with friendships, kindnesses, courtesies and opportunities far beyond my expectations or desserts. I am deeply grateful for that and even more grateful for the responsibility to think and speak carefully about how a vision of the kingdom of Jesus Christ can still shape and inform public policy today. Your Lordships’ House deserves the attention, interest and prayers of all people. It will certainly have mine in the years ahead.

5.12 pm

Lord Carey of Clifton (CB): As the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, is not able to be in the House today, it falls to me to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for his remarkable contribution over many years to this House and to wish him every success in what he goes on to do.

I join other Peers in thanking my noble friend Lord Alton for introducing this debate. As with other important human issues, he is so often the conscience of this House, and we are in his debt once more.

The freedom to think, change one’s mind, change religion, become an atheist, become a believer, and belong to tolerant and open societies is among the blessings of being a human person. Thus enshrined as Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this great moral principle emerged from the last world war, in which millions of people were murdered because they were different. Now, 67 years later, this great article of freedom is under attack in many parts of the world.

Others have described very graphically the situation facing Christian believers and others in many different parts of the world. The recent report, Global Persecution, produced by the Maranatha community, and the report launched in November by the charity Aid to the Church in Need, Religious Freedom in the World, which my noble friend Lord Alton mentioned, describe the way minorities in the Middle East, especially Christians, are being targeted. Speaking about this in November, as my noble friend also mentioned, the Prince of Wales described Christians as being “grotesquely and barbarously assaulted” in the Middle East. Many of us are very grateful to the Prince of Wales for the stance that he has taken on religious freedom over the years. His courageous and forthright statements have won the admiration of many and he has set an example that I fervently wish our senior politicians had the boldness to emulate. But it is not just Christians that Article 18 seeks to protect. It sets forth the humanist

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vision of thought: freedom for the Yazidis in Iraq, for Shia Muslims in Sunni territories and for Sunnis in Shia lands, and the freedom to embrace atheism or agnosticism, should one wish to do so.

The fact that we have to face honestly is that so much of the trouble is in countries dominated by Islam; let us get to the heart of this. Yet, in the past, Islam has flourished as a beacon of civilisation and tolerance. Indeed, one of the finest texts in the Koran states:

“There is no compulsion in religion”.

The verse is often used in interfaith contexts to show the broadmindedness of Islam. But we have to recognise that the plain meaning of that text is questioned by many Muslim scholars today. In my view—dare I say it as a non-Muslim?—this verse contains all that is necessary for Muslims to start the journey towards free, tolerant and pluralist societies. However, the rhetoric is fine but the reality is very different. It grieves me to say that there are not many Muslim-majority countries in which the freedom set out in Article 18 exists. Of course, there are Muslim countries where other faiths are tolerated but, even in those more tolerant nations, Christians cannot share their faith openly and advertise it; and Muslims cannot, with any ease, choose another faith, should they so desire.

Intolerance seems to be spreading. There has recently been a spate of church and mosque burnings in Israel, which is very disappointing as Israel has every justification for claiming to be the only democratic nation in the Middle East. Among the buildings burnt was the famous Tabgha church, which commemorates the multiplication of loaves and fishes in the gospel story.

During my time as Archbishop of Canterbury, I challenged Muslim leaders worldwide to embrace the principle of reciprocity; it remains a dream and an ideal. Here in the United Kingdom there is no barrier to belief and no restriction on believers, as long as we all behave within the breadth of British law. The ideal of reciprocity demands that people of all nations should work together to ensure that freedom to change and grow is granted to all of us, men and women alike.

5.17 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids (Lab): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who often places a demand on this House to examine what, for believers, is God’s big idea. This debate asks us to examine an idea that was introduced by the creator, as Christians believe. The author Myles Munroe suggests that the idea is beyond the philosophical reserves of human history. The big idea appears to have germinated all religions to which humans adhere. Today we examine the big idea and ask: have we achieved it—a culture of equality, peace, unity and respect for human dignity? No, we have not.

Faith has always played a major role in the lives of individuals and institutions. It is the basis on which we build our lives and our perspective of the world. Faith is the belief that, even in the darkest of times, there is still hope to hold on to. But as our world has become

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more intolerant and more hateful, the candlelight that guides believers from all denominations is being forcibly snuffed out at an alarming rate.

The deprioritisation by the international community of upholding the right to freedom of religion set out in Article 18 has had a detrimental effect on all human rights of the persecuted. Not only are they forced to worship in secret but, if caught, they can be murdered, tortured, imprisoned, beaten and even expelled from public life, including from the right to vote. According to a report by Open Doors, 100 million Christians face persecution worldwide. That is 100 million people from just one faith, having all their rights stripped away. If we show solidarity and do more to protect the rights of marginalised religious groups across the globe, I am sure we shall see an increase in respect for human rights as a whole. Can man ever be truly free if he is not allowed to have his own thoughts? If a believer can stare down the barrel of a gun and state, “My belief shall not be shaken”, we must be brave enough to stand up and say to those oppressive governments, “It is time to protect your civilians, who committed no crime but to have faith”.

However, we must lead by example as faith has long been the bones behind the laws of our country. But now the laws of our country are breaking those bones. How can we champion human rights and freedom if we do not implement Article 18 to its full extent? There has been a worrying trend emerging in British politics, a trend that is moving to oppress the freedoms of religious minorities. We say we are a Christian nation, yet there is nothing Christian in the actions of the Government in recent weeks. Article 18 can be invoked when a Government or organisation enacts a policy that unfairly impacts on minority religious groups. The two-child tax credit limit will have a distinct impact on the rights of many Catholics who, as a choice of their conscience, do not use contraception. Giving them a choice between poverty or breaking their religious code is a distinct attack on freedom of belief and conscience.

Further limitations on religious freedom have come from the heart of Westminster in a package that is supposed to suppress terrorism and protect our western values. I hope this House agrees with me that you cannot protect democracy and freedom by taking away democracy and freedom, yet that appears to be the aim of the Prevent strategy and the passing of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

5.23 pm

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not only for initiating the debate but preying on my conscience and encouraging me to contribute. Sadly, history shows us that religious wars and conflicts are not new. However, in modern times there has been more of an acceptance that those of different faiths and none have to get on together and at least tolerate one’s fellow man, if not necessarily love him.

We have heard and will hear from other noble Lords of repression and lack of freedoms in the current unstable world situation. As a Jew, I feel strongly about the Holocaust, which touched my own

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family, who lost a grandmother and an aunt in Poland in the 1940s. So, I was very moved to hear reports of a rescue operation last week to seek, in a modest way, to take action against the barbaric treatment of Christian sects in the IS heartland of Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation. This appears to be an operation by the Barnabas Fund, an international relief agency for the persecuted church with the financial co-operation of certain Jewish organisations and philanthropists, to transfer Christian families to safe havens. I understand that this in an ongoing project to evacuate Christians from those lands where they have dwelt for 2,000 years. What these Christian communities are experiencing is not new to the Jewish communities throughout the Middle East and North Africa, whose persecution led to an exodus of some 850,000 Jews from Arab lands.

The clash of faiths causes these confrontations. It may seem a paradox but the country in the Middle East that is most welcoming to Christians, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, mentioned in passing, is Israel. Christianity is one of the recognized religions in Israel and is practised by more than 161,000 Israeli citizens—about 2.1% of the population. In Israel, there are approximately 300 Christians who have chosen to convert from Islam. Very sadly, such apostasy is not allowed in much of the rest of the Middle East. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave a graphic description of many of the injustices that take place and which I cover with the word “apostasy”. I will not repeat them as he did it so well.

Adversity, however, does reveal heroes. A few days ago, one of the heroes of the Holocaust died at the age of 106. I refer of course to Sir Nicolas Winton, who organised eight trains to take 669 children to London from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The British people made room for these refugees and I can only hope that in Britain and the rest of Europe we will rise to the challenge in the present times. We are so fortunate in the United Kingdom but the tolerance we have requires vigilance to ensure that it stays that way. When we see the intolerance of people’s religion and beliefs in many parts of the world, which has been referred to by other noble Lords, we must praise the courage and resilience of those affected; many would have given way to despair.

In the modern world, many now describe themselves as secular. But a very large number of people, as has been mentioned by other noble Lords, follow one of the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Although all three of these faiths share a common history and traditions, they too often emphasise their differences rather than their common beliefs. Christianity has, I believe, 2 billion adherents, Islam 1.3 billion, and Judaism, which comes slightly further behind, a mere 14 million. But there are splits within all these religions, be they Catholic-Orthodox, Catholic-Protestant, Shia- Sunni, or Orthodox-Reform. Whatever the differences, as the Motion before us says, we should as a nation uphold freedom of religion and belief and not enforce or impose our beliefs on others by the sword. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, whom I must compliment on his superb speech, talked about defending religious freedom. That is what this is about. But it is also about allowing one to give up

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one’s faith, to change one’s faith, or to have no faith; it is a defence of freedom, of which religion is a part. I will end with the words of Nelson Mandela:

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison”.

5.28 pm

Baroness O’Loan (CB): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for enabling this important debate. Freedom of religion or belief is not only a fundamental human right in itself: as Pope John Paul II said, it is a,

“litmus test for the respect of all other human rights”.

Wherever Article 18 is compromised, other violations almost inevitably follow.

I endorse the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, in relation to the UK’s modelling of support for freedom of religion and conscience and particularly, as a Catholic, his words in relation to the Catholic adoption agencies. Freedom of religion and conscience is very important in this country still. We have Christian medical practitioners who face massive challenges of conscience simply in doing their jobs. They may even have to leave their jobs in order to comply with their conscience. We need as a country to think again about how we enable and reflect support for freedom of religion and conscience.

As we have heard today, millions in the world are deprived of this most basic freedom and face torture, imprisonment, harassment and even death because of their beliefs. But we can make a difference. Despite the current controversy about the outworking of the European Convention on Human Rights, the UK has a proud history of protecting human rights across the world. We have worked closely with the churches—often the last remaining network of communication in conflicted societies.

In recent years the UK has led the world in historic initiatives to tackle some of the most challenging issues, including modern slavery and sexual violence in warfare. With the same level of commitment, cross-party support and co-operation with our partners in the international community, there is an opportunity to make the principles of Article 18 a reality for so many more people. The UN has stated that,

“no manifestation of religion or belief may amount to propaganda for war or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.

It is extremely encouraging that the Government have made a manifesto commitment to stand up for freedom of religion and I look forward to hearing more detail from the Minister about how this will be put into practice. In particular, will promoting freedom of religion or belief be included as a specific priority in the FCO business plan? Will extra resources be provided to assist our diplomatic missions, particularly those covering the most difficult parts of the world, in achieving this?

Some of the most appalling abuses are taking place in Iraq and Syria, where ISIL continues to slaughter and enslave adherents of minority religions. I will touch briefly upon Iraq’s Kurdish region, where almost 2 million people have found sanctuary so far. It is a

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testament to the Kurdish Regional Government that although their population has already grown by a staggering 28% as a result of the refugee influx, they continue to keep their doors open and provide security for people fleeing Mosul or the Nineveh Plains. Many of these refugees are Christians or Yazidis who have seen their family members killed, their businesses seized and their places of worship destroyed. Alongside the local authorities, Christian communities are providing shelter, food, et cetera, to the refugees. The Catholic Church in Irbil alone is accommodating more than 125,000 people, including many Yazidi families. Will the Minister outline what support we are providing to help the Kurdish Regional Government and churches in the region?

Reference has already been made to the thousands of Rohingya Muslims who are making treacherous and often fatal journeys across the Andaman Sea, trying to escape escalating persecution at the hands of Burma’s authorities. Hate speech and xenophobic attacks are allowed to continue unchallenged. The Rohingya have been denied citizenship, cajoled into camps and prevented from accessing humanitarian assistance. The Burmese Government have also passed a package of laws targeting religious minorities which may prevent people converting, marrying or even starting a family. These laws have been condemned by Burma’s first Catholic cardinal, Charles Bo. In a response to me in this Chamber recently, the Minister agreed with that condemnation. Will she update us on the UK’s response to the Burmese package of laws? I would also be grateful for an outline of any recent discussions with other states about the rescue and accommodation of Rohingya refugees.

In Iran, under the principle of the absolute rule of the clergy—velayat-e faqih—during this Ramadan at least 900 people were arrested and many were flogged for not fasting. There is no freedom not to be religious. Many of the sentences against the youth were carried out in public. I would be most grateful if the Minister could confirm the representations that have been made in respect of this. I am encouraged by the Government’s commitment and welcome the opportunity to discuss how the UK will play its part.

5.33 pm

Lord Sheikh (Con): My Lords, I speak today as a Muslim. I also speak as somebody who cherishes the role that all faiths and communities play. I undertake a lot of work with other religious groups. I am a patron of several Muslim and non-Muslim organisations that promote religious harmony.

Our respective religions teach us valuable lessons in morality, help us interpret the world around us and give us guidance when we are in need. For many people, their religion is very precious to them. I agree wholeheartedly with the Motion: a greater priority should be given by the United Kingdom and the international community to upholding freedom of religion and belief.

It is right that everybody in the world should be entitled to this freedom. However, it is being violated by some misguided people. This debate is very topical because of events taking place across the Middle East

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and north Africa. My glorious religion of Islam is being hijacked by a tiny minority who have misrepresented it and wholly, totally wrongly portrayed the true message of Islam. I emphasise that Islam is indeed a religion of peace.

What is happening in these countries is strongly against the principles of Islam. What Daesh is doing and saying in Syria, Iraq and other places is totally wrong and un-Islamic. I remind them that it is written in the Holy Koran that there should be no compulsion in religion and that no one should be forced to become a Muslim. The Holy Koran celebrates different beliefs as a means of connecting with people. It is written in the Holy Koran:

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another”.

My religion teaches us to know and be friendly to people of other faiths. Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions and, according to Islam, the People of the Book are the Jews and Christians. The books of Allah are the Holy Koran, the Torah, the Gospel of Jesus and the Psalms of David. There has been a case in London where a Somali Muslim mosque was damaged and the Jewish community allowed them to pray in the synagogue. We appreciate this very much.

Two of the most successful emperors of India were Akbar the Great, who was a Muslim, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who was a Sikh. They both allowed all religious groups to live in harmony in their empires. I hold great personal admiration for Maharaja Ranjit Singh. I have written a book about him that will be published shortly. There are more similarities than differences between people, and we should highlight the similarities in order to establish closer links between communities. It should also be noted that allowing freedom of religion often brings stability and prosperity to a country. As a businessman, I have found it to be beneficial for economic and social development, as well as for the religious communities themselves.

We must use this debate to commend and celebrate what is happening in the United Kingdom. Although the Church of England is the official church, people of all religions are allowed to practise their respective faiths. We are a tolerant and respectful people. This country should be viewed as a model for others to follow. We cannot overstate the importance attached to upholding Article 18, yet so many abuses and violations of it continue to take place. We must lead the world in ensuring that people feel free to practise their religion, both in private and in public. May God help us to achieve this.

5.38 pm

Lord Sacks (CB): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for enabling us again to address this vital issue of religious freedom, and I salute the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for chairing the APPG on International Religious Freedom or Belief. I salute the courage of both of them in confronting perhaps the single greatest humanitarian issue of our time. I add my thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for his warm, wise and inspiring contributions to public life, and wish him blessings in the years ahead.

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Three things have happened to change the religious landscape of the world. First, the secular nationalist regimes that appeared in many parts of the world in the 20th century have given rise to powerful religious counter-revolutions. Secondly, these counter-revolutions are led by religion in its most extreme, adversarial and anti-Western form. Thirdly, the revolution in information technology has allowed these groups to form, organise and communicate to actual and potential followers throughout the world with astonishing speed. The internet is to radical political religions what printing was to Martin Luther. It allows them to circumvent and outflank all existing structures of power. The result has been the politicisation of religion and the religionising of politics, which, throughout history, has been a deadly combination. In the long run, it will threaten us all, because in a global age no country or culture is an island.

We must do, minimally, three things. First, given that religious freedom is enshrined as Article 18 in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there should be, under the auspices of the United Nations, a global gathering of religious leaders and thinkers to formulate an agreed set of principles that are sustainable theologically within their respective faiths and on which member nations can be called to account. Otherwise, Article 18 will continue to be a utopian ideal.

Secondly, we must do the theological work. That is fundamental. After the wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries, a group of thinkers, among them John Milton, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Benedict Spinoza, sat down, reread the Bible and formulated some of the most important ideas ever formulated about state and society: the social contract, the moral limits of power, the liberty of conscience, the doctrine of toleration and the very concept of human rights. These were religious ideals based on the Bible, which is what John F Kennedy meant when he said in his inaugural address that,

“the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God”.

We have not yet done the theological work for a global society in the information age, and not all religions in the world are yet fully part of that conversation. But if we neglect the theology, all else will fail.

Thirdly, we must stand together—the people of all faiths and of none—for we are all at risk. Christians are being persecuted throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. Jews are facing a new and resurgent anti-Semitism. Muslims who stand on the wrong side of the Sunni-Shia divide are being killed in great numbers. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’i and others face persecution in some parts of the world. There must be some set of principles that we can appeal to, and be held accountable to, if our common humanity is to survive our religious differences. Religious freedom is about our common humanity, and we must fight for it if we are not to lose it. This, I believe, is the issue of our time.

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5.43 pm

Lord Harrison (Lab): My Lords, I speak in today’s debate as a loyal member of God’s Opposition. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for highlighting both the freedom of religion and the freedom of belief in the titles of this Article 18 debate and of the all-party group over which the noble Baroness so impressively presides. I also thank Christian Solidarity Worldwide, not only for providing me with excellent material concerning the persecution of atheists and secularists in Egypt and Indonesia but for its pastoral prison visit to Alex Aan, jailed in Jakarta as an atheist.

We atheists must show solidarity with our religious colleagues over religious persecution, especially at a time when atheists and secularists are increasingly joining the growing list of people persecuted worldwide for the beliefs they uphold, whether religious or otherwise. The horror of machete-wielding Islamists slaying humanist bloggers in Bangladesh recently was admirably highlighted by the brave Bonya Ahmed in her recent address to the British Humanist Association at the annual Voltaire lecture.

In the United Kingdom, many will be heartened by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent observation that religious freedom demands space to be challenged and defended, without responding destructively. This echoed Rowan Williams’s reservation in 2013 that sometimes UK and US Christians exaggerate mild discomfort over social issues such as pro-gay legislation while failing to emphasise systematic brutality and often murderous hostility practised by religious fanatics abroad.

I asked the Minister why humanists and atheists in Britain are still thoughtlessly excluded from contributing to Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”. Why does the DCMS stolidly exclude the Defence Humanists, formerly the UK Armed Forces Humanist Association, from the annual Cenotaph commemoration? Do dead non-believers, fallen in war defending our cherished values, not deserve a silent vigil in the public square? And why are we conducting this debate in the House of Lords, which still reserves a privileged place for the state religion?

I encourage colleagues not to take the opportunity of the occasional ad hominem criticism of distinguished atheists such as Richard Dawkins. I ask the Minister to reply to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the FCO and whether we are promoting business and trade, which I thoroughly encourage. However, we should use some of our resources to ensure that we promote Article 18 in all its aspects. Can she also update us on what is happening with the blasphemy laws in Malta, and in Iceland, although it is not part of the European Union?

Finally, will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that the hopes and aspirations of non-believers like me are not suppressed by careless oversight when we take our rightful place in the public square?

5.48 pm

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (Ind UU): My Lords, I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton for his tenacity in pursuing this issue. No one whom I have known during my 32 years in Parliament has

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been so consistent in his adherence to and struggle for the proper implementation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I intend to use the very short time available to me to consider whether we in the United Kingdom lead by example in respect of our own practice of Article 18 or whether we are a society where leadership is generally content to pay mere lip service. Often it appears to me that we are regularly subjected to the excitement of individualistic excesses that elevate individual selfishness above and beyond the traditional and tried practices and discipline with which I grew up.

Of course society evolves, but why does that mean that some, like the Reverend Richard Page JP, a faithful, public-spirited magistrate in Kent for 15 years and a long-respected member of the Family Court, should be officially and publicly pilloried because, as a practising Christian, he expressed to colleagues, in private, how he was able to reconcile his public duties with his Christian faith? Is there any justice in the fact that the Lord Chancellor in the previous coalition Government should seek to justify having suspended Richard Page by having imposed remedial training in a manner that is little different from the brain-washing and conditioning so beloved of totalitarian states?

Do not tell me that the environment is different. It is not about the difference between chairs and chains; it is about the impact on society. Richard Page’s persecution by Lord Chancellor Grayling began on 2 July 2014 and continues into the second year. In the interim, he is denied even the right to express his opinion to the press. So what was Richard Page’s offence that has nullified the last days of an exemplary working life? He had stated that his lawful and considered judgment that it is better for children to be adopted by both a father and a mother derived from his faith. When a same-sex male couple from Belfast sought precedence over a normal foster couple, he made a decision. Well done Richard Page—and I say that as a father and grandfather.

Where will this case lead? Back in 2010, ex-Lord Chancellor Grayling had been on the other side of the fence when he had supported the rights of owners of bed and breakfast establishments to refuse accommodation to gay couples. Perhaps I should quote the ex-Lord Chancellor at that time, but I shall not. I shall simply ask: what could possibly have induced him to change? Is the future of children less relevant than who may soil the bed linen? Where does this presumptuous and intellectually questionable logic take us in respect of the sixth and eighth commandments? Sorry, I must not mention such things as the sixth and eighth commandments. It is a good job I cannot be suspended—although some may seek to explore the possibility.

I was, of course, alluding to how we must implement our laws on theft and murder. If some intellectual snob decides to undermine them, I take it that the rest of us may be denied any right to mention our Christian or social heritage. I just do not have time to elaborate on other current matters of conscience, such as where Christian bakers are now, apparently, bound by law to promote and advocate matters that offend

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their Christian faith. Is that what equality is? Of course, I am protected here—unlike those street preachers in our society who the police are so easily persuaded have given offence.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us about the implementation and continuation of Article 18 within our society.

5.53 pm

Lord Scott of Foscote (CB): My Lords, I am very grateful, as are noble Lords who have expressed their feelings to me, to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for arranging this debate. I have heard nothing in the course of it with which I have found any possible point of disagreement. I do not want to repeat everything everybody else has said far more lucidly and fluently than I can. I just want to add a few family details that give me a perspective that may be a little different.

Both of my grandfathers were Church of England clergyman. I was brought up as an Anglican and I was sent, as was my sister, to an Anglican school. This was in South Africa. We both came over to England, where all my relations were Anglicans. Accordingly, when in Chicago in 1959 I met, fell in love with and married a Panamanian Latin American Catholic, I wondered what her reception by the rest of the family would be. It was absolutely perfect. They loved her and had the same feelings towards her as I had become accustomed to them having towards me.

The reason I mention this is that that was in a way a mixed marriage, because Anglicans marrying Catholics was not that usual in South Africa. I do not know if it was usual in England, as I was not in England then. The two of us were blessed with four children—two boys and two girls—each of whom was christened and brought up as a Catholic. When I married my wife, I had to sign a chit to say that I agreed to all my children being brought up as Catholics. I was perfectly happy with that. The four children we had are themselves all married and had children, so I have 12 grandchildren.

Two of my children converted and became Muslims. Of my 12 grandchildren, seven of them are Muslims—I was going to say “little Muslims”, but they are not so little, because the oldest is 21 or 22. Of the 12 grandchildren, seven are Muslims, three are Catholic and two are not really anything. Their relationship with one another is as close—as familial—as it could possibly be. They all know that there are differences between them and that they are of different religions, and it does not matter a jot. I can see no conceivable reason why it should. The ones who have no religion at all are always quite curious about what the others believe. The ones who have a religion, have two different religions—Christianity and Islam—which are both monotheistic religions. I do not know whether this is how they would put it, but as far as I am concerned, if there is a God, which I certainly hope there is, they are all worshipping the same God, albeit in slightly different ways.

I simply cannot believe that the divine being—assuming there is one—really minds a jot in what manner the worship takes place, provided that it is sincere and truly meant. Accordingly, having Muslims and Christians

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in one family has been no problem at all. They stay with one another; they stay with their aunts and uncles of different religions; the Muslims come and stay with their Christian aunts and uncles and vice versa.

I have been saddened by listening to the remarks made by a number of your Lordships. I am sure that they all relate accurately the horrors and sadnesses that have happened, but nothing of my own experience of a family with mixed Muslims and Christians bears any resemblance to that. Nor do I see any reason why it should with anyone else. As I have said, the fact that there are different religions should not matter, and I believe does not matter. That is the only addition I wanted to make to what has already been said, with which I fully agree.

5.58 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord Alton, initiated a more general debate a year ago, the situation has surely become worse in terms of compliance with the universal declaration. I am appalled by the hypocrisy of so many countries ready to sign up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and yet ready to deny their citizens those same rights. Of course, one worrying development since the 1948 universal declaration is the development of non-state actors such as Boko Haram, ISIS or failed states such as the Central African Republic where the Government do not exist or are incapable of preventing violations. But the 1948 principles are universal and attempts to circumvent them by devices such as blasphemy laws should fail. There are no exemptions. We should support all persecuted minorities. I note that of the 49 countries of a Muslim culture, 17 tolerate no other religion. What should we do—what can we do—about these violations?

I shall avoid a Cook’s tour of all the defaulting countries, but I shall draw attention to some key themes. First, we are fortunate to have so much material available from official, semi-official and unofficial sources. We in this country are blessed to have so many non-governmental organisations in the field, many of them based here, such as CSW, Open Doors, Maranatha, Barnabas and Aid to the Church in Need. As a general point, although our focus today is on Article 18, those countries that respect religious minorities are also those with the best human rights records across the board.

Secondly, there are many temptations for Governments and diplomats in the field. The professional deformation of diplomats is the wish to be loved and not to offend, so often, human rights are marginalised or given a lower status in the hierarchy. Governments may claim that they use a big stick but they do so only in private, although I accept that in certain cases, such as China, private representations may be the most effective means to help individuals. The other temptation is to be strong on the weak but weak on the strong. For example, of the nine countries designated by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, three, including Saudi Arabia, are,

“for reasons of important national interest”,

given an indefinite waiver, which clearly undermines the impact of that.

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Thirdly, we in the UK are fortunate because of our membership of so many international organisations. The question surely is: what use do we make of that membership? What value do we add in terms of violations of religious and human rights? What initiatives, for example, have we made in the UN, where we are now a member of the UN Human Rights Council? In the EU, do we believe that the External Action Service is adequately staffed? Are there human rights experts in the Cabinet of the high representative? Do we support conditionality in aid and development policies? The Commonwealth, as we know, has made grand declarations such as the Harare declaration and the Commonwealth Charter, yet 10 Commonwealth countries appear in the Open Doors watch list, including Malaysia, where recently life has become much harder for Christians.

Broadly, we in the UK give a relatively good example of human rights at home. However, mention has already been made of the disastrous policy in respect of the Catholic adoption agencies and the suffering of young people as a result. By passing to other agencies, this could quite easily have been avoided.

The FCO’s human rights report has improved over the years. Consultation with NGOs has become more formalised but we need to look carefully at models in other countries and see whether we can improve our position, because we have not reached perfection. I do not have time to look at all the examples, such as the example of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom or what the State Department does in its annual report on international religious freedom to encourage improvements and to give help to immigration officials.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): Could the noble Lord conclude his remarks?

Lord Anderson of Swansea: We should not be afraid to learn from others. I commend the work of the Minister, but we must rely not on individuals but on improving our institutions as well.

6.04 pm

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB): My Lords, it is unsurprising that the bulk of today’s debate should have focused on the many ghastly violations of Article 18 that, alas, continue to disfigure so many parts of the world. However, with some small encouragement from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, whose introduction to this debate was, as ever, compelling, I intend instead to focus on a much narrower question that sometimes arises: when the right to manifest—not to hold, but to manifest—one’s religion or belief must surrender to the rights and interests of others. It is a question that has exercised the courts of this country and elsewhere on a number of occasions.

Article 18 of the universal declaration appears on the face of it to confer two unqualified rights: the right to freedom of religion or belief, and the right to manifest that religion or belief. But that is not quite so. It is widely recognised not to be so in international law, including, most relevantly for our purposes, in Article 9 of the European Convention, which, of course, is the equivalent provision and is now incorporated under domestic law here. Article 9.1 of the convention is in effectively identical terms to Article 18 of the

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universal declaration, but Article 9.2 makes it plain that the manifestation of one’s religion or belief is a qualified, not an absolute, right. It provides for limitations to the right,

“in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

It is generally the protection of the rights and freedoms of others and, above all, the increasing recognition of the rights of others, in particular gays and lesbians, not to be discriminated against that has led to much of the litigation under this provision.

Take the Supreme Court case of Bull and Bull—touched on recently, if perhaps a little tendentiously, by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis—which held that Christian hotelkeepers, however strongly held their belief that homosexual practices are sinful, could not on that ground alone refuse to let a double-bed room to a homosexual couple. The court pointed out that Strasbourg requires very weighty reasons to justify discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Another case mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, was the Northern Irish one, just two months back, which held that a bakery had unlawfully discriminated against a gay supporter of same-sex marriage for whom they had initially agreed, but later refused, to bake a cake iced with a logo including the slogan, “Support gay marriage”.

There was also Strasbourg’s decision two years ago, in a group of United Kingdom cases concerning religion in the workplace, to dismiss three of the four applications, including those of Lillian Ladele, a civil registrar for Islington, who was disciplined for violating the borough’s “dignity for all” policy by refusing to register partnerships because of her belief that homosexuality is sinful; and Gary McFarlane, a sex therapist dismissed by Relate, a counselling charity, for refusing, on the same grounds, to provide sex therapy for same-sex couples. Similarly, under Article 9.2, in 2005, in the Williamson case, the appeal committee in this House rejected the claimants’ asserted right as teachers and parents at a school established specifically to provide Christian education based on biblical observance to use corporal punishment despite contrary legislation. Indeed, the next year in the Denbigh High School case we rejected a Muslim schoolgirl’s claim to have been wrongly excluded from the school unless she wore the school uniform instead of the jilbab she insisted on wearing. Many of your Lordships will recall too the recent Crown Court ruling that a woman must remove her Muslim veil, charged as she was with victim intimidation, so that the jury could properly observe her facial expression.

These are just some of the many cases which show that, absolute though one’s right to freedom of religion and belief is, in deciding whether to exercise it there are other important interests and considerations in play. Believe whatever you wish, but in your behaviour think of others too. Surely that is a sound precept.

6.09 pm

Lord Alderdice (LD): My Lords, we have all been done a great service by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of

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Liverpool, in obtaining this debate and giving us the opportunity not just to speak but to listen and think about these matters.

I, too, start by declaring interests. One is the research work that I do at Oxford University and the other is that of being, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a practising Christian—practising for many years but seemingly no nearer to expertise, but that is the way of these things.

I want not to go back over the many things that have been said by other noble Lords but to refer to some of my own experience in these matters. Very understandably, noble Lords have outlined the horrible evidences of religious intolerance and radical political belief which have led to horrible violence and which continue, seemingly ever worsening, all around the world. It is understandable that we focus on that because it raises our emotions of fear, anguish, hurt and sometimes even hate, but of course what we are speaking about there is the right to life, not just the right to a belief or a religious faith. In a way, we are both very privileged and a little disadvantaged by working in this place, where there is an enormous amount of tolerance. People are prepared to listen to each other and to accept great differences of belief of different kinds.

In passing, I say that we are foolish if we think that there is religious belief and unbelief. The truth is that people who do not have religious beliefs have beliefs of their own. Perhaps there has tended to be the notion that we can resolve a lot of these matters if we simply put religious beliefs into a private box and have a society where some other kind of belief—whatever it is—runs the show or has a prevailing effect. However, the truth is that religious faith, like any other kind of belief, impacts entirely on your way of being in the world and on your community and its way of being in the world. Thinking that somehow or other it is possible to say, “Well, that doesn’t really matter”, says something about your kind of belief; it does not say anything about whether you are a believer of some description. You cannot not believe: you have a set of views, and it is very important for us to understand that.

I come to this with my own background in a particular part of the United Kingdom. Sometimes people would like to forget that it is part of the United Kingdom because of some of the symptoms of behaviour there, particularly in relation to matters such as this, but I am afraid that it is. Maybe it reminds the rest of the United Kingdom of its history and background. Many of the things that are still troublesome in Northern Ireland were troublesome in the rest of the United Kingdom not so very long ago. Noble Lords would not expect me, from these Benches, to speak out particularly strongly in favour of the presence of an established church, although I have to say that in these last decades the Church of England has had a markedly positive effect, both in this Chamber and elsewhere. I particularly want to acknowledge the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester over many years. When I was Convenor of these Benches, I very much appreciated his work as Convenor of those Benches. I also want to mention the work of the most reverend Primate, who has taken a very strong line on these issues.

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I got to know the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his role as Liberal spokesman on Northern Ireland. Back then, we had to face up to the fact that people had sets of beliefs which led to very intolerant behaviour and attitudes to each other. If I had gone to university in this part of the United Kingdom in the latter part of the 19th century, before the Liberal changes to universities legislation, I, as a dissenter, would not have been able to take a degree at Oxford or Cambridge.

Therefore, on the question of how we deal with these matters, we have progressed in certain ways but I fear that we have not progressed as much as we would like to believe we have, because there is a certain liberal intolerance towards people with various kinds of religious belief. That is clear—it has been mentioned—and it is absolutely true. I have seen it among a number of colleagues in various places. The view is, “It really would be much better if people just piped down about those kinds of things because they can be put in a private box”. However, they cannot. It may be inconvenient and difficult but the fact is that these are matters that drive people and are of profound importance to them. We have to struggle with these questions. As we try to struggle with them, what kinds of things can we take into account?

We must understand that, when it comes to tolerance in these matters, we face a very difficult challenge. The challenge is to differentiate between matters that we usually consider all together. The question of fundamentalism transcends all kinds of beliefs, religious and otherwise. I would find it much easier to reach agreement with people of different religious views, and people whose views are not religious, who had a liberal perspective on these matters. I would find myself much more different from Christians, or others of any description, who took a fundamentalist approach to these things—including those who are fundamentalist atheists. This notion of the way in which we hold our beliefs is extremely important. The noble Lord, Lord Sacks, picked up an extremely important part of this, which is that secular authoritarianism has led, as a reaction, to religious fundamentalism. We must acknowledge and understand that, and that has not been easy to deal with. An example is Turkey, where it was easy to support a secular regime and then be astonished at the reaction.

Secondly, we must differentiate between fundamentalism and radicalisation and the use of violence and terror. These are not the same thing. The vast majority of fundamentalists may well be intolerant of the religious beliefs of others—fundamentalism and conservatism are very different things—but that does not necessarily mean that they support violence. Indeed, many of those who support violence, including people in Daesh, do not come to it from a religious perspective at all. When His Holiness the Pope came to Ireland and said on bended knee to Catholic nationalist republicans, “Stop the violence”, they took no notice of him. They did not pay attention because the actual driver was something quite different. In a long conversation with a leading figure in al-Qaeda many years ago, I was talking about religious tolerance and he said, “Wait a minute. My issue is not about religion. It is about political identity and political problems”.

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So, as we try to explore these questions, we must hold back our emotions—because they are very strong—and think more deeply about these issues across the religious differences and across the differences between those who have religious faith and those whose set of beliefs is different. Therefore, to me, the most important question to the Minister is this: can the Foreign Office, DCLG and other departments of government give more attention and resource to thinking and research on these matters? That would deepen our understanding, so that when we respond—in all the difficult circumstances inside and outside our country—we may to do so with a depth of understanding that helps us to add to and make a difference to wider thinking about these matters, rather than simply reacting from our very understandable feelings.

6.18 pm

Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, the ability of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to secure debates in this House has long been one of the wonders of the world. It may well have something to do with the important and fascinating subjects he selects for his debates. The debate on Article 18 has almost become an annual event, and so it should be. However, I wonder whether, without the noble Lord’s energy and commitment, it would have been. Congratulations are due to him, and to all the other very distinguished Peers who have spoken so well and movingly.

In some ways I find myself in a position where I do not have much that is original to add. We have heard marvellous speeches that have made the important points that must be made, and made again, until the world takes notice. In this debate we have heard horrific examples of appalling intolerance and discrimination from all over our planet and affecting all religions. On behalf of the Opposition I will try to say something useful and pose some questions for the Minister, who is, if I may say so, exactly the right Minister to be answering this debate.

Before I do, I hope that the House will indulge me for a moment or two—perhaps rather longer than would normally be the case—if I say something about the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, or Bishop Tim as he is universally known in Leicester and Leicestershire. I am proud to call myself a friend as well as a colleague. I live in the diocese he has led for the last 16 years, and I only wish that more noble Lords present today had been present at the service held last Saturday at Leicester Cathedral to celebrate his tenure. There was hardly a dry eye in the house. The respect and affection in which he is held by all—rich and poor, black and white, old and young—was shown not just by the packed cathedral, with people following the service from outside, but by the extraordinary feeling that a unique and very special person who had influenced Leicester so much, with all its diversity, was actually leaving.

The right reverend Prelate will be hugely missed in the city and in the county, just as he will be in this House. Above all, he seems to me as good an example as I have ever known of the priest in the public space—a phrase I do not like. In other words, he speaks to his community about issues that actually affect their daily lives. His passion for social justice, I

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know, has been heightened by his experience in Leicester. Frankly, I do not think that this House or our country can afford to lose him. On a slightly lighter note, how can one not admire a bishop who chooses for his desert island discs a song by the boy band, One Direction, and whose chosen luxury item was an infinite supply of golf balls?

Let us get back to this debate, not least the contribution of the right reverend Prelate himself. It has centred on the increasing violations of Article 18, as it affects Christianity and, equally importantly, all other religions and beliefs. The Human Rights and Democracy Report 2014,produced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is a deeply depressing document but it forces us to face up to the reality that in our world today there are shocking examples, both collective and individual, of how religion is used—or perhaps, more properly, abused—to discriminate and act against others.

One of the worst consequences of any general election is that Parliament loses outstanding men and women who either retire or are unsuccessful in the election itself. These people, who come from all parties, of course, are often experts in particular policy areas, and their knowledge and experience is very much missed. One such, I would argue, is the former shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander who enjoyed a deserved reputation as an expert in the field that we are debating today. Some noble Lords will remember his article in the Telegraph at Christmas 2014, when he said:

“Faith leaders beyond the Christian community have been forceful in their campaigns on anti-Christian persecution, including former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who described it as ‘one of the crimes against humanity of our time’ and stated he was ‘appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked’. Just like anti-Semitism or Islamaphobia, anti-Christian persecution must be named for the evil that it is, and challenged systematically by people of faith and of no faith. Government should be doing much more to try and harness the concern, expertise and understanding of faith leaders from across the UK and beyond”.

He went on to say:

“A multi-faith advisory council on religious freedom should be established within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office”

In the same article, Mr Alexander suggested that the role of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, as Minister of Faith in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which was then removed to the Department for Communities and Local Government, should be returned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He hoped that Her Majesty’s Government would follow the lead of the United States and Canada in appointing an international ambassador for tackling religious persecution—in other words, a global envoy for religious freedom reporting directly to the Foreign Secretary of the day. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, that was in my party’s manifesto in the election in May. Have the Government any plans to appoint such an ambassador or envoy and, if not, what reason can there be for not doing so? I also want to ask about the Minister of Faith role and the setting up of a multi-faith advisory committee.

No one doubts Her Majesty’s Government’s good faith in this debate, least of all that of the Minister, who represents her department so well, both in this

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House and outside it. No one is suggesting that there are any easy answers to the problem of the increased violation of Article 18. However, I suggest to the House that the steps Mr Alexander put forward might well be useful in showing the world that Britain is even more determined to fight religious intolerance wherever and whenever we see it. For far too long Article 18 has been justifiably called an orphaned right. It is well past time that this description no longer applied and that Article 18, at long last, becomes more of a reality.

6.26 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, freedom of religion or belief and the right to hold no belief is a key human right. It is under attack in almost every corner of the globe. We see Muslims sentenced to death for blasphemy; Christians burned in brick ovens or forced to give birth in chains; Yazidis trapped on mountains, their women abused as sex slaves; innocents attacked in their churches, synagogues and mosques, the very places they should feel most safe; and sledgehammers taken to religious and cultural artefacts in an attempt to obliterate centuries of faith and civilisation. The ongoing assault on freedom of religion or belief is absolutely unacceptable, and noble Lords have made that clear in their views today.

I would like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this very important debate, and to everyone who has made such valuable contributions today. If I may, I particularly add my support to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in his tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester—it was well said by the noble Lord.

The debate has made very clear the scope and scale of the challenge. I would like to touch on some of the major challenges to freedom of religion or belief, explain why this Government have indeed made it a priority and inform the House of the work that we are doing to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief, and the right to hold no belief, around the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, referred to the blasphemy laws in Malta. We oppose blasphemy laws wherever they still exist.

This Government understand the scope and scale of the challenge—we, too, are horrified. The brutal terrorist group known as ISIL, or Daesh, is making the headlines every day with images of Christians executed on beaches or civilians being thrown off buildings for refusing to abandon their beliefs. I know that it is not just a matter of the cases that make the headlines. It is the steady and systematic bias against people on the basis of their faith, denying them a fair trial, proper investigation of complaints to the police and even adequate education for their children, all of which is potentially more far-reaching. Where there is a culture of impunity, which we condemn, people are taught to believe that followers of other religions are fair game, and then mob violence can so easily follow—and does. Where children are taught to hate those with different beliefs, this provides fertile soil for extremism to take root.

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Freedom of religion or belief is not just an optional extra, or nice to have; it is the key human right. It allows each citizen to follow their conscience in the way they see fit. As this Government made clear in our manifesto:

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

We are committed to defending the full right exactly as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—that is,

“the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

Quite apart from any legal or moral obligation, we promote religious freedom as essential to our social, cultural and economic development. That is why this Government have made freedom of religion and belief a priority, not just in the FCO but across government. It is enshrined in international law, it makes social sense and it is morally right.

So what are we doing? We have been working on this issue through a comprehensive multilateral, bilateral and projects-based approach. The UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 of March 2011 calls on all UN member states to take action against intolerance on the basis of religion or belief, and to promote the free and equal participation in society of all—both the religious and the non-religious. It has given us that important starting point. I vividly remember a meeting in Morocco earlier this year, in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, during which ambassadors from all points of the religious compass spoke to me of this resolution as something to hold onto in a time of crisis. We will continue to use our influence and diplomatic networks as effectively as possible. We are playing an active part in a new international contact group on FoRB, convened by Canada. Last month, I met the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, and we discussed areas where the international community might work more closely together. We will continue to encourage the EU to ensure that its guidelines on FoRB are put into practice in individual countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, asked whether we would reconsider having a global ambassador. We have our global ambassadors. They have their reach in every country on the globe and know how important it is that they promote freedom of religion and belief. It is not contradictory to say that we can trade with certain countries, provided that they do not contravene international humanitarian law. Our trade with them does not undermine our right to stand up for not only freedom of religion and belief but other human rights; we make that clear.

We are just as active on bilateral channels. Every Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office acts as an ambassador for this fundamental right. Each one of us, as a Minister, raises and promotes these issues in the countries or organisations for which we have responsibility. My noble friend Lady Berridge and others referred to Burma. We have raised our concern about the situation of the Rohingya community in all our recent ministerial contacts with the Burmese Government. Most recently, my honourable friend Mr Swire called the Burmese ambassador to the FCO on 18 May to express our concern about the Rohingya

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situation and the related migrant crisis in the Bay of Bengal. We urged Burma to act swiftly to deal with the humanitarian implications, but also to address the underlying causes.

We also seek to protect religious freedom through our project work. We support projects to tackle discriminatory legislation and attitudes, and we are working with human rights and faith-based organisations across the world to promote dialogue, build capacity, foster links and strengthen understanding. I had hoped to give a few examples but I will have to leave that for another occasion or I will not be able to allow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, a moment or two to respond; I know that we are pressing up against the deadline.

We are already addressing the question of how to make sure that freedom of religion and belief is addressed throughout the world. We use our full range of diplomatic response. However, I recognise—and I agree with noble Lords—that there remains so much more to do. I want to see us step up our engagement with individual Governments. Countries around the world need to know that Britain will stand up for this fundamental right. We must not be shy about coming forward.

In reply to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others, I can say that we are deeply concerned at the imposition of the death penalty for blasphemy in the case of Asia Bibi and we hope that the verdict will be overturned on appeal.

The Prime Minister has raised our concern about the blasphemy law with Nawaz Sharif, and the UK supports the EU-led action to continue to raise this case with the Pakistan authorities.

Turning to the case of the Sudanese pastors, which was raised by the noble Lord, our ambassador has raised it at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Khartoum and with representatives of the ruling National Congress Party. As recently as 9 July, the UK special representative to Sudan and South Sudan raised our concerns about these specific cases with the Sudanese ambassador. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also referred to charges against Christian students. We will continue to call on the Government of Sudan to bring all their legislation in line with their constitutional and international human rights commitments. Noble Lords can be assured that these matters are part of the everyday work of our ambassadors around the world where FoRB is under threat.

I also want us as a Government to focus even more strongly on making freedom of religion or belief part of the answer to extremism. Where freedom of religion is protected, extremist ideologies are much less likely to take root. I want us to continue our focus on supporting the right of persecuted Christians, as well as those of all religions and none, to be able to stay in the Middle East, the region of their birth. We are already playing a leading role on this issue. At a UN Security Council debate on religious minorities in March, Tobias Ellwood, Minister for the Middle East, called for bold leadership from Governments and communities in the region to work for tolerance and reconciliation.

Over the coming months, we will continue to deepen our already strong engagement with academics, think tanks, NGOs, faith representatives and parliamentarians

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on how we may best develop our policies to support religious minorities in the Middle East. I was delighted to meet members of the APPG on International Religious Freedom or Belief recently, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with them as we further develop our policies.

We work with regional allies, helping them to ensure that the right legal frameworks are in place and supporting training initiatives to ensure that state and religious bodies understand the rights held by people from minorities. We are also considering further programmes to address the climate of impunity and legal discrimination, through training for security and police forces and sharing of UK best practice on reporting and prosecution of crimes. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about how important it is that we are able to provide support and training to the Iraqi Government to ensure people are protected, particularly in the north, to which he referred.

In parallel, I strongly believe that equipping our diplomats with a greater understanding of the key role faith plays in global politics helps us collectively to make better policy judgments and to understand when and where we can work with the grain of religious beliefs to further our human rights and other objectives. Therefore, we are increasing religious literacy training among FCO staff and across the whole of Whitehall. We are running regular training courses on religion and foreign policy, with a lively series of lunchtime seminars, and our new diplomatic academy contains an online foundation level module on religious literacy. FoRB is embedded in the work of all parts of the FCO both at home and abroad.

Just last month, I was pleased to host the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in conversation about religion and foreign policy. It was a marvellous experience to see the place crowded with more than 200 diplomats and people from across all departments in Whitehall, with people around the world listening to that very important conversation. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, urged the Government that there should be cross-departmental thoughtfulness about investment in these matters. I agree with him, and we are addressing that.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised particular questions about China. I will be brief and say that we are saddened by reports that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche has died in detention in China. We have raised his case with the Chinese authorities on a number of occasions, including during the UK-China human rights dialogue in April this year. We support and encourage the EU statement of 15 July which said that the EU expected the Chinese authorities to investigate and make public the circumstances surrounding Tenzin’s death.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also asked about the Chinese Christian lawyers who were arrested this week as part of a major crackdown. He asked what will happen with the Chinese state visit later this year and whether Article 18 will be on the agenda for discussions with China’s President when he visits the UK. The full programme for the visit is not yet fully fleshed out—and one would not expect it to be at this stage. However, we pay very close attention to the human rights situation in China. We are deeply concerned by reports of the

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number of human rights lawyers and activists who have been detained since 9 July and we fully support the EU statement of 15 July, which states that the detentions raise serious questions about China’s commitment to strengthening the rule of law, and called for the release of those detained for seeking to protect rights provided by the Chinese constitution.

We have regular discussions with the Chinese authorities, including on human rights and rule-of-law issues. They will hear what I have said in public today—my colleagues have also said it in private—and I am sure they will be aware that these matters will be raised, not only by politicians but by the public, when the Chinese state visit takes place. I am sure that discussions about that visit will be wide ranging and naturally the Chinese Government will have an input. But as a country we believe firmly in making clear our commitment to human rights and we have an expectation that the Chinese Government will listen to that. They will take their own view naturally, as they always do.

The noble Lord, Lord Singh, raised the question of the mistreatment of Sikhs in India. Our High Commission in India regularly discusses minority issues, including Sikh prisoners, with the Indian Government and state authorities. We will continue to monitor the situation and maintain our dialogue with Indian officials.

Around the House there has been, over many years, a determination that we should keep a regular dialogue on matters of human rights. The discussion on freedom of religion or belief has perhaps received a better and more considered approach in this Chamber than almost any other, around not only Westminster but the devolved communities. It is important that we are able to maintain that discussion.

Perhaps there was just one Peer who raised the question of why we still have, in this House, the presence of those who have a right, because of their place in the Church of England, to be here. I strongly support their position because I find that their presence is always challenging—refreshing, but most decidedly challenging. But it is important that we welcome on the Cross Benches representatives of other faiths. I think that that enriches the debate here.

This morning, we were able to read an article by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Times. He made me reflect on the fact that Governments need to find ways to ensure that the transformational power of religious belief is able to play out in our societies. We must have countries where everyone is free to follow their own belief, to change their religion, or to choose to follow no religion at all. In those societies we find that life is fairer and more prosperous. His Grace made the point:

“Curtailing religious freedom in the name of other freedoms runs the risk of discarding one of the most important and creative forces in human beings”.

What he says, I could never improve upon.

6.44 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, characteristically, the Minister has given the House a considered, detailed, thoughtful and extremely helpful reply to this extremely well-informed debate—characteristic itself of the place that the House of Lords is. That point was made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. We have

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heard from people of all faiths and denominations and none, and all the speeches shed light on the nature of Article 18. The Minister just said that it is part of the answer to extremism and I entirely agree. I particularly welcome what she said about the importance of religious literacy and what she is doing to encourage people to understand better the forces that are driving on these malign forces in so many parts of the world today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, with whom I work on the All-Party Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief, where she does such a wonderful job, talked about my “uncanny knack” of coming up in the ballot—a point also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. Perhaps I should try my hand at the National Lottery. More seriously, it makes the point that the House should have an annual debate on human rights in Government time and I hope that the Minister will think about providing  that so that it will not be left to the vagaries of the ballot, helpful though it is that we have been able to have this debate today.

Many noble Lords have given me undeserved generosity in the remarks they have made, none more so than the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. As we walk in here each day, most of us probably pass the western wall of Westminster Abbey, where, among other things, we can see the statute of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered in El Salvador. Only a week ago the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was honoured in Mr Speaker’s House for all the work he did on behalf of Oscar Romero. Combined with that, the work he has done for human rights over the past 50 or 60 years really is unparalleled. At the age of 17, when I was interviewed by a local newspaper, I was asked if I wanted to go into politics. I said, “Not really, but if ever I did I hope I would be like Eric Lubbock”—as he then was. If people are looking for a role model, they could do no better than look at the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

Fifty years later there are other role models for the rising generation . I was very struck by the remarks of Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to murder in Pakistan because she rightly insisted on a girl’s right to an education :

One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world”

Malala’s challenge and the fate of the abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria or those denied an education in Pakistan go to the heart of Article 18. It is at the heart of what we have been debating today and it is a theme to which we must persistently return.

It was the most reverend Primate who in his concluding remarks invoked Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian theologian who was executed by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer said:

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds … we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence … intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical … What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians”.

We should not become worn down either, whatever price has to be paid. We have enormous privileges, opportunities, liberties and freedoms in this place and we must use them to speak out on behalf of those to whom so much reference has been made today. The theme of conscience has come up again and again, whether in the domestic or international context. That, too, goes to the heart of Article 18. It is about the balance of rights that were referred to in the debate.

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The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, in his valedictory address, enjoined and encouraged us to persist in what he called our defence of freedom of religion and belief. It is a message that we should all take to heart. We should never cease to use our privileges to speak up in the way that he has done for so long and so persistently. One noble Lord said that he could not understand the presence of the Bishops as an established part of your Lordships’ House. Others have been declaring interests; my Anglican wife is the daughter of a priest of 60 years’ standing in the Anglican Church, as his father was for 50 years. There are eight ordained Anglican clergy on my wife’s side of the family. I sometimes feel that it is a little like a family business. It seems to me—I know that my wife will want me to say this—that we are really blessed by the presence of the Bishops in this House, no one more so than the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. At the conclusion of this debate, we all wish him the very best in his retirement.

Motion agreed.

Also see Justin Welby in The Times:



On Thursday July 16th  2015 David Alton will lead a House of Lords debate on Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights – the right to believe, not to believe, or to change your belief.

He says: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born out of the infamies of the twentieth century – from the Armenian genocide to the depredations of Stalin, Hitler and the Holocaust.

In response to the persecution of millions of people, targeted because of their religion or beliefs, Article 18 insisted on the freedom of all men and women to cherish and uphold their faith or beliefs – or to change them.

Seventy years later, from North Korea to Syria – and all over the world – Article 18 is honoured daily in its breach – evident in contemporary concentration camps, abductions, rape, imprisonment, displacement, persecution, public flogging, mass murder, and beheadings.

The House of Lords debate will be an opportunity to build on the All-Party Report “Article 18 – an orphaned right”; to highlight countries where Article 18 is under attack today; to discuss the clear links between freedom of religion and belief, a nation’s prosperity, stability, and the other rights enjoyed or denied its citizens; and to insist on greater political and diplomatic priority being given to upholding Article 18.


Among those who will speak are the Crossbench Peer, the former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, whose most recent book focuses on religious liberty and Baroness (Elizabeth) Berridge, the Conservative Peer who chairs the All Party Group on Freedom of Religion and Belief.


 “Religious persecution of Christians around the globe”: the future prognosis: David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool). – Geopolitical Report on Religious Persecution

Franz Werfel’s disturbing and prophetic novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (Die vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh), written in 1933 , tells the story of genocide against Armenian Christians and foreshadows the rise of Hitler – whose Nazi thugs were burning Werfel’s books, in his native Austria and in Germany.

Franz Werfel

Franz werfel

Franz werfel

In this centenary of those events it is worth reminding ourselves of how the Ottomans attempted to eradicate the Armenian Christians and perpetrated further acts of genocide against their other Christian minorities, including Greeks and Assyrians – incubating that most dangerous pestilence: the hatred of whole peoples.

Hitler and Armenian genocide

Not only should we recall those terrible events in order to give the lie to Hitler’s question “who now remembers the Armenians?” – insisting that we will never forget – but also because that deadly phenomenon of deportations, concentration camps, rape and killings did not end in 1915 with the Ottomans. Hitler thought he could get away with it because people hadn’t really protested against the genocide, and there wouldn’t be any consequences for him. He assumed (correctly) that people would murmur but not take any real action and therefore he could continue his reign of terror against the Jews and others.

There is an old Armenian saying, echoed in Musa Dagh, that “to be an Armenian is an impossibility”. It is a saying which, in the 1930s, would be understood by Jews, and which today is the experience of persecuted Christians – from North Korea to Pakistan, from China to Sudan: the world over. Prince Charles has described threats to Christians in the Middle East as “an indescribable tragedy”.

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In the last census of the Ottoman era, conducted in 1914, Christians made up a quarter of the Middle East’s population. Now they are less than 5%. Christians in the Middle East represent less than 1% of the world’s Christians. If the current demographic trends continue, the Middle East’s population of 12 million Christians will be halved by 2020.  As things stand, the current prognosis for Middle Eastern Christians could be fatal.  

Systematic persecution is not a new phenomenon – consider the fate of St.Stephen or the persecutions of Nero or Diocletian – or even the Armenians – whose ancient kingdom became, in the fourth century, the first nation to officially embrace Christianity and who, according to Eusebius and Tertullian, were subjected to persecution by the Romans. The Empire had outlawed the new growing Christian faith and condemned all Christians to death.

Those events were recalled, this month, in the Glyndebourne premiere of Gaaetano Donizetti’s opera, Polyeucte, based on Pierre Corneille’s play about the martyrdom of Saint Polyeuctus and set in the third century in Melitiene, the capital of ancient Armenia. 

Sixteen hundred year later the campaigns against the Armenian Christians and, in German South West Africa (Namibia) of racial extermination of the Herero and Nama people, would become the victims the first genocides of the twentieth century.

Franz Werfel 2

Werfel’s brilliant Musa Dagh homes in on a small community of 5,000 Armenians living in Hatay Province, with links to communities in, Zeitun, Alexandretta, Aleppo, and Mosul – where perpetrators of genocidal, systematic, crimes against humanity once again persecute with impunity.

Although, according to Gyula Orban, an official of Aid to the Church In Need, the Catholic relief agency founded by Norbertine priest Fr Werenfried Von Straaten, approximately 10 percent of the 2 billion Christians in the world suffer persecution, where other than Syria and Iraq might a review of the plight of the world’s persecuted Christians begin?

This month, Aleppo’s Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart described how his archbishopric in Aleppo – already hit more than 20 times by mortar shells – had once again come under fire and how Christians had lost lives, homes and livelihoods – and are being traumatised by the conflict.

He says: “ISIS, which has already killed thousands in the region, is terrifying the faithful in Aleppo. After attacks on Maloula, Mosul, Idleb and Palmyra, what is the West waiting for before it intervenes? What are the great nations waiting for before they put a halt to these monstrosities. Let me cry with my people, violated and murdered. Allow me to stand by numerous families in Aleppo who are in mourning. Because of this ugly and barbarous war, they have lost so many loved ones, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters and cherished children.”

The region’s Chaldean Bishop, Antoine Audo, says that Aleppo’s 250,000 Christians have dwindled to below 100,000. Thousands have been killed, churches and ancient monasteries  blown up, whole communities forced to flee, bishops and priests  – such as Father Jacob Murad, Bishops Hanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazici – abducted, some executed. Torture, beheadings and even ‘crucifixion’ – the hanging of corpses of those they have executed on crosses – has become commonplace. Syrian Christians living in IS controlled areas are forced to convert or pay the punitive jizya tax.

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In the seventh century Christians, in what is now Syria, had to pay half an ounce of gold to pay for the privilege of living under the protection of the Caliphate. If they didn’t pay they had two options: they could convert of “face the sword”. In February 2014, 20 or so Christian families still living in the northern Syrian town of Raqqa were given the same choice. The cost of protection is now the equivalent of $650 in Syrian pounds, a large amount for people struggling to make ends meet in a war zone.

Syria and Iraq, those hatcheries of Jihadism, have seen vast tracts of their territories become lawless and ungovernable with fault lines opening between Islamic extremists and moderates, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Sunnis and Shias – with funds and arms flowing in from the Gulf and Tehran.

Caught in the cross fire have been the law abiding minority communities – mainly Christians – who have lived in places like Aleppo and the Nineveh Plains for 2,000 years and continue to worship and speak in the Aramaic language of Jesus.

christians in the middle east Assyrians

In recent weeks joint Assyrian and Kurdish forces recaptured a number of Christian villages in north eastern Syria from ISIS – although many of the original occupants remain unaccounted for and many of their homes have been left booby-trapped.

And will the international community do any more to protect them in the future than it has in the past?  The failure to respond to Chaldean and Assyrian requests for a protected area for Christians near Nineveh is a scandal.   

No wonder so many contemplate dangerous attempts to flee – including treacherous journeys across the Mediterranean. 


The brutality of ISIS – or Daesh -, devoid of mercy, manifests itself in deadly beheadings accompanied by the year zero blitzkrieg of antiquities and ancient artefacts, in the depraved destruction of Christian churches, and the defilement of Shia mosques. The fall of Palmyra follows the bulldozing of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, the blowing up of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas and the Sufi monuments in Mali.

The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted: "Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.

The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted: “Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.

The Irish philosopher and British politician, Edmund Burke said that “our past is the capital of life” and what we are witnessing at the hands of ISIS is an attempt to eradicate the collective memory of humanity, destroying all that is “different” – while cynically smuggling and selling on the antiquities which they do not destroy to fund their campaign of mass murder – with Turkey turning a blind eye.

ISIS presents this as a clash of civilisations but the manner in which they debase all that is civilised simply pits civilisation against barbarism. ISIS is not just at war with civilisation, it is also at war with other Muslims and those of other faith traditions.

ISIS describes itself as the Islamic State – but this is a misnomer: it is certainly not a State and many Muslim scholars challenge the Islamic basis on which it forces Christians to convert or die invoking the Qur’ānic injunction that there should be no compulsion in religion (lā ikrāha fī ‘l-dīn :Q.2:256).

It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

The same visceral hatred of Christians has been nurtured by other radical groups – from the Taliban to al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

Last month, jihadist ideology led to the deaths of 147 students and staff in Kenya’s Garissa University College, with Christian students specifically singled out by al-Shabaab-affiliated Islamist militants.

Pakistan Christians

Earlier this year, in Pakistan – following the 2013 killing of 85 Anglicans who were praying in their church at Peshawar –the same hatred  led to the burning alive in a kiln of a Christian couple by a mob of 1,300 people while their young children were forced to watch. This week, in the British Parliament, MPs raised the tragic case of Nauman Masih, a 15 year old Christian boy, who on 9 April 2015, in Lahore, was beaten, tortured and burnt alive after he was identified as a Christian.

MPs called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Given the failure to bring to hold to account those who, in 2011, murdered the country’s only Christian Cabinet Minister, Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, don’t hold your breath.

shahbaz bhatti posters

At the time of Pakistan’s foundation its first President, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, said: “Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life and their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed.”

In 2015, in a population of over 172 million people, only about 1.5% (3 million) is Christians – half Catholic, half Protestant, – minorities are neither safeguarded or protected. 

Boko Haram protest

Think, too, of Nigeria and the depredations of Boko Haram – graphically illustrated by the abduction of young girls and the murder, in cold blood, of twenty nine students of the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, while they slept in their student hostels.

Churches have been bombed,  pastors executed, Christians targeted and, despite the Government’s insistence that it is tackling Boko Haram, Reuters reports recent attacks, in the past few days, which have led to more than 80 people being killed.  Boko Haram openly say their interim goal is “to eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country.”

Boko Haram say they want to destroy all westerrn ideas, including democracy, and replace Ngieria's federal constitution with Sharia law.

Boko Haram say they want to destroy all westerrn ideas, including democracy, and replace Ngieria’s federal constitution with Sharia law.

The north-south conflict in Nigeria is reminiscent of Sudan – when, during the civil war, 2 million, mainly Christian people, were killed. Khartoum continues to target whole communities – having dropped more than 2500 bombs on its civilian, predominantly Christian, populations of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. In addition it has committed crimes against humanity in Darfur, which I have visited, and where they are being ethnically cleansed by co-religionists.


This unremitting violence has led to massive displacements and generated vast numbers of refugees. Eritrea, Sudan’s near neighbour, is the North Korea of Africa – and last month’s UN Commission report suggests crimes against humanity may have been committed there. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Eritrea, is responsible for around 18% of the 200,000 people who reached Europe in 2014.  Having reached Libya some Eritreans Christians have then been cruelly beheaded by ISIS – in yet another display of their barbarism.

christians in the middle east2 eritreans christians in the middle east  eritreans

Protestors recently gathered in London, outside the Eritrean Embassy, to mark the thirteenth anniversary of the imposition of severe restrictions on churches in Eritrea, the deposing and house arrest of the Eritrean patriarch, Abune Antonnios and imprisonment of other Christians.

Eritrea is one of the world’s most repressive regimes and the largest refugee-producing countries. Freedom of religion and belief – guaranteed by Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights – means nothing in Eritrea.

There is a direct correlation between the denial of Article 18 Freedoms – to believe, not to believe, or to change your belief – and the denial of other freedoms, the generation of violence, displacements, and the desperation which leads to the exodus of refugees.

article 18 an orphaned rightArticle 18

By contrast, in those countries where Article 18 is honoured and upheld there is a direct correlation with internal harmony, development, prosperity and progress (something which China should study more closely).

Freedom of belief is at the heart of the struggle for the future of whole societies and countries.
Take Egypt – which was recently horrified by the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts who were working in Libya.

In 2013 I suggested that we should compare the charred husk of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, in 1938, with pictures of the blackened walls of Degla’s ruined Church of the Virgin Mary, and why August 2013 represent Egypt’s Kritallnacht.  

Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, after Kristallnacht in 1938

It was one of many churches which was attacked – along with Christian homes and businesses. Under  President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi the situation has improved but Dr.Mohamed Abul-Ghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, warned that the forced displacement of Coptic families by customary meetings is contrary to the Constitution, the principles of citizenship, humanity and justice – remarks which came against a backdrop of the displacement of a number of Coptic families in Beni Suef because a member of these families was accused of allegedly publishing cartoons of the Prophet of Islam on his Facebook account. The man is illiterate.

Abul-Ghar wrote in Al-Masry Al-Youm “Have you seen or heard about an Egyptian Muslim forced to leave his home by a customary meeting whatever his mistake is? So there is clear injustice and if there is a suspicion against a Copt, why is not he treated like a Muslim and referred to the public prosecutor?” 

The Egyptian writer and novelist Fatima Naaot in a message to the President, says that the displacement of Christian families from their villages and the burning of their homes in the presence of security forces is a scandal that undermines the sovereignty of the Egyptian state and indicates the absence of the rule of law and the fall of the prestige of the Government and the President. 

Last month the Egyptian TV presenter, Islam al-Beheiry, was sentenced to five years in prison with labour for “contempt of religion.”
  At the beginning of this year President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi gave a speech at Cairo’s Al-Azhar in which he called for a “religious revolution” to re-examine those aspects of Islamic thinking that “make an enemy of the whole world.” Yet, despite his timely and important call for religious renewal, ‘contempt of religion’ and blasphemy charges are occurring more frequently. These can be an impediment to healthy and constructive religious debate and can encourage vindictive acts.

Assyrians hold banners as they march in solidarity with the Assyrians abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria earlier this week, in Beirut

It against this background – from Syria and Iraq, to Sudan, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, and many other countries in which Christians and others are persecuted for their beliefs – that June 2015 has witnessed the staging of a UN human rights conference on combatting intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.

I couldn’t work out whether it was a black sense of humour or a rather astute move to have asked Saudi Arabia to host this event in Jeddah.

Given that Saudi is one of the worst violators of religious freedom, and that Saudi Wahhabism has fuelled so many of these conflicts, it did seem comparable to inviting Herod into the kindergarten.  


Given the West’s oil dependent, arms providing, symbiotic relationship with Saudi it is hard to imagine much being said at that Conference about the Saudi human rights activist, Raif Badawi, languishing in prison for the crime of religious dissent and under threat of further public flogging and potential execution – let alone its outright persecution of Christians. Saudi Arabia ranks sixth on the 2014 World Watch List of most repressive countries for Christians, a list compiled by the charity, Open Doors.

When a country like Saudi Arabia passes legislation defining atheists as terrorists, beheads or tortures its citizens, and refuses to protect the right of minorities to follow their beliefs, or to have no belief, is it any wonder that such actions are mimicked by ISIS? Saudi Arabia beheads people in the public square – 100 executions already this year –  a practice routinely practised by ISIS.

The aim of the Jeddah Conference was to discuss how to effectively implement UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on combating religious intolerance, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against people due to their religion or beliefs.  

Unlike ISIS, Saudi Arabia really is an Islamic State and it would be the first place to start in heralding an acceptance of pluralism of belief and the upholding of diversity and difference. 

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In his opening speech to the Conference, OIC Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani said that the international human rights community attached great importance to combating religious intolerance. Madani correctly observed that religious hatred needs to be addressed at all levels, including the need to ascertain the limits of freedom of expression to determine where it ends and transforms into incitement to hatred.

Beyond conferences and speeches, remains the challenge to world leaders to champion and uphold the rule of law and the protection of minorities. That is the antidote to Jihadist ideology, not assassination squads or endless bombardments.

The casualties of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan

The casualties of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan

The challenge is to bring to justice war lords and regime leaders responsible for persecution and atrocities; to increase the effectiveness of the International Criminal Court (not providing impunity to indicted leaders such as Sudan’s Omar al Bashir, as South Africa recently did); to systematically collect evidence; to  document these atrocities and to demand that the Security Council instigate prosecutions.

Dag Hammarskjold7

We also need to create more safe havens to protect beleaguered groups of Christians, and others, and every Foreign Minister needs to promote Article 18 obligations. Dag Hammarskjold, one of the great Secretary Generals of the UN, once said that “The UN wasn’t founded to take mankind to paradise but rather to save humanity from hell.”  It’s hard to see that, in vast tracts of the world, the international community is achieving even that limited objective.

The UN, our Western legislators, policy makers and media need to become literate about religion. How right is the BBC’s courageous Chief Correspondent, Lyse Doucet, when she says: “If you don’t understand religion – including the abuse of religion – it’s becoming ever harder to understand our world.”

At the heart of all these challenges is the central question of how we learn to live together, tolerantly respecting and rejoicing in the dignity of difference; emphasising our common humanity; promoting the ability of members of all religious faiths to manifest their religion; and allow all people to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society.


Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to murder in Pakistan because she insisted on a girl’s right to an education, rightly insists that “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”.  Are we going to stand with Malala against those who try to deny women education, who use education to promote hatred of difference, who teach that non adherents are destined for the fires of hell and murder in God’s name?

Our aid programmes and humanitarian interventions must surely reflect our own values and be used to protect minorities, to provide security, and to open the possibility of decent lives for those currently trying to flee their native home lands. We can apply “soft power” – or smart power – in the way we provide aid but also, where necessary, by shutting it off, or threatening to shut it off – and in the ways we broadcast, educate and share our own values.

Meanwhile, the immediate and over-arching concern must be the plight of Middle Eastern Christians, a shrinking and threatened minority throughout the region, subjected to the most traumatic, degrading and inhuman treatment. It’s as simple as that.

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The international community needs to be more consistent in its moral outrage. It denounces some countries for their suppression of minorities while appeasing others who directly enable jihad through financial support or the sale of arms. No wonder Western powers are seen as hypocrites when our business interests determine how offended we are by gross human rights abuses.

These people are being crushed in the mill, dying out, and need help. That is the future unless we act.

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This is not about Christians versus Muslims. Religious persecution is taking place all over the world and whoever is responsible should be in our sights. A Pew research Centre Study begun a decade a ago has found that of the 185 nations studied religious repression was recorded in 151 of them.


It is irresponsible and indifferent for the international community to show disproportionate concern for fringe issues and politically correct concerns while ignoring and failing to understand the forces behind this flood of chaos.

Turning an indifferent blind eye merely emboldens the perpetrators to further spread their hatred.

The dramatic rise in the persecution of Christians has been accompanied by a vilification of Islam and, in Europe especially, the reawakening of Anti-Semitism. 

For the future, the three Abrahamic religions need to ask deep questions of themselves about what they can to remedy these distempers – and become transformative agents in conflict management, reconciliation and healing.

Egypt's Copts are under daily attack

Egypt’s Copts are under daily attack

Where secular governments are manifestly failing – and are too often tone deaf when it comes to religion, simply failing to understand the power of the forces which are at work – can the great faiths, with their innate claim to our deepest impulses, motivate their adherents to be peace makers, peace builders, protectors of minorities, and practitioners of pluralism, tolerance, mutual respect, and the upholding of the rule of law?  

Can we devote comparable energy into countering religious extremism as the energy which has been used to spread religious extremism? 

Could we not form a generation of religious leaders and educators to promote faith that is based on altruism, tolerance and love – the common good – not faith that designates all others as enemies of yourself and your God?

It was Churchill who said “what is the use of living if it is not strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?” – and that we should never give up.


Our muddled and tortured world needs to make the cause of those who suffer for their religion or belief the great cause of our times.

Christians, Jews and Muslims privileged to live in free societies need to challenge our key cold indifference, speak up and defend humanity.

I began by citing Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.

Armenian genocide 2Armenian GenocideArmenian genocide 5Armenian genocide 6

It  has a complex ending. Part of the novel’s denouement – based on fact – sees the rescue of many of the besieged Armenian Christians by the French navy.  The French respond to distress signals and the sight of the Red Cross emblem.  The question for us is will we, in our day, see the distress signals of today’s besieged Christian communities and respond in like manner or merely feign indifference?

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As the last Christian is expelled from Mosul by ISIS – Times Article on why the world must respond to the cry of Iraq’s Christians – and the full text of the House of Lords debate on Article 18 and Freedom of Belief – with news of Meriam Ibrahim’s journey to Rome and ISIS subjecting women to female genital mutilation

Article 18 – An article of faith

Lord Alton

August 12, 2014

The United Nations doctrine ‘responsibility to protect’ has been flouted by the failure of international authorities to protect vulnerable minorities from sweeping assaults on religious freedom in Mosul and other places in Iraq by the so-called ‘Islamic State Caliphate’ – the jihadist warlords. Responsibility to protect is enshrined in Article 18 of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights and was born in the embers of the Holocaust; and of religion itself, writes Lord Alton of Liverpool.

Article 18 embodies freedom of belief. It is a universal human right and one which is violated universally.

Almost 75 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with high levels of government restrictions on freedom of religion or belief.

Christian minorities, Mandeans, Yazidis, Baha’is, Jews and Ahmadis are among those who face unspeakable persecution. And so do Muslims.

The head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, Professor Dr Mehmet Gormez, told the World Islamic Scholars Peace, Moderation and Common Sense Initiative that 1,000 Muslims are being killed each day – 90 per cent of their killers are also Muslims.

Article 18 insists that everyone has the right to believe, not to believe, or to change their belief. Tell that to the elderly and sick of Mosul, unable to flee and forced to accept the uncompromising ultimatum by the Islamic State (IS) jihadists, formerly ISIS, to convert or die.

The last Christian has been expelled from Mosul, reducing the Christian population from 30,000 to zero. The light of religious freedom, along with the entire Christian presence, has been extinguished in the Bible’s ‘great city of Nineveh’ – Iraq’s centre of Christianity for 2,000 years.

IS stole everything they had – homes, businesses, cars, money and even wedding rings before exiling the Christians on foot. Churches have been destroyed, shuttered or turned into mosques.

The war lords who dress their violent pursuit of power in the clothes of religion are part of an ideological pattern extending across North Africa and Asia.

Militant Islamist movement Boko Haram pledged to eradicate education in Nigeria and abducted 200 schoolgirls and has killed thousands in a wave of bombings and assassinations in northern Nigeria. Al-Shabaab has threatened and attacked Christians in Eritrea and Kenya. Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian wife and mother sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to renounce her faith, was freed but her case is not an isolated one.

The treatment of women is an outrage. The United Nations said that unverified reports claimed IS has ordered all girls and women to undergo female genital mutilation in Mosul.

Attacks on human beings, their freedom and dignity, are mirrored in the orgy of destruction of culture and heritage. IS has demolished the tomb of Jonah, replaced the cross with a black Islamic flag on Mosul’s St Ephraim’s Cathedral and beheaded or crucified any Muslim who dared to dissent.

What kind of place will these societies be if they cannot live with differences and minorities?

Copts, Armenians, Jews and other minorities have made a disproportionate contribution to the success of countries where they have been allowed to live peaceably. But we can see where intolerance leads in the horrifying crucibles of Syria and Iraq.

What kind of dreadful world is the IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now to be known as Caliph Ibrahim, and surrounded by his black-clad, gun-toting acolytes, trying to create?

He says he is the successor of the first Abbasid Caliph, Mansour who, in 762, founded the city of Baghdad. It was a place where Persian and Arab Muslims, Jews and Christians co-existed, respected one another and celebrated each other’s talents and contribution. It became a centre of learning and scholarship. As religious tolerance flourished so did science and culture.

Caliph Ibrahim and his followers need to rediscover a capacity to live together not the violent, fascist and brutal netherworld of the Dark Ages.


How you can help Christians in Iraq:


and sign this petition:

Also see major factual report giving hard evidence of the global persecution of Christians for their faith Researched by the Maranatha Community, a national movement of thousands of men and women drawn from all denominations, it presents hundreds of cases, drawn from 170 sources, of persecution of Christians worldwide over the past 14 years.

Symbol N

This symbol is the letter “N” in Arabic, and ISIS painted it on Christian homes in Mosul to identify the homes as followers of the Nazarene/Christian. Reminiscent of the branding by the Nazis of Jews with the Star of David, Christians were given the ultimatum to leave, pay the jizya tax of an exorbitant rate, or be killed. The last Christian has left Mosul or was forced to convert.

Subject: The Times Thunderer, July 23rd, 2014

The world must respond to the cry of Iraq’s Christians

The faithful in Iraq still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus David Alton

The Times newspaper: July 23 2014

Times Thunderer

The last Christian has now been expelled from Mosul. The light of religious freedom, along with the entire Christian presence, has been extinguished in the Bible’s “great city of Nineveh” — the centre of Christianity in Iraq for two millennia. This follows the uncompromising ultimatum by the jihadists of Isis to convert or die.

On Sunday Pope Francis expressed his profound anguish: “Our brothers are persecuted, they are cast out, they are forced to leave their homes without having the chance to take anything with them.” The UN Security Council has denounced these crimes but we desperately need to do more.

Before pitilessly exiling the Christians on foot, Isis stole everything they had — homes, businesses, cars, money and even wedding rings, sometimes with the ring fingers attached. Churches have all been destroyed, shuttered or turned into mosques.

Isis has taken a sledgehammer to the tomb of Jonah, replaced the cross with the black Islamic flag on top of Mosul’s St Ephrem’s cathedral, and beheaded or crucified any Muslim who dared to dissent.

Even before the arrival of Isis, targeted persecution of Iraq’s Christians, who still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, was ignored. The numbers in Mosul have gone from 30,000 to zero.

Iraq is now a disintegrating failed state. The only people who have successfully withstood Isis are the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. To their credit, the Kurdish leadership has been generously offering safe haven to Mosul’s fleeing Christians and has asked for international aid to help it do so. This crisis justifies huge humanitarian and resettlement aid that could include micro and business loans to help people to help themselves. The West must also press the Gulf to end the funding of Isis.

Overall the world must wake up urgently to the plight of the ancient churches throughout the region who are faced with the threat of mass murder and mass displacement. The UN claims it has “a duty to protect”, while Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, born in the embers of the Holocaust, insists that each of us must be free to follow our own beliefs.

The religious cleansing and unspeakable bigotry at work in Mosul makes hateful mockery of both.

Lord Alton of Liverpool is a Crossbench peer and tomorrow (July 24th) leads a House of Lords debate on Article 18

It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

Also see:

House of Lords

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Motion to Take Note

11.40 am July 24th 2014

Moved by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

To move that this House takes note of international compliance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concerning freedom of belief.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who will participate in this balloted debate, which draws attention to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right. Article 18 states:

Article 18

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

Today we will hear from many distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House, including my noble friend Lord Sacks, who says in The Dignity of Difference:

“The great faiths provide meaning and purpose for their adherents. The question is: can they make space for those who are not its adherents, who sing a different song, hear a different music, tell a different story? On that question, the fate of the 21st century may turn”.


The urgency of that challenge was reflected in a recent speech by the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right honourable Douglas Alexander. Among systematic violations of Article 18, he particularly drew attention to what he described as “anti-Christian persecution”, which he said,

“must be named for the evil that it is, and challenged systematically by people of faith and of no faith”.

I know that we will hear later from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who will expand on that important speech. and here

Two recent cases underline the universal applicability of Article 18. A young Indonesian man, Alexander Aan, was jailed for more than two years simply for declaring his atheism on Facebook. Mubarak Bala, a Nigerian, was confined to a mental institution for the same reason. Ben Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide visited Alexander Aan in prison in Indonesia and campaigned for his release. Such welcome advocacy by a group of one religious persuasion working for the freedom of another, whose beliefs are different—hearing different music, telling a different story—is echoed in a letter by world Buddhist leaders, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, calling for an end to violence against Muslims in Burma. The Dalai Lama is emphatic that:

“The violence in Buddhist majority countries targeting religious minorities is completely unacceptable. I urge Buddhists in these countries to imagine an image of the Buddha before them before they commit such a crime”.

Not only is Article 18 a universal human right; it is a human right that is violated universally.

article 18 an orphaned right

Last year, under the admirable chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, of which I am an officer, published Article 18: An Orphaned Right. It noted that,

“almost 75% of the world’s population live in countries with high levels of government restrictions on freedom of religion or belief”.http://anorphanedrightmnet/


Thanks to major speeches by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister, and the crucial work of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, the introduction of the European Union Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the excellent work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, this issue has been given greater prominence. I know that today’s important debate will contribute to that.

Yet, compared with Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom and its ambassador-at-large, the excellent Andrew Bennett, or the US State Department and the US Commission of International Religious Freedom, the Foreign Office has just one official specifically focused on freedom of religion, and only for a third of her time. The FCO has said that it wants to develop a toolkit on freedom of religion or belief for diplomats, stating that,

“every minister at the FCO is an ambassador for religious freedom, raising and promoting these issues in the countries with which they engage”.

But how will they do that? How are our diplomats trained in religious literacy? Compare the £34 billion spent on military operations since the Cold War with the paltry resources deployed in promoting Article 18—in promoting religious coexistence, public discourse and dialogue, foundational to building peaceful societies in a world increasingly afraid of difference.

In an all too brief survey of worldwide violations of Article 18, I inevitably begin in the Middle East, where, in the midst of an orgy of violence and brutality, we are fast approaching a time when Christianity will have no home in its ancient homelands. In Syria, the brutal murder in April of the 75 year-old Dutch Jesuit Father Franz van der Lugt, who had served there for 50 years, working in education and with disabled people, illustrates why an estimated 450,000 Christians have fled. Followers of other religions, notably the Mandeans, Yizidis, Baha’is and Ahmadis suffer similarly.

In Iraq, a Christian population of 1.4 million has been reduced to 150,000. In recent weeks, the depredations, beheadings and crucifixions by ISIS are almost beyond belief. For the first time in almost 2,000 years, Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, no longer has a Christian community. Its churches are now closed, most having been desecrated. In what has been described as “religious cleansing”, ISIS says that anyone who refuses to convert and defies it will be,

“killed, crucified or have their hands and feet cut off”.

ISIS has taken a sledgehammer to the tomb of Jonah, replaced the cross with the black Islamic flag on top of Mosul’s St Ephraim’s Cathedral, and beheaded or crucified any Muslim who dares to dissent. This week in Istanbul, the head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, Professor Dr Mehmet Görmez, in his address to the participants of the World Islamic Scholars Peace, Moderation and Common Sense Initiative conference said that 1,000 Muslims are being killed each day, and that 90% of the killers are also Muslims. He said:

“They are being killed by their brothers”.

Yesterday, the archbishops of Iraq united in their condemnation of these events but also called on the outside world to help. The only people who have successfully withstood ISIS are the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. To its credit, the Kurdish leadership has been generously offering safe haven to Mosul’s fleeing Christians and has asked for international aid to help it do so. This crisis justifies huge humanitarian and resettlement aid that could include micro and business loans to help people to help themselves. The West must also press the Gulf to end the funding of ISIS. Where in Mosul is the “responsibility to protect”, let alone Article 18? I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us.

Elsewhere, in Egypt, these are increasingly dangerous and menacing times for freedom of belief. As honorary president of the UK Copts, I saw the way in which Copts were targeted by the Muslim Brotherhood. Last year, in the single largest attack on Christians in Egypt since the 14th century, more than 50 churches were bombed or burnt. It was Egypt’s Kristallnacht. What priority do we give to Egypt’s minorities as we engage with the new President?

In Iran, the so-called moderate, Hassan Rouhani, in the 12 months since he was elected, has executed 800 people and imprisoned and tortured many others. Iran continues to target religious minorities, particularly Baha’is, whose cemeteries have been desecrated; 136 Baha’is are in prison, some since 2008. As “unprotected infidels” they can be attacked with impunity. Repression against Christians in Iran includes: waves of arrests and detentions; raids on church gatherings; raids on social gatherings; harsh interrogations; physical and psychological torture, including demands to recant and to identify other Christians; extended detentions without charge; violations of due process; convictions for ill defined crimes or on falsified political charges; economic targeting through exorbitant bail demands; and threats of execution for apostasy. What priority will our new chargé d’affaires in Tehran be giving these Article 18 issues when he meets the regime’s leadership?

I return now to Sudan and the treatment of Meriam Ibrahim, which was described by the Prime Minister as “barbaric”. In May, this young mother of two was charged, and sentenced to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery. Having refused to renounceher faith, she was forced to give birth shackled in a prison cell in Khartoum. Happily, given a debate where we will be hearing so much that is so very sad and tragic, international pressure, often led by young internet campaigners, has led to her release. This morning, she arrived safely in Italy. However, Meriam Ibrahim’s case is not an isolated one. Archaic and cruel laws lead to stonings and lashings, with Al-Jazeera reporting that in one recent year, 43,000 women were publicly flogged.

In Nigeria, another crisis is looming for religion and unfolding on a daily basis. There are reports of collusion between elements of the military and Islamist forces. This week marks 100 days since Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in Chibok. Are we any nearer to finding them? My noble friend Lady Cox has just returned from Nigeria and will have much more to say about the situation and her report documenting that jihadist violence.

As the Minister responds to Article 18 abuses in Nigeria, might we hear something, too, about the plight of Christians in Kenya, who face increasing threats and attacks from al-Shabaab, and in Eritrea—another serious violator of freedom of religion? The UN has just established a Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, and I look forward to hearing how we will assist its work.

I have focused extensively on the Middle East and Africa, but across Asia, Article 18 faces serious threats as well. We will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the situation in Pakistan. Think of the bombing last September of the Anglican church in Peshawar, killing 127 and injuring 250, of the attacks on Shias and Ahmadis or of the imprisonment of and death sentences on Christians, such as Asia Bibi, charged with blasphemy. For challenging those laws, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minority Affairs, was assassinated in 2011, and no one has been brought to justice.

Meanwhile, in Burma, Muslims are facing growing religious intolerance. In March 2013, I visited a village just outside Naypyidaw. In the charred embers of a burnt-out madrassah, I took statements from the few Muslims who had not fled. I met Rohingya Muslims and heard from ethnic Kachin and Chin Christians facing terrible persecution. Proposed new legislation to restrict religious conversions and interreligious marriage will hardly help; practical initiatives countering hate speech and intolerance might. Could we not ask the UN Secretary-General to visit Burma, specifically to address rising religious intolerance, and encourage the establishment of an international and independent inquiry into the violence in Rakhine state, Kachin state and other parts of the country?

Elsewhere in Asia, religious intolerance is rising, too, for example in Indonesia. I would welcome the Minister’s response to CSW’s new report, Indonesia: Pluralism in Peril, and the Government’s view of Prabowo Subianto’s attempts to undermine religious coexistence and his challenge to this week’s election results. There are also threats to Article 18 in India, with a BJP attack on an evangelical church in Uttar Pradesh last week; in Sri Lanka, where anti-Muslim violence has erupted; in Bangladesh, where, earlier this month, nuns were brutally attacked and beaten; in Malaysia, where a court has ruled that only Muslims can use the term “Allah”, even though Christians have traditionally also used that same term in their texts and in their languages; and in Brunei, where a full Sharia penal code is being introduced.

Turning to the Far East, I hope we will hear whether we have protested about the demolition of Protestant and Catholic churches there; the continued detention of the Catholic bishop of Shanghai, Thaddeus Ma, arrested in 2012; and the well-being of the Tibetan Buddhist monk and scholar Tenzin Lhundup, about whom nothing has been heard since his arrest in May, and the self-immolation of 131 Tibetans since 2009. In 2009, I visited Tibet with the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Together, we published our report Breaking the Deadlock and, in highlighting the religious dimension, we argued:

“Any attempts to resolve the political situation … must take due account is of the profound spiritual life of Tibetan people”.

In Laos and Vietnam, the situation is perilous; I have given the noble Lord details. We had a debate only yesterday about what some have described as genocide in North Korea. For 10 years, I have chaired the all-party group and I commend the Hansard report of yesterday’s debate to all Members of the House.

As I have outlined in a speech which rather inadequately has tried to set the scene for the many more detailed interventions which will follow, Article 18 is under threat in almost every corner of the world. As we approach the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, we should recall that, long before Article 18, it asserted the importance of religious freedom.

Societies which deny such freedoms are invariably unhappy societies. Research shows that there is a direct link between economic prosperity and religious freedom. In 1965, Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s proclamation on religious freedom, said correctly that a society which promotes religious freedom will be enlivened and enriched and one that does not will decay.

Article 18 is a foundational human right—many would say the foundational right—because, while there should be no hierarchy of rights and all rights are interdependent, without the freedom to choose, practise, share without coercion and change your beliefs, what freedom is there? As my noble friend Lord Sacks says, on this question, the fate of the 21st century may turn. I beg to move.

11.55 am

Lord Patten (Con):

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has just pointed to the clear and indisputable fact that religious pluralism is in the deepest peril worldwide. My sense is that this is at its highest point today within the Muslim world, despite the terrible fate of Christians in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed to. We must all deplore the attacks of Sunni on Shia, of Shia on Sunni and of both Shia and Sunni, when they can, on Alawites and Ismailis. It is Muslim on Muslim, exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said.

I predict that this terrible intolerance of one sort of Muslim for another is spreading fast from the near and Middle East with attendant violence, even now, to countries such as Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim-majority nation on earth and has hitherto had quite a good reputation for religious pluralism and interreligious harmony.

Of course, Christians of different sorts have been just as bad in centuries past. We must never forget that. In England a few centuries ago, my co-religionists routinely burned or eviscerated and cut up the co-religionists of the right reverend Prelates on the Bishops’ Bench. When times altered politically, the Protestants took the chance to return the grisly compliment to my co-religionists. This is a terrible stain on both of us, which we must never forget. It can never be eradicated, any more than the joint attacks by both forms of Christianity on the Jewish faith, particularly in Europe, which are another stain on our history. Fingers should be pointed not at individual Muslims but simply at present facts. Centuries and horrors later, we all go to each other’s churches, visit each other’s synagogues and, despite terrible attacks on the latter which still happen in so-called civilised Europe and while our theological debate can be pretty vicious within different faiths, interfaith harmony more or less obtains between us.

Alas, in the Muslim world interfaith disharmony is spreading fast, not diminishing. That may take not just decades but centuries to play out until it reaches what Christians and Christians and Jews have managed to reach, if the lamentable history of interfaith warfare is any guide.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has already pointed to Indonesia. We have the danger of that country being next. It is a complex country that I have visited. So much depends on the actions about freedom of belief by the new President. He faces increasing harassment, discrimination and violence, which fly in the face of the Indonesia constitution, against not just Christians but Ahmadis and adherents of traditional indigenous faiths and beliefs. Only zero tolerance by President Yudhoyono towards religious intolerance will stop the rot spreading, to the great disadvantage of minority religions and the stability and peace of the many islands that make up Indonesia. In the short term, Christian churches face persecution, such as happened this Thursday at churches such as HKBP Philadelphia church in Bekasi or the Yasmin church in Bogor, to give just two examples.

These threats spread and we see them spreading now, today, into Brunei in a state-sponsored way. There, the new penal code introduced by the ruler brings full-on Sharia penalties for those of other beliefs or those wishing even to change their beliefs. I have been trying to tot up the number of international agreements this breaks under the new Brunei code, starting with the declaration of human rights, through to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, both ratified by Brunei, to the ASEAN charter on respect for fundamental freedoms, under Article 2. The list lengthens. Unless Brunei draws back from the introduction of severe penalties of the most violent physical sort for even the propagation of faiths other than Islam or for persuading people to change religion, it will unleash a moral, civil and religious tiger within Brunei, and that country will end up turning on itself.


Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab):

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on his timely initiative. He gave many examples. In Mosul last weekend the Islamic state effectively declared war on the Christians of Iraq. They may soon be given the choice: convert or face the sword. Some 200 schoolgirls, as yet unaccounted for, were taken by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. In May we learnt of the fate of Meriam Ibrahim who, happily, just today has reached Europe. How many other cases of a similar nature have we not heard of? All are examples of a wider pattern of religious intolerance, mainly by Islamic extremists and the ignoring of Article 18 principles.

The good news, among the gloom, is that there is now a new recognition of the problem. I cite the all-party report on Article 18 and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and her colleagues on that. I pay warm tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi. Her speech at Georgetown University on 15 November last year was heartfelt and powerful and has been reflected in a new focus in the annual Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights report.

His Royal Highness Prince Charles delivered a remarkable speech to Middle East faith leaders at Clarence House last December, where he said:

“It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants”.

Last month I organised a visit on the subject by a Council of Europe colleague and was happily amazed by the number of NGOs in London that are involved with this problem. The fact is that of the 131 countries of a broadly Christian culture, not one lacks religious toleration. Of the 49 countries of a Muslim culture, 17 tolerate no other religion. Pew Research shows that Christians are the most increasingly persecuted for their faith; Muslims are the second but that is mainly Muslim on Muslim save, for example, in Burma and Sri Lanka. Of course, we should not forget the plight of the peaceful Baha’is. The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran states that:

“At least 734 Baha’is have reportedly been arrested since 2004 and 136 are currently detained”.

The same report stated, on Christians:

“In recent years, Christians, many of whom are converts from Muslim backgrounds, have faced a similar pattern of persecution”.

Why does it concern us? It concerns us because world peace depends on building bridges across such divides. States that honour Article 18 will honour other human rights. How do we, in the United Kingdom, respond? We can respond bilaterally, giving a good example by promoting human rights generally at home and not diminishing the work of the Council of Europe convention on human rights, for example. Secondly, we can focus not only on Christians, but highlight the persecution of Shia in Mosul, for example. We can speak up and express indignation in, for example, the annual human rights report. Equally, and more controversially, we should consider some conditionality on aid for those countries that are the major defaulters in this area.

Multilaterally, we are now a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Have we taken any initiatives in this field? There is EU conditionality. Are the EU External Action Service and the high representative adequately staffed in this area? The Council of Europe has a series of relevant partnership agreements with Morocco, Jordan and Palestine.

The overall situation is worsening though there are some signs of increasing recognition of the problem.

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ … ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’”.

12.05 pm

Lord Avebury (LD):

My Lords, I, too, join in the congratulations that have been expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on giving us this opportunity to deal with violations of Article 18 around the world, in particular the violations by Muslim on Muslim which have been mentioned by all three noble Lords who have spoken so far.

I want to ask what the Government are doing in particular about the assassinations and massacres of Shia Muslims in Pakistan by the terrorist organisations Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, and Tehreek-e-Taliban. These organisations share a common ideology based on returning to the principles of governance and legal systems that they believe were followed by the rightly guided caliphs who succeeded the Prophet in the 7th century. They share a hatred of other forms of Islam, including particularly the Shia, who form 20% of the population of Pakistan. However, anybody who does not share the terrorists’ medieval beliefs is seen as a target, including Ahmadi Muslims and Christians, who are also victims of targeted assassinations and legal persecution under the blasphemy laws.

To see the destination to which these people would take Pakistan, look at what is happening in the areas of Syria and Iraq occupied by ISIS, a similar band of off-the-wall genocidal thugs. They have executed thousands of Shia and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, are driving out the 4,000 year-old Christian community of Mosul after stripping them of all their property. The Pakistani fundamentalists say on the internet and at public meetings that the Shia are infidels who must be killed. In 2013, the International Imam Hussain Council recorded nearly 700 Shia murders. The actual number was higher because reports dried up after media workers were killed and threatened.

The Pakistan army has launched a major operation against the terrorist bases in North Waziristan, but military action is also needed to counter the terrorism in Sindh and Punjab. The anti-crime campaign in Karachi, which has been going on for nearly a year, has not been a success. The newspaper Dawn reported that, in the first few months, several TTP killers had been arrested but their political masters raised a hue and cry. Both Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif supported Aurangzeb Farooqi, head of the ASWJ, when he stood under the banner of the Wahhabi alliance at the 2013 elections. He was one of 53 alleged terrorists whose candidature raised not a word of protest from the conventional parties. These parties are naive enough to believe in the existence of the “good Taliban” who can be persuaded to play by the rules of democracy and the UDHR. But when negotiations were attempted in February, there was no sign that the terrorists would abandon their objective of transforming Pakistan into a Wahhabi caliphate.

The spread of violent extremism in Sindh, and in Karachi in particular, is fuelled by the growth of religious seminaries peddling a doctrine similar to Wahhabism and funded by sources in the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia in particular. According to the New York Times, there are 4,000 of these seminaries across Sindh and the ASWJ has signed up 50,000 members in the province in parallel. In Islamabad, 26 unauthorised Deobandi mosques provide sanctuary to TTP-ASWJ terrorists. There is no system of inspection of mosques to ensure that their curriculum is within the law—a matter which should interest us in view of the revelations about schools in Birmingham.

It is the ideology that says God orders its adherents to kill people with different beliefs that needs to be eliminated. The UN Human Rights Council should identify and block the funding that spreads religious hatred, and we should press far more robustly for the infamous blasphemy laws in Pakistan to be repealed.

In April, the Select Committee on International Development asked the Government to produce clear evidence that our aid programme was effective in reducing the extremist threat in Pakistan. In response, the Government pointed out that,

“Education is vital to transforming Pakistan’s future and is where a significant proportion of our funds are directed. This is firmly in the UK’s own national interest”.

However, the country has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, and the popularity of the madrassas is largely due to the inadequacy of the public education system. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will elaborate on how we assess value for money in our educational spending in Pakistan and how it combats religious hatred and intolerance.

12.10 pm

Baroness Cox (CB):

My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend on this important debate. Time only allows me to highlight two often forgotten situations: the plight of Ahmadis, and northern Nigeria, which I recently visited.

Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan continue to suffer violence, murder and attacks on their mosques, businesses and properties. Although they adhere to their principle of “love for all, hatred for none”, they also suffer persecution in Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Bulgaria and the Middle East. I wish I could say much more, but time only allows me to put this concern on the record.

In Nigeria, the 12 northern states and Plateau state have suffered for many years from conflicts associated with religious tensions and the nomadic Fulani. Thousands of Christians and many Muslims have been killed. Hundreds of churches and some mosques have been burnt. Systematic discrimination and repeated attacks have led the Anglican Bishop of Kano to describe as “religious cleansing” the mass exodus of non-indigene Christians long before Boko Haram arrived.

Boko Haram’s agenda is the expulsion of all Christians from northern Nigeria. Many Muslims who do not support Boko Haram have also been slaughtered, while bombings in public places inflict death and injury indiscriminately. I and a small group from my NGO, HART, returned just two weeks ago from those areas. The suffering wrought by Boko Haram is devastating. There are almost daily reports of killings of civilians. Reliable statistics are hard to ascertain, but an estimated 5,000 people have been killed since January. Widely reported bombings this year include three on Abuja, with over 430 deaths, and two in Jos, killing 125 people. Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi and other north-eastern cities have also suffered regular bombings.

The majority of Boko Haram’s victims are killed during the almost daily attacks on villages across the north-east that receive far less attention. Just three examples while we were in the region include attacks on 30 June in Bau, Taraba state, with 300 homes burnt, many people killed and everything destroyed including the church and all the crops. On the same day there was an attack on a Christian community near Gwallaga in Bauchi state. On 28 June, Fan in Plateau state, which we visited, was attacked in what local people call a jihad assault with heavy guns and trucks.

The scale of abductions is horrific. Even before the widely publicised kidnapping of the schoolgirls at Chibok, at least 1,800 people had already reportedly been abducted in Maiduguri, and 60 girls and 31 boys have subsequently been abducted. Boko Haram’s hatred of western education and education for girls has resulted, since 2012, in the burning of more than 300 schools, with more than 10,000 children deprived of education. Some 173 teachers have been killed this year. Some live in such terror that they will not even carry a pen as it would indicate their profession. Brutal attacks on teachers on school property have been reported with security forces standing by.

Many people are concerned by indications that Boko Haram is supported by senior figures in the military and the Government, by its increasingly sophisticated training and weaponry, by the allegations of evidence of international support from Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iran, by links with al-Shabaab, and by the use of foreign mercenaries from Syria, Chad, Niger and Libya. Consequently, there is very widespread anxiety over the possible disintegration of the nation of Nigeria and/or the spread of militant Islam beyond the northern states to other parts of the country; and that the President and the Government do not have the will or the capacity to withstand the process of Islamisation spearheaded by Boko Haram.

More positively, there are creative initiatives to foster reconciliation between communities fractured by violence between Christians and Muslims. We visited one programme in Jos and were deeply encouraged by the friendships between the different faith traditions. It is hoped that such confidence-building measures will reduce the propensity for renewed violence and help Muslims who do not wish to radicalise to withstand pressures from extremists such as Boko Haram. But it remains to be seen whether these positive developments at grass-roots level can make a significant difference for the future of the nation.

I ask the Minister: what representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the Government of Nigeria to ensure the security of all civilians, the protection of their right to freedom of religion and belief, and the provision of humanitarian assistance to the victims of Boko Haram’s assaults? What assistance is being given by DfID both to provide humanitarian assistance to those victims and to support those much needed initiatives to promote reconciliation and confidence-building between Christian and Muslim communities, particularly in the epicentres of violence, such as Bauchi and Jos, which are the current front lines in the battle against Islamist extremism, which poses such grave threats for the future of the nation and, ultimately, further afield throughout Africa?

12.15 pm

Lord Cormack (Con):

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us a splendid and comprehensive opening speech, for which we are all extremely grateful. It is a particular pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I have unstinted admiration for her courage, tenacity, energy and all that she does to stand up for what is good, honest, holy and of good report.

A civilised country must have as its hallmark that it allows its citizens to believe in peace and to worship in public without any threat. In the admirable report produced by my noble friend Lady Berridge and others, it is shameful to read that in 139 countries between 2006 and 2010 Christians were harassed. Although I am proud to be a Christian and we live in what is still essentially a Christian country, we should all be concerned, whether the persecution is of Muslims in Burma, Hindus in Pakistan, Falun Gong in China or Baha’i in Iran.

In the brief time I have, I would like to make one or two concrete proposals to my noble friend who will respond to this debate. First, I would like to see a unit in No. 10 devoted to religious freedom around the world. Secondly, I would like to see a high-level ambassador appointed to travel the world and give this message. He may not thank me for the suggestion but who better than my right honourable friend William Hague, who will have time on his hands next year? As the author of a notable biography of William Wilberforce, who better to press these points home?

I would also like us to have another of these summits. Summits seem to be the flavour of the time. We had one recently on female genital mutilation—very important indeed. We have had others. But a summit in London summoned by and addressed by the Prime Minister and the other political leaders could do a great deal to focus world attention on this terrible problem. It is a terrible problem because the future of civilisation—no less—is at stake.

Progress can be made. I speak with some small personal knowledge here. When I entered another place in 1970, I helped to form, with the noble Lord, Lord Janner of Braunstone, the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. I spoke to persecuted Jews in Moscow as the KGB was knocking at their doors to arrest them. In 1990, 20 years later, as chairman of an international human rights organisation, I—who had been forbidden any visa to go into the Soviet Union, who had had the Soviet embassy door slammed in my face—was there in the heart of the Kremlin handing a Bible to the chef de cabinet of Mr Gorbachev, symbolic of a million that they were allowing in. During the course of that conversation, I was told that by the end of the year, no one in the Soviet Union would be in prison for their religious belief. We have all been reminded recently that what is going on in Russia at the moment is not all sweetness and light, and we are deeply exercised by what we have heard. But, nevertheless, the fact that such progress could be made in those 20 years, and that even now Christians in Russia are indeed allowed to worship in freedom, as are others, is the mark of real progress.

Last Sunday I attended a patronal festival in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster. It was the feast of St Margaret of Antioch and the Dean of Westminster preached a moving and splendid sermon. He referred to the desecration of Mosul and spoke, with the degree of concern and embarrassment that we all feel, about some of the dictatorships that did allow Christians and others to worship in freedom. We must address what has happened, unequivocally declare war on extremism wherever it is to be found, and by doing the sort of things I proposed a moment ago, this Government could play a significant part in doing precisely that.

12.21 pm

Lord Parekh (Lab):

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for securing this debate and introducing it so well. The freedom to profess and practise religion is obviously a fundamental human right, so I will not spend any time emphasising its importance. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us a catalogue of all the various countries where this right has been systematically violated, and we have seen horrendous cases of religious hatred, bigotry and violence. I want to shift the focus slightly. Although we have been looking at the rest of the world, it might not be entirely amiss to look at ourselves from time to time.

Let us consider, for example, the controversy in France about wearing the hijab; Muslim girls are not allowed to wear it. There is the referendum in Switzerland which has declared that minarets on mosques should not exceed a certain height. This is not only a matter for day-to-day politics. It has been embodied into the Swiss constitution so it cannot be changed without an enormous amount of effort. Let us consider the trouble that Sikhs encountered here in our own country in trying to wear their turbans when working on building sites and so on. I want to suggest that, while it is absolutely vital that we should fight all forms of religious bigotry where it exists, it might be useful to look at the kind of difficulties that countries which are otherwise well-meaning face in implementing religious freedom. Extremes are easy to spot and to deal with, but what is not so easy is dealing with the practices of countries like our own, or India or most others, that mean well but get into certain difficulties and face dilemmas. I thought I would alert noble Lords to around half a dozen of the difficulties which different countries have faced from time to time.

The right to profess religion includes the right to propagate it, although it is striking to note that Article 18 makes no reference to the right to do so. However, we all recognise that religious freedom must include the right to propagate it. How far does propagating one’s religion go? Does it include proselytising? If it does, how far can proselytising go? Can you use financial inducements in the way so many American evangelicals have done in India? Can you use social or moral tricks such as saying, “If you do not convert to Christianity or Islam, your soul will be condemned to damnation”? When these things happen in certain countries, naturally people get a little worried and begin to ask themselves what legitimate limits might be placed on religious freedom. That is one area of controversy.

Another area is this. Religious freedom is fine, but religion includes all manner of beliefs. What sorts of belief might we tolerate and what might we not? For example, Catholics have taught over the years that Jews killed their Lord and are guilty of deicide. Is that the kind of belief that should be freely allowed? Should Muslims be freely allowed to tell their children that all idolaters—unfortunately, I, as a Hindu, would be an idolater—are condemned to go to hell and should be summarily dispensed with?

Thirdly, there are religious practices: church bells, for example, or muezzins calling people to prayer, or wearing a hijab, which is the kind of problem the French faced. Should all religious practices be allowed? Going a step further, there are religiously based social practices. For example, if my religion says polygamy is permitted, should it be allowed? If my religion says untouchability is sanctioned, should it be allowed?

Fourthly, there is the scope of religious freedom. This is the problem they faced in Switzerland. Minarets became a problem not in themselves, but because it was felt that minarets of a certain height changed the landscape and the identity of the country or of the area in which they were located. That is something that worried them. It was not a question of human rights because the question cannot be articulated in the language of human rights. No one’s human rights were violated. It can be articulated only in the language of collective identity. Does a nation or culture have a right to a certain kind of environment and landscape in which it can recognise itself?

My suggestion is simply that, while we ought to concentrate on these enormous acts of religious violence and hatred and deal with them as effectively as we can, there are two important issues to remember. First, problems to do with religious freedom arise in all societies—civilised and so-called not so civilised. Secondly, religions over the centuries have lived in peace in one form or another. We need to ask ourselves what has happened in modernity and what new forces it has generated, so that we can understand why people who once knew how to live together—had developed traditions, good sense and practices of living together—suddenly are at each other’s throat.

12.26 pm

Lord Hylton (CB):

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing the debate. In recent years, we have seen how closely foreign affairs and home affairs interact. For that reason, I strongly welcome the statement by 100 British Muslim imams against young men going to Syria, Iraq and other places for jihad. I trust the imams know of the work in Iraq, ever since the fall of Saddam, of Canon Andrew White. He has brought together the senior religious leaders of all traditions. Many participants in these meetings had never met each other before. The results were unprecedented: joint Shia-Sunni fatwas, first against suicide bombing and later against violence of any kind directed at minority groups. The high-level meetings were followed up by a series of local ones.

The congregation of St George’s church, Baghdad, which is technically Anglican and served by my friend, Canon White, contains people from every Christian tradition that ever existed in Iraq. Next to the church is a fully equipped, free medical clinic, serving all comers.

Despite the almost total exodus of Christians from the city of Mosul, which has been mentioned, I am glad to say that last Sunday there was a joint Christian-Muslim service in St George’s Catholic Chaldean church in or near Mosul. They celebrated their common Iraqi citizenship. Patriarch Sako was quoted as saying:

“I carry every Iraqi in my heart”.

The aforementioned exodus was caused by the so-called Islamic State. My other friend, Mr Yonadam Kanna, a long-serving member of the Iraqi Parliament, sadly reported that five Christian families in Mosul had been forced to convert to Islam because they were too old or too ill to flee.

In the last 100 years, the once-thriving Armenian and Jewish communities have been almost entirely driven out of Iraq. There are now only five or six Jews remaining. As my noble friend Lord Alton mentioned, Iraqi Christians once numbered about 1.5 million in 2003; today, they are reduced to perhaps 250,000. Many have been killed, while others fled to neighbouring states or, if possible, reached Britain, North America or Australia. Humanitarian support for all groups is now more needed than ever. That is why I greatly welcome the concern recently expressed by the Pope and the UN Secretary-General.

In the Middle East outside Iraq, violence in Palestine and Israel has led, I am sorry to say, to fall-out in Europe. I condemn as strongly as possible violence in France and Germany against Jews or anywhere against Muslims. Branding people unjustly as terrorists or scapegoating them because of their religious affiliation is wrong. It recalls the dehumanisation of the other that took place in Nazi Germany or in Rwanda and leads all too easily to genocide. There are no sub-humans. We have to discover and to respect each other’s God-given dignity, remembering that the blood in the veins of all is always red.

Do Her Majesty’s Government see Article 18 of the universal declaration as an important criterion for the selection of the next UN Secretary-General? If that person will not uphold freedom of conscience and faith, and freedom to change one’s religion, then who will?

What is the Government’s policy towards the 23 countries with laws on apostasy? Will they take up this matter with the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference? Will they bear in mind that so-called crimes of apostasy and blasphemy are often punishable by death? Many countries that have abolished or suspended capital punishment should be useful allies on this point. Everyone should know that freedom to choose and respect for diversity are both desirable in themselves and good for society.

12.32 pm

The Lord Bishop of Coventry:

My Lords, like other Members of your Lordships’ House, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate and pay tribute to his great efforts on this vital issue. I thank him for his reference to the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. I have a personal connection with the charter, as one of my predecessors, William, was among the reverend fathers who advised the King to enshrine its principles of justice and freedom, including freedoms of religion. Magna Carta, despite our own failings—to which reference has been made—to live up to its logic, remains the seed of a tree of which Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is part, and under the cover of which all the peoples of the world should be allowed to stand.

Freedom of belief, including the freedom to change one’s belief, is like a canary in the mine of human rights. Abuses of religious freedom are often an early indication that all is not well. Indonesia, to which we have already heard reference, has shown worrying signs of this dynamic, with properly licensed churches being closed by an alliance of local government and extremist groups tolerated by the national state, followed in its wake by wider restrictions on freedom of expression. We look for more hopeful signs in this new future.

Where religious freedom is abused, peace and security often become more elusive. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan give rise to societal hostility to minority groups, legitimising people of violence. And then, when extremism sets in and takes hold, Governments are tempted to restrict everyone’s liberty in their attempt to overcome extremists but, in fact, strengthen their hand by weakening the democratic voice of others and restricting the democratic space for all, as we saw in Egypt under President Mubarak, and there is a greater risk under President Sisi.

Promoting freedom of religion is an important counterterrorism strategy. Matters of religious freedom are woven throughout many of the greatest foreign policy challenges facing our nation so it is self-evident that we must have an effective, religiously informed, philosophically sound strategy to guide how our Government will protect and promote it abroad. I hope therefore that the Minister will be able to give assurances that the recent Cabinet reshuffle will not lead to a weakening in the Government’s own commitments to freedom of religion and belief, including the role of the former Foreign Secretary’s Human Rights Advisory Group and the newly formed working group on religious freedom. I hope that, on the contrary, there will be, following the very fine proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, a strengthening of our systems and capabilities.

Ensuring Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to upholding and defending Article 18 remains critical since, by any measurement, as we all know, this freedom is under serious and sustained pressure across so much of the globe, with an estimated 76% of the world’s population enduring a high or very high level of restrictions, among them the estimated 250 million Christians bearing persecution in one form or another and nowhere more so, as we have heard, than in the ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq. The desperate, dignified letter of the Armenian Patriarch of Babylon following recent events in Mosul,

“to all who have a living conscience in Iraq and all the world”,

is a tract for our times. We cannot be silent or inactive in the face of such suffering. We must also, according to the same conscience, at the same time, with the same resolve—as the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Avebury, and others have said—speak out for the Shi’ite Muslims and Sufi minorities in that place, who are facing barbaric cruelty. I was very impressed with the Iraqi al-Khoei Foundation’s statement this week, condemning the destruction of the Christian community in Mosul and beyond.

In that spirit, my hope is that churches and faith communities here in the UK will find ways to speak out together in a regular and routine manner whenever Article 18 is threatened, giving people a clear space and affirmation, encouraging them to be able to sing their song in different places and in different ways. Speaking together and acting in this way would draw on the deep patterns of peaceful coexistence that religious communities at their best have lived out through the centuries in cities such as Mosul throughout the world. It would be a common witness against the politicisation of religion and the manipulation of it by people of violence with evil intent, and a witness against the internal degradation of religion. It would model new ways of relating that would challenge the way international religious freedom is understood. It would help to counter accusations of colonialism, often reinforced in media reporting, that sometimes construe Article 18 along narrowly confessional lines. It would help to build a wider international consensus that creates the necessary space for Governments around the world to defend this most basic freedom of humanity.

12.38 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con):

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom. In 2012, Pew Research found that there was violence or the threat of violence to compel people to adhere to religious norms in 39% of countries, up from just 18% in 2007. Muslims and Jews experienced six-year highs in the number of countries in which they were harassed by governments, individuals or groups. Christians and Muslims were harassed in the largest number of countries—110 and 109 respectively. This accelerating deterioration is not confined to any particular religion, belief or ideology and all continents are affected.

In Pakistan, Hindu families are fleeing to refugee camps because Hindu women and girls are being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men. These girls include Lucky Bhel, who was kidnapped in the Sindh region and forced to convert and marry the disciple of a local religious leader. In other areas of the world, it is Muslims who face restrictions, such as Chinese Uighur Muslim students who are being denied the freedom to observe the Ramadan fast. Monitored by teaching staff, they are threatened with not receiving their degree if they refuse to eat. Ironically, in Iran this month, five inhabitants of Kermanshah were flogged and in Tehran the lips of a Christian were burnt with cigarettes for not fasting.

In Colombia, 200 churches have been forced to close by armed criminal gangs, and the constitutional court has held that indigenous Colombians do not have the same rights relating to religious freedom as the rest of the population. The report Freedom of Thought 2013 by the International Humanist and Ethical Union states that you can be put to death for expressing atheism in 13 countries. Kazakhstan recently imposed two five-day prison sentences on a Muslim and a Baptist. Their offences were, respectively, distributing religious literature that has not passed the state censorship that allows Muslim literature to be only Sunni, and meeting their fellow Christians for worship without state permission.

The former situation of Meriam Ibrahim in Sudan pinpoints the nub of Article 18. It is the right of every human being to choose their own religion, to choose not to have a religion or to choose to change their religion. You may choose to follow the faith of your family but it is not like DNA: you do not have to inherit the faith of your parents. Meriam was deemed a Muslim because that was her father’s faith, but she chose the Christian faith of her mother.

The failure to protect the Article 18 rights for 76% of the human population is nothing short of a global crisis. In the time allowed, I have two brief suggestions. First, in our international development policy, freedom of religion and belief must be a priority, as it is in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to Canon Andrew White, who has been in Baghdad of late. In response to a Written Question, I asked whether any of the humanitarian aid had gone to supporting his reconciliation work. Unfortunately, the reply I received was that he had not applied. I ask the Minister: when Canon White returns to the country this weekend, could we perhaps telephone him to see if he needs any assistance?

Secondly, we must put our own house in order. It is easy to see abuse of Article 18 rights as something that happens in countries where more people hold to more religious views, more passionately. However, are not the issues in Peter Clarke’s report about schools in Birmingham also about respect for Article 18 rights of both Muslim and non-Muslim children? “Dispatches” revealed centres in north London that teach children according to an alleged interpretation of Judaism and curtail contact with the outside world. The same concern exists at the extreme end of allegedly Christian communities.

Can it really be the case that the Ahmaddiya Muslim community has been told that it cannot join SACRE in Birmingham unless its members refuse to call themselves Muslims? Leaders I have spoken to say that this is reminiscent of how the persecution began in Pakistan. We will not be heard on a world stage if we neglect Article 18 duties here at home. Are we dealing with concerns relating to Islamic extremes while ignoring others? We may not be Sudan, saying, “You have to have the faith of your father”, but are some children not exposed to other messages or beliefs in our plural society? Without such exposure, can these young people be said to have made any choice, particularly one that complies with Article 18?

RE is a valuable part of the school curriculum, but should not Article 18—your right to choose your faith—also be a key feature of our curriculum? Combined with the anecdotal evidence of difficulties for some people in the UK to convert, is it not time we had an Article 18 assessment here at home or invited the UN special rapporteur to visit us?

ISIS has used social media for ill, but we have yet to see religious communities use it to promote their messages. Smartphones have the potential to expose young people to messages like never before and create huge shifts in people’s religious affiliations. For that reason, urgent action is needed. Article 18 will be the primary challenge in human rights law for the next generation.

12.43 pm

Lord Desai (Lab):

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, who has done so much for the cause of religious freedom. I have also been impressed by the many noble Lords who have reported on human rights violations of Article 18 around the world.

I will concentrate not on what ought to be, but on what is, and why. The UDHR was more or less a dead letter in the years of the Cold War. We each tried to protect out patch and let the communists do what they liked by way of persecution. Their persecution was secular, not religious—they persecuted the religious and atheists alike. It is only since the breakdown of the Cold War in 1991 that the discourse on human rights has become important in the international sphere. I remember that because I did some work on it for the United Nations Development Programme some years ago. What has happened since the beginning of the 21st century is that the golden period of about 10 years when we could talk about human rights and enforce human rights has now gone, for two major reasons. First, the rise of Islamism, as a threat to Muslim states in the Middle East and Asia, has weakened the state in those countries. Islamism has also posed a terrorist threat to western countries, whereby the whole question of religious identity has become somewhat debatable.

In the past three or four years, we have witnessed the breakdown of the international order. We were used to an international order, with the United States, the UK, France, and so on going out to protect certain kinds of freedom around the world. What we have witnessed in Syria and since is that nobody is going to police this world. If nation states are weak with respect to attacks on minorities—if not complicit sometimes in attacks on minorities, as in ISIS, and Brunei and in various other places—and if the international system is not capable of rushing to the aid of people whose human rights are being violated, it is clear that that sort of international system is now dead. Not all that many years ago, people were against a unipolar system and were dying for a multipolar system of international relations. Well, it is here—and it is dreadful, because a multipolar system is an anarchic system, and in an anarchic system whoever has the power of armaments and money will get away with violating people’s human rights. It is not just about Article 18; the sheer safety of civilians is being violated across the Middle East. As many noble Lords have said, Muslims are killing Muslims in larger numbers than ever in the past. It is not just Sunnis killing Shias and Shias killing Sunnis; Sunnis are killing Sunnis as well, in ISIS.

The international system is helpless, because we have decided that liberal interventionism is no longer possible. That is our decision. Whether it is right or not, we have decided that it is not possible. If you cannot be a liberal interventionist, you cannot enforce human rights. You can have advisories, ambassadors and Ministers going around the world and cajoling states to do this or that, but they are not going to take any notice; why should they? Unless there is some sort of sanction of arms—let us be absolutely frank about this—behind our determination to restore human rights, they will not be honoured.

The only thing on which I would disagree with my noble friend Lord Parekh is that religions have not always lived in peace with each other—in fact, hardly ever. Eras of religious peace are rare; religious tolerance is a rare thing, which is why we always talk about it. I do not have time to go into examples, but most of the time religions are nasty to each other. World history could be written around that.

In this limited sphere, what can we effectively do? As in the example of Meriam Ibrahim, yes, if you can harness public opinion in a very large way, perhaps you can make a partial difference. However, our problem arises from the breakdown of the international order, rather than any particular nastiness on the part of any particular religion.

12.48 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB):

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate. We have heard moving accounts of Muslims in Burma and Tamils in Sri Lanka persecuted by militant Buddhists, with Christians persecuted and marginalised in much of the Middle East, Sudan and other parts of Africa. Yesterday’s Times carried a moving article by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the plight of Christians in Iraq. We are all disturbed by the loss of life in conflict between the Shias, Sunnis and Alawites in Syria and Iraq and the persecution of Ahmadiyyas and Shias in Pakistan. I could go on. We can continue to condemn such killings, but if we are to make real progress, we need to look hard and dispassionately at why people of religion become either victims or perpetrators of religious hatred.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I speak frankly. Religions do not help themselves by claims of exclusivity or superiority. This simply demeans other members of our one human race and suggests that they, the others, are lesser beings. We all know what happens in the school playground when one boy boasts—it is usually boys—that, “My dad is bigger or stronger or cleverer than your dad”. The end result is fisticuffs. My appeal to our different religions and the leaders of religion is to stop playing children’s games. Guru Nanak witnessed the suffering caused by this children’s game of “my religion is better than yours” in conflict between Hindus and Muslims in the sub-continent in the 15th century. In his very first sermon, he declared that the one God of us all is not in the least bit interested in our different religious labels, but in our contribution to a fairer and more peaceful world.

There is another important area that must be tackled if we are to move away from continuing conflict between religions. Most religious scriptures were written many years after the death of the founder of the religion. Scriptural texts often contain a complex amalgam of history, social and cultural norms of the day that can easily become dated. They can easily mask and distort important underlying ethical imperatives about our responsibilities to one another and to future generations. It is sometimes claimed that often contradictory texts in different religions are the literal word of God. Those who wish to resort to violence in the name of religion can all too easily ignore the context and use quotations in scriptures to justify negative attitudes and violent behaviour towards others.

I believe that what is required is greater open dialogue that puts transient social and cultural norms embedded in scriptures in their true context. It is not easy. My plea to our Government is for them to give an energetic lead in promoting true interfaith dialogue that puts distorting history and culture in their true perspective to reveal common underlying ethical imperatives in our different faiths. Such a dialogue would provide sane and uplifting guidance for responsible and peaceful living in the complex world of today.

12.53 pm

Lord Haskel (Lab):

My Lords, I have always had a particular interest in Article 18, because it was persecution that brought me to this country as a child. I hope that noble Lords will not mind if I speak about Article 18 closer to home, like the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate.

The Jewish community has a strong connection with the Convention on Human Rights. The first draft was prepared by Eleanor Roosevelt. Its second draft and the underlying structure were prepared by René Cassin, a French jurist and the son of a Jewish family. What I did not know—and I am indebted to a briefing from Rabbi Lea Muehlstein—was that in 1945 he founded the Consultative Council of Jewish Organizations, which was dedicated to providing encouragement from a Jewish perspective to a nascent UN human rights system. There is an organisation named in his honour, which continues his work today, promoting and protecting universal rights, drawing on Jewish experience and values. So, from the start, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was embraced by Jewish people.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others have recounted, some religious groups preach fundamentalism. Some religious teachers think that Article 18 permits religious law to take precedence over civil law. Jews faced this dilemma as far back as the 14th century. Then rabbis decided that the law of the land is the law. They dictated that religious practices must not be in contravention of the law of the state. Article 18 brings this up to date, allowing spiritual and religious self-fulfilment for all faiths. However, there are fundamentalists today in all religions who do not accept this. That is why, to counter this, here and elsewhere in Europe government and local authorities have to make sure that no group is excluded. No one should be left out of housing policy, employment policy, education policy, welfare, skills training and all the other parts of a civilised society.

There is another way that this Government can help Article 18 to flourish in Europe: they can stop confusing the European Court of Human Rights and the European Union in order to placate Eurosceptics. All members of the European Union are bound by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, but that itself is based on the European Convention on Human Rights, which belongs to the Council of Europe. Withdrawing from the European Union has nothing to do with deporting radical preachers or giving prisoners the vote. Will the Minister tell us whether, to satisfy Eurosceptics, the Prime Minister is considering withdrawing from the European convention, or passing a law limiting its powers in the United Kingdom? Or are we going to have our own Bill of Rights, which I believe is being concocted by a group of Conservative lawyers? For all of us in Europe who value the freedoms we have under Article 18, any of these alternatives would be a disaster. Not only would they undermine our position under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but picking and choosing which bits of human rights law we like and which we do not would inevitably lead to the suggestion that the way to deal with fundamentalism and radical fundamental preachers is to withdraw from Article 18.

Last week, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a secular think tank of which I have the honour to be the honorary president, published its research on the perceptions and experiences of anti-Semitism among Jews in this country. The report stressed that in general most Jews in Britain feel comfortable in the UK with their Jewishness and with their Britishness in spite of a perceived rise in anti-Semitism. Although they may not know it, this feeling of comfort is due in large part to the benefits granted by the state, as laid out in Article 18. Let us keep it that way for the benefit of all faiths.

12.58 pm

Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho (CB):

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate so inspiringly.

I have no strongly held religious beliefs but I feel lucky that I can stand up in our Parliament’s second Chamber and proclaim what I do or do not believe. But, more than that, I can link on my blog to my short speech today without any fear of reprisal. I can tweet, I can put it on Facebook and, if I am feeling particularly sociable, on Tumblr as well, all of which I can do without fear of any consequence.

As with so many areas that your Lordships’ House tackles, technology is changing the landscape. Human rights and freedom of expression are no exception. When Article 18 of the UN declaration was created, there was no way that we could have conceived of the future connectivity of the world. I make a plea that we do not forget the vital importance of these new technology platforms and that we continue to champion their availability. An open internet ensures that people are able to share views, get support and reveal abuses of freedom. I also caution, as we come to understand this brave new world, that there are many risks to navigate.

I asked my wise Twitter followers for examples of where technology had enabled religious freedoms. One story hit home. A young man, who asked to remain anonymous, found me to tell me that he was a gay Christian in Zimbabwe and felt worthless—that was until he got connected. He then found many digital communities all over the world where he could talk about the complex issues that he faced. I was touched that he wanted to tell his story to me in particular because he had seen on the BBC news website that this Chamber had passed the gay marriage legislation.

People find solace and relief in the networks of the online world. Take the example of the girls snatched by Boko Haram or the tragedy of Meriam Ibrahim. Such incidents spread around the world with a pace and scale that was unimaginable before. Just this morning I was reading that journalists are being informed from the depths of Gaza by Twitter. It seems that you can hardly be a self-respecting religious leader without active social media management. The Pope has 4.2 million Twitter followers and the Dalai Lama has 9.4 million. I hope that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury is not dispirited with his 60,000.

Religion takes many forms online. There is a page on Facebook for the Bible, with more than 4.5 million followers. God Wants You to Know is an app that has 2 million active monthly users. Perhaps my favourite are ads that are now being bought around the web saying “pray for an atheist”, encouraging people to do just that. I found examples as diverse as a nun who tweets from her silent order, a global group of Jesuits and a portal for Mormons.

I believe that we cannot debate Article 18 without also making sure that we are demanding a free and open internet. No Government should be allowed to shut down the platforms that enable people to express themselves. There are currently 44 countries worldwide that are censoring the internet, and this is immensely serious. It is perhaps no surprise that the five worst-performing countries against the criterion of an “open and free” internet, as mapped by the Web Foundation, are Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China, Yemen and Qatar. In China, during peaceful protests by law-abiding Muslims in the north-west provinces in 2009, the Government shut down Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. In 2009, Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali attempted to ban Facebook but, as we know, 18 months later, activist youths employed that tool in the beginnings of their revolution in the so-called Arab spring.

The global connectivity that we now enjoy can deliver enormous gains in freedom of speech and belief. However, it would be naive of me to suggest that it is not also leading to a far more complex and interlinked world of extremist behaviour. I emphasise that I believe that the vast majority of activity online is benign, but we have only to look at the very effective way that ISIS in Iraq has used technology to push out its twisted messages, as well as raise money, to see the other side of the freedoms of the web.

However, I urge policymakers to be cautious. Surely it is always better to err on the side of freedom of speech and to tread lightly and carefully. Of course, we must prosecute people who fall foul of international law, but I would hate to see a world where expressing religious views in the digital sphere, which some people find unacceptable, might lead to a knock on your physical door. We in this country are mercifully far away from that scenario but many people are not.

1.03 pm

Viscount Bridgeman (Con):

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his masterly—if deeply worrying—overview of this problem. Article 18 speaks to the very core of who we are and, indeed, is an essential component of our identities as human beings. We are having this debate against the dreadful news that for the first time in the Christian era there are now no Christians at all in Mosul. This is perhaps mitigated in some small part by the welcome news of the safe arrival in Rome this morning of Meriam Ibrahim, who was sentenced to death in Sudan.

An illustration of how the religious freedom problem in India criss-crosses all faiths is the persecution in India of the Dalit community, formerly known as “the untouchables”. They are persecuted not only if they convert to Islam but also if they convert to Christianity. As many noble Lords have said, freedom of religion or belief ensures that we are not compelled to believe anything that we do not want to, taking agnostic or atheistic positions if we choose. It is important that Article 18 does not stand alone. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear on this. Freedom of opinion or expression, freedom of association or assembly, and freedom of religion or belief are three strands that together make up that greater freedom, vested in human dignity, to which all people of good will aspire.

Around the world, sadly we see conflict situations where respect for freedom or belief has to be the crucial element in any sustainable peace. Reference has already been made to the current crisis in Iraq, the conflict in Rakhine State in Burma, and post-conflict situations such as Sri Lanka, to name only a few. There are currently two glaring cases of abuse of or contempt for Article 18 in North Korea and Eritrea, to which the noble Lord referred. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that Her Majesty’s Government are doing their utmost to secure implementation of the recommendations of the UN commission on North Korea and will support the UN commission of inquiry on Eritrea announced earlier this year. It is only by ensuring that Article 18 remains firmly on the agenda, and by seeking to tackle violations of it in a systematic fashion, that we can hope to have some impact on the many desperate situations faced by so many in the world today.

What steps can we take? Religious tolerance for those of us living in the United Kingdom very much begins at home. I was interested in the references by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and my noble friend Lord Patten to Magna Carta, which plays such a great part in American culture as well as our own. This country has a proud record of tolerance. It sets an example possibly more appreciated by our neighbours than we sometimes realise. I note the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, lest we get too smug; the noble Lord, Lord Singh, made reference to this; and I was deeply moved by what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, as to his origins. The tradition of your Lordships’ House, part of the bricks and mortar of this place, is that a speaker is willed by the House, whatever his or her political views, to give of his or her best. My predecessor in this debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, has given an interesting sideline on the internet implications of this.

This tolerance by example needs to be carried out into the wider world of Article 18, to be raised wherever possible as a high priority at bilateral and multilateral levels. I am pleased to see that the FCO’s latest democracy and human rights report states that,

“every minister … is an ambassador for religious freedom”.

That action is being taken to educate those within the department and across government on how better to tackle these issues—again, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to this. It is also important that the European Union speaks, for once, with one voice in implementing its guidelines on freedom of religion and belief, and I would welcome an update on progress from my noble friend the Minister.

In conclusion, I refer to the work of the office of the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who is not in his place. I understand that, despite a reported shortage of funding for his department, he has nevertheless championed, in addition to his own brief, some sensitive but important issues, including women’s rights. Here, again, I would welcome an update from my noble friend the Minister.

1.08 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab):

My Lords, I find this a very troubling debate. The situation is getting worse and we do not know what to do about it. I begin by quoting the special rapporteur’s report last year, which states:

“In practice, manifestations of collective religious hatred frequently overlap with national, racial, ethnic or other forms of hatred, and in many situations it may seem impossible to clearly separate these phenomena. As a result, the label ‘religion’ can sometimes be imprecise and problematic when used to describe complex phenomena and motives of collective hatred. Nevertheless it remains obvious that religions and beliefs can serve as powerful demarcators of ‘us-versus-them’ groupings. Unfortunately, there are many examples testifying to this destructive potential of religion. At the same time, one should always bear in mind that anti-hatred movements exist within all religions and that most adherents of the different religious and belief traditions are committed to practising their faith as a source of peace, charity and compassion, rather than of hostility and hatred”.

What can we say? Where is the new intellectual paradigm, if I may call it that, to reconcile this vast contradiction between what is professed as the peaceful role of religion and the growth of this demagoguery and hatred? I believe that socioeconomic inequality and population growth have something to do with it; and I wish that the Roman Catholic Church would move in the direction in which the Pope seems to be going on the question of birth control. That is because many of the problems are in socioeconomic groups C, D and E on a world scale—in other words, in poor and poorer countries.

We will be accused of imperialism if we try to, as it were, lay down the law. That is extremely frustrating, possibly exasperating. So we have to ask why the United Nations cannot take stronger steps. I ask the Minister: what initiatives can the Foreign Office, in conjunction with Europe or otherwise, take? I speak as a middle-of-the-road member of the Church of England—perhaps we all ought to put our cards on the table. How can we, in our tradition, get better adherence mechanisms? There was something called the Rabat Plan of Action, but what sort of brainstorming can the Foreign Office put into achieving stronger adherence mechanisms in relation to the reports and findings of the special rapporteur? When push comes to shove, the question is: how can the big nations of the world simply ignore these things? It is a tricky political problem but we have to be a bit franker about it. One of the excellent briefing notes from the Library states that Article 18 is now an orphan. I am afraid that that rings a bell, does it not?

We all want to be tolerant but we do not want to be tolerant of other people’s intolerance. We know this in our religious traditions. There has always been—as many of us were brought up to believe—a belief that our religion had the exclusive knowledge of the truth, and that other religious beliefs were next door to apostasy. We have to become more secular at the same time as recognising that religion has more to contribute in the world. My noble friend Lord Desai was getting near to a good point. The post-Marxist analysis suggests that we no longer have the struggle of capital and labour, nor do we have the struggle of the colonised versus the coloniser. Does, as the rapporteur says, the identifier become something against the other? It is impossible in this debate to say anything useful in five minutes but I hope that the Foreign Office will think about what stronger adherence mechanisms could be promulgated for a world discussion? I hope that we can get India, China and other great nations on board to do something like that because I cannot see any other way forward.

1.14 pm

Lord Morrow (DUP):

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this important debate.

I begin by affirming the great importance of the provision of an article in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights that explicitly and specifically protects religious freedom. Back in the 1960s, it was common to hear academics suggest that religion was generally on the wane and that we were moving towards a more secularised world. While church attendance may be less than what it was in the United Kingdom, globally the world is becoming if anything more, not less, religious. In this regard we have seen an explosion of academic interest in religion and desecularisation. In this context, Article 18 is more important than ever, and I pay special tribute to the Lebanese philosopher, Professor Charles Malik, Lebanon’s first ambassador to the United Nations, who drafted and championed Article 18.

I now turn to the application of Article 18 domestically. I would like to focus particularly on the second limb, namely,

“freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

In Christian theology, belief without action is meaningless. We are told in the letter of James—I make no apology for quoting from the Bible because discussions of religious freedom are meaningless if not rooted in an appreciation of real and relevant theology—that,

“faith without works is dead”.

The Christian understanding of worship as living out one’s faith 24/7 and of rejecting the idea that one is just a Christian on Sunday is absolutely central to what it means to be a Christian. This was set out so very clearly by William Wilberforce in the 1797 book that he called his manifesto, in which he explained how real Christianity means transforming belief into action across the whole of life, including politics.

In this context, I have to say that I very much agree with the American first lady, Michelle Obama, when she said:

“Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday for a good sermon … It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well … especially in those quiet moments, when the spotlight’s not on us, and we’re making those daily choices about how to live our lives”.

In short, “doing God”, to coin a phrase, involves doing.

Secularists will generously tell us of their fierce commitment to religious freedom and then, in a move that makes them sound particularly supportive, say they believe that freedom of religious belief is an absolute right. In return for offering an absolute right to belief, however, they go on to argue that if ever there is a conflict between the right to manifest religious belief and any other right, the manifestation of religious belief should be curtailed. The truth is that the notion that providing an absolute right to religious belief in this country constitutes something meaningful and substantive is problematic on two bases. First, it means something only if you believe that the British state can get inside your head and prevent you believing what you believe, which does not seem likely. Secondly, it suggests that the centre of religious faith is belief and that one can constrain practice at will without placing religious liberty in jeopardy.

In order to see just how ridiculous this is, we must return to the active principle and that clear statement from the New Testament that,

“faith without works is dead”.

The Bible does not say that faith without works is truncated or diminished. It says that it is actually negated. There can be no faith without works. Mindful of this, it is absolutely right that Article 18 is very clear that the manifestation of religious belief is very broad based.

As I look around Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, I see many wonderful examples of people of faith properly exercising their religious freedom in both belief and practice. Leading politicians have not been slow to affirm this with respect to welfare service provision, as indeed they should if they take their Article 18 obligations seriously. The willingness of politicians to affirm the right to manifest belief, however, is, I am afraid, rather selective. I say this with regret, not because I want to suggest that, if people claim that an action is in some way related to their faith, they should be allowed to proceed regardless—that would clearly be dangerous. Rather, I am suggesting that, if we are to respect the place of religion in our society, and the place of Article 18, we must make space for mainstream religious practice: both that which the secular commentariat agrees with and that which makes them uncomfortable. Sadly, this is not happening.

I would like to have said much more, but time has caught up with me. I would like to have said something in relation to Nigeria, but I totally agree with, and want to associate myself with, the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on this matter.

1.20 pm

Lord Elton (Con):

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, I would like much more time, but would have liked it to prepare what I have to say. I do not think I have ever embarked on a debate and learnt so much about what is going on in the world that I did not know. I knew the generality, but we now have the particularity, which is very stark. It is interesting that we make this assault on this difficult problem seven days after what was probably the best and longest debate this House has held, on the Assisted Dying Bill, where we looked at death on the individual scale. It seems that we are now turning the microscope round and using it as a telescope to look at death on the ethnic and global scale. The two chime together. It is a grim thought that this current of dark, heartless evil runs through the whole human race and through every faith at some stage in its development.

I approach this with perhaps an unusual level of humility as I listen to the expertise and the visible bravery and courage of others in the debate. First, I would like to leave in your Lordships’ minds—this may puzzle your Lordships until I get to the end—the thought that, when the Syrian disaster first began to grab our attention, it was clear, although not apparently recognised in the echelons of power, that all the minorities who were threatened actually trusted Assad and, rightly, feared the rebels.

We have had a number of approaches this morning and this afternoon. My noble friend Lord Anderson, who is not in his place at the moment, started by saying that peace depends on building bridges between faiths. He was echoed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, who pointed out that it would be extremely helpful if, at the local and particularly the national level, all sorts of faiths represented in a troubled area could get together to show what was happening and to condemn it. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed to where this is happening at the bottom of the pile, although involving people at the top. It is being done by the astonishing—and in future, I hope, saintly—Canon Andrew White, who is living out a very frail life, in extreme danger, bringing polar opposites in Iraq together. That is one element that we need to pursue.

Next, I echo my noble friend Lady Berridge, who pointed out the importance of religious education. It may amuse her to know that in the flotsam and jetsam that will eventually wash up on some distant Whitehall desk is a tiny paragraph or two of mine from the Queen’s Speech debate—not yet answered—on the similar point that religious education is needed to underpin the civics and the civil behaviour of our population. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, was looking for some means of controlling micro-oppression, as I might call it. What does that is understanding, and education is where you begin to build it.

As has been described by many noble Lords, we are watching a forest fire. My noble friend Lord Patten said it was spreading to Indonesia, but we need to look the other way, too, as it is spreading here. Fires burn in different ways: a heath fire can burn underground for weeks and burst out long after the fire brigade has gone home and gone on holiday. It can also burn fiercely, brightly and scorchingly. That is what is happening.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, used an interesting phrase. He said that Article 18 cannot be enforced and that, if we are honest, we need arms, I think he said. However, we cannot go down that road for reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Singh, pointed out and which our Lord pointed out to Peter somewhere near Caesarea Philippi, because, in the end, it brings evil in its train. However, we can at least deny to the forces of evil some of their materiel, or the weapons of war, which are now reaching a serious scale, for instance in Nigeria.

My noble friend Lady Cox pointed the finger at, among others, Saudi Arabia. That happens in other areas, too. Saudi Arabia was among the first to support the rebels in Syria. Has the time come not only for me to sit down—as my noble friend is pointing out—but for my noble friend and his colleagues to look carefully at whether the whole arrangement of our alliances in the Middle East and north Africa should be considered and, probably, drastically revised?

1.26 pm

Lord Clarke of Hampstead (Lab):

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and make the comment that when he and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, bring these issues to the House, all of us learn something. I am sure we are all grateful for the work that they do, not only here at home but where these problems exist.

I will speak about the abuse of human rights in Iran. Every so often, we get a chance in the House to ask Questions. I have repeatedly asked about the plight of the people in Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty; perhaps the Minister can give us an update of what is going on in those areas. Can the Minister also say, in his reply, how many times the United Nations, through the Security Council or other forums, has condemned the brutality and inhumanity of the mullahs in Iran? I will also speak today about the persecution of Christians.

This week in Iran, on Monday, the mullahs’ regime publicly flogged five people, with 70 lashes each, in Nobahar Junction, Azadi Square, Ferdowsi Square and Motahari Junction. In yet another brutal measure, on 14 July, the criminal agents of the mullahs put out the cigarette of a Christian on his lips—stubbed out a cigarette—and beat him savagely. From 11 to 13 July, five more were flogged in the cities of Babolsar and Shiraz. Three of them allegedly received lashes for not observing the fast during Ramadan and two were accused of stealing. These acts are perpetrated in the name of religious leaders—fundamentalists and those who rule by fear.

How different it is now from the outpourings of support for President Rouhani when he won the sham election last year. Since he won that election, 800 people have been executed. The litany goes on and on. In the debate this afternoon, I will talk about two young Iranian women, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh. They were born into Muslim families in Iran and describe a period of questioning and exploring other religions which led to their conversions to Christianity in 1999. They met one another in 2005 in Turkey while studying theology and felt called to return to Iran to share the gospel with fellow Iranians.

Upon their return, the two women began a ministry together which involved Bible distribution and holding secret house church meetings for prostitutes and young people. This work eventually drew the attention of the Iranian authorities and they were arrested in 2009. Their initial detention lasted for 14 days during which they were interrogated, threatened with physical torture and put under pressure to give details of their contacts. The charges levelled against them included apostasy, for which they were placed in Evin Prison and faced the very real threat of death by hanging. Maryam and Marziyeh spent the following nine months in the terrible, infamous Evin Prison, subject to regular interrogation and under pressure to recant, which they consistently refused to do. Considered infidels, they were denied medical treatment and access to other facilities. Despite the harsh conditions they faced, the women were able to give witness to fellow prisoners and the guards, and show them their belief in God.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and other noble Lords have referred to the situation in Mosul. I am confident that all noble Lords will be pleased to hear what Maryam Rajani, the leader of the Iranian Council of Resistance, said this week. Speaking two days ago about the stance taken by the Association of Muslim Scholars, which condemned aggression against Christians, she said, “It was a reasonable stance that challenges fundamentalism and religious extremism”. She added, “Aggression against Christians is unIslamic”, and I hope that message gets through. After 259 days without bail, Maryam and Marziyeh will welcome somebody speaking out for Christians in Iran. Six months after their release, those two ladies went to live in the United States. They have dedicated themselves to sharing their experience in a book, Captive in Iran, which I recommend.

Finally, I implore the Minister to ask our recently appointed Foreign Secretary to re-examine the Government’s relationship with the Iranian mullahs. Instead of talking about reducing the pretty ineffective sanctions, we should be seeking firmer sanctions to help those who are suffering.

1.32 pm

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (LD):

Tolerance, respect for the other, care for the stranger without the gate: these are the core British values that are enshrined and honoured by our common rule of law. The careful wording of Article 18 meticulously reflects these values and encapsulates our worldwide common right to worship as we wish. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, so powerfully proclaims, this right is under extraordinary attack, so too are our British values, entwined as they are with the article. We have an enemy here in the UK, and it is the same enemy that has erupted in parts of Syria, in Mosul and other cities in northern Iraq and elsewhere.

What is our enemy? We—Jews, Christians and Muslims—are all people of the book. Our capacity to co-operate, share, live, study and work together derives from that. Our common enemy, the Salafi, do not agree. For the Salafi, we are the enemy and must convert or die. The Salafi identify themselves as Muslims, but there are many different strands of Islam. Some may be hostile to other strands or other faiths, but Salafist thinking mutates disastrously to destruction, dominance and executions. It is important to distinguish between these common strands of Islam. Words that are thrown around so loosely now, such as “Islamist”, “fundamentalist Muslim” and so on, are not the Salafists. It is the Salafists and their cousins the Wahhabis who are our common enemy and the enemy of other faiths as well.

Let me give an example. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke strongly about the situation in north Iraq. I speak about Mosul, which I know well. What is it like today with ISIS—that armed group of Salafists—having taken over the city and the region? Civil society has gone. All social life has disappeared from the streets. No family parks are allowed to function. No play areas for children can be opened. The coffee shops have shut. There is no judiciary. The ruler is the executioner. All minorities are subject to displacement, assault and execution. So, too, are the majorities. The holy shrines of prophets are being destroyed. All the mosques of other Sunni strands of Islam—that is to say, the non-jihadi Salafist group—have been taken over. The clerks have either been assassinated or persecuted. The synagogues have been taken over as well. The Shia are under the threat of killing wherever they are. They are the majority in the country. They are being executed. The Yezidi have been displaced from their homes and places of work. The Shabak groups are obliged to leave their areas. Christians have been turned out forcibly. They have had a special favour; they have been warned and told to leave.

The Shia are automatically executed when their names betray their strand of Islam. Anyone who is not Sunni jihadi—Salafi—must hide or run away. Women are not allowed to leave their homes without a niqab covering the whole of their face and should be accompanied by a man. That is not Islam. Show me the verse in the holy Koran that says that must be the case. You cannot find it. Public services are fractionally running, but there is separation of the sexes. The management team of your local health centre, if it still exists, is from ISIS. The directors-general of health and education are now prisoners in their own homes. They are Sunni. The health facilities are being run by few staff, with the majority remaining inside their homes in order to stay alive. Those who are working are uncertain about any salaries. Even worse, who is going to provide them with the drugs and fresh equipment when their stocks run out, which is happening? There will be epidemics, including cholera, which was in the area very recently. The new rule applied to schools and hospitals allocates a day for men and another for women, so that the two genders are not in the facility at the same time.

Is there not familiarity with the situation that was uncovered this week by Her Majesty’s inspectorate in its report on schools in Birmingham? Examples of this include altering the curriculum and schemes of work so that children are not allowed to hear musical instruments or to sing and changing the art curriculum so that they may see and draw only designs but not full faces or images. I recall having that argument with Hezbollah in south Lebanon. Indeed, in 2007 the Muslim Council stated that girls in schools should be covered except for their hands and faces. I cannot find the verse that tells me that that should be so. There is no Christmas, despite the fact that the birth of Christ is in the Koran and Jesus is a prophet in Islam.

What is the Islam that I know and love? It talks of music:

“’Tis said, the pipe and lute that charm our ears

Derive their melody from rolling spheres;

But Faith, o’erpassing speculation’s bound,

Can see what sweetens every jangled sound.

We, who are parts of Adam, heard with him

The song of angels and of seraphim.

Music uplifts the soul to realms above.

The ashes glow, the latent fires increase:

We listen and are fed with joy and peace”.

What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that true Islam, like true Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, is firmly embedded in the school curriculum, taught, implemented and demonstrated? Her Majesty’s Government must give an answer.

1.38 pm

Lord Sacks (CB):

My Lords, I, too, am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for allowing us this opportunity to share our concerns about one of the most profoundly disturbing developments in our time. Seldom have I heard a more searing and devastating set of testimonies than I have heard today of the evils currently being committed in the name of the God of love and peace and compassion.

Twenty-five years ago, in 1989, Soviet communism collapsed, the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War came to an end. Many believed that we were about to witness throughout the world the spread of market economics, liberal democracy and the kind of tolerances we associate with both. Today, we know it did not happen that way. We have seen instead a new tribalism, leading to massacres in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, the division and balkanisation of societies along religious lines, and the return of the one thing that could take humanity back to the dark ages, namely the use of religion as the robe of sanctity to disguise and legitimate the naked pursuit of power.

The persecution of Christians throughout much of the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and elsewhere is one of the crimes against humanity of our time, and I am appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked. We have heard about this from many eloquent speakers today. What is happening to Christians in these places is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing. We must not forget either, as others have said, that the vast majority of victims of Islamist violence and terror are Muslim, and our hearts go out to them too, as they do to members of all other persecuted groups such as the Baha’i in Iran, and so many others.

I wish I did not have to speak about the position of Jewish communities throughout the world but, sadly, I do. In the past few weeks mobs have assaulted Jews in France, attacking synagogues and setting fire to Jewish-owned shops. There were attacks in Berlin. In November 2013, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights published a report showing that two-thirds of the Jews in Europe regard anti-Semitism as a significant factor in their lives, three-quarters believe that it has worsened significantly in the past five years, one-third have personally experienced some form of harassment, and they are deeply afraid for the future. Forgive me if I say that I did not expect, 120 years after the Dreyfus case and 70 years after the Holocaust, that the cry of “Death to the Jews” would be heard again in the streets of France and Germany.

In all this we recognise the power of the internet and social media to turn any local conflict into a global one. We see how the wilful confusion of religion and politics allows soluble political problems to be turned into insoluble religious ones. We witness the ignorance that allows people to mistake one strand within a faith for the whole of that faith, and we pay a high price for our fascination with extremists. It is the worst, not the best, who know how to capture the attention of a troubled and confused world.

That people in the 21st century are being murdered, terrorised, victimised, intimidated and robbed of their liberties because of the way they worship God is a moral outrage, a political scandal and a desecration of faith itself. I believe that God himself weeps at the evils being committed in His name. Let us urge, as strongly as we can, the worldwide implementation of Article 18 as one of the great challenges of our time so that we can all exercise our fundamental right to live our faith without fear.

1.43 pm

Lord Bach (Lab):

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the expert speakers in this debate and a particular privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, with his tremendous reputation. His speech today was full of wisdom and wise words, and it was excellent that he was here to take part.

This has been a major debate on a major issue of our times, instigated, if I may say so, by a major player in your Lordships’ House. Only two weeks ago we were debating the World Service and the British Council. Yesterday, as the House has heard, we were debating the United Nations commission of inquiry into North Korea, and today we debate an issue of fundamental importance to the type of world we want. What these debates have in common, of course, is that they were all secured by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. They also have in common an emphasis on human rights and decent values in a very imperfect world. The House and the wider public owe the noble Lord a great deal.

The central issue of today’s debate is, surely, the continued and increasing breaches of Article 18 in a large number of countries where Governments have a theoretical commitment to freedom of religion or belief. Governments have turned a blind eye or, in some cases, encouraged outrages against those who have dared to remain true to their faith or, even, to their lack of faith.

Recently, his Holiness Pope Francis said that there were more martyrs today than in the first centuries of Christianity, which, we were all taught at school, were scarred by blood and brutality. Almost every week, we hear of new outrages committed against people of faith. In our minds today are the Christians who have had to flee Mosul as they faced wicked threats and treatment from ISIS. Indeed, shocking news is coming through as we speak. The BBC is reporting that Islamist group ISIS has ordered women aged between 11 to 46 years in Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation. If that is true it has the capacity to shock even us, given all that we have heard today. There are, and have been for days, reports that last weekend ISIS was putting on Christian doors in Mosul in Arabic, the letter “N”, meaning Nazarene, to point out where Christians lived. It does not need me to say the parallels that there are with the last 100 years in Nazi Germany.

This is all in a part of the world where Christianity began and where, even under despotic rule, whether it be the Ottoman Empire or more recent dictators, Christians have been allowed to practise their religion without hindrance. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, wrote graphically in yesterday’s Times reminding us that the number of Christians in Mosul has gone from 30,000 to zero. Of course, there are many other examples of this, not just in the troubled Middle East, but around the world. It was estimated that one-third of countries in the world had a high or very high level of government restrictions on freedom of religion and that 76% of the world’s population, calculated as 5.3 billion people, live in such countries.

The questions for us must include why, in a more globalised world, where people are able to mix, meet and travel more freely than ever before in human history, there is now more, not less, intolerance. What can we do about it? The All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge—it is a privilege to hear her today—in its paper on Article 18, talked with great force and made the point that although Article 18 remains the single most significant statement of the international community’s commitment to freedom of religion or belief, it is hamstrung in practice because it has never been the subject of a focused United Nations convention, unlike the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities, and others.

Professor Malcolm Evans, who I believe assisted the Committee, argues that there has been evidence of intention of creating such a convention, but it has not been achieved and, to use his words, is still “on hold” after 45 years. That is why the document that the committee of the noble Baroness produced is called Article 18: An Orphaned Right. The Government are rightly praised for describing freedom of religion or belief as,

“one of the Government’s key human rights priorities”.

It is good to hear that every Minister will be an ambassador for religious freedom when he or she goes abroad, and that the Government have a strategy for promoting this particular freedom. Indeed, one can see the influence of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, in these developments. Although it is always an enormous pleasure to debate with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and I am delighted to see him in his place, it is in one way a shame that the noble Baroness is not here today because this is really her territory. It seems to the Opposition that she has made a real mark on this subject in her years in office. The recommendations in the all-party report are very important. It would be good to hear from the Minister when he sums up what responses to them he can give on behalf of the Government.

Many countries are formally in breach of Article 18. Some have been referred to in today’s debate. Of course, what is happening in Syria and Iran, where Sunni is set against Shia and vice versa, shows us that interfaith behaviour is entirely relevant to Article 18. Historically, Christianity has hardly set a good example over the centuries—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. But that is no reason now for not arguing strongly that there is an urgent need for Article 18 to be complied with around the world.

It is interesting to note that Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which calls in the same way for freedom of faith and belief, seems on balance to have been much better observed over the years than Article 18, which we are debating today. Surely that is partly because there is an effective legal remedy if Article 9 of the ECHR is breached. Article 9 does not stand alone; it is embedded in practical law. That must surely be a lesson for us to learn.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the speech made by my right honourable friend Douglas Alexander on this subject following an article he wrote in the Daily Telegraph last Christmas. I will quote from it but time is very short. He just said:

“It is simply wrong for any faith to be persecuted”,

and that to say so,

“is not to support one faith over another—it is to say that persecution and oppression of our fellow human beings in the name of any god or ideology is never acceptable and is morally repugnant”.

Surely he is right and action is necessary. We look forward to hearing what the Government propose. Of course, the House looks forward to hearing from the Minister.

1.53 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD):

My Lords, I am afraid that in the very short time I have, because we are running a little in this debate, it will be impossible to respond to everybody on every point that has been made. I apologise for that.

I was also going to apologise that, in this instance, I am summing up on something that is so very much the subject of my noble friend Lady Warsi. In preparing for this debate, I read the speeches she made in Georgetown, at the Pontifical Academy in Rome, in Oman and Kuala Lumpur. After that, my high respect for her rose further. It is partly because of who she is and where she comes from that she is able to speak with such conviction to diverse audiences and have them accept what she says. In particular, she talks about her background as the child of a mixed Sunni/Shia family and her comfortableness about being a British Muslim. In understanding religion, she quoted in one speech an imam who taught her that your religion flows across the bed of the society in which you live. That is a lovely concept. Therefore, to be a British Muslim is of course a little different from being an Omani or Saudi Muslim, and the same applies also for many other faiths. I pay very considerable tribute to the work my noble friend has done and is doing.

She certainly contributed to upgrading the Foreign Office’s emphasis and understanding of the importance of religion. The Human Rights and Democracy Report for this year has a very useful section on freedom of religion and belief which says,

“Baroness Warsi has made freedom of religion or belief an FCO priority, and now every minister at the FCO is an ambassador for religious freedom, raising and promoting these issues in the countries with which they engage”.

It goes on to talk about training and seminars within the FCO and briefings for representatives elsewhere. My noble friend Lord Cormack asked for a specific FCO envoy on religion. The problem that other states have found with appointing a specific envoy on religion is that a large number of countries then refuse to accept visits from him or her. However, everyone having this as part of what they do and say helps in the many difficult countries with which we must have this dialogue.

Of course, my noble friend Lady Warsi also worked with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and one must have dialogue with a range of organisations around the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, will know, the UK currently holds the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Sir Andrew Burns has done some excellent work in that respect. He, my noble friend Lady Warsi and others have also encouraged various different faith communities to think about genocide and holocaust as something which moves across different faiths and has been a tragedy for many of them. In recent months, the commemoration of the tragedy of Srebrenica is very much part of all that.

I assure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry that the reshuffle will in no sense affect this emphasis. This Government, as my noble friend Lady Warsi said, “does God” because we recognise that religion, power, faith and ideology all flow in and out of each other. Religion can be misused as a force for evil as well as good.

As most noble Lords will know, my noble friend Lady Warsi convened a group within the Foreign Office on freedom of religion and belief, which includes people from a range of different faiths—and from none, because we emphasise that Article 18 includes the right to believe, to change your religion or not to believe. It is a statement of religious toleration and of toleration of thought altogether. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, suggested that the United Kingdom was on its way to withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and then, perhaps in time, from the UN declaration on human rights, or at least from Article 18. All I can say is: not this coalition Government, whatever a future Government might do.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to our work with the Arab League and others on freedom of religion. We work with as many international organisations as we can on all these issues.

We heard in this debate a huge range of concerns about attacks on many different religions in many different countries. The most immediate concerns we all have are about the attacks on Christian communities across the Middle East, the region from which the three great monotheistic religions grew and within which different faiths have managed to co-exist, with occasional disasters, without too much hatred over so many centuries. We also heard about south Asia, from which a number of other global faiths emerged, where to our horror we see Buddhists attacking Muslims and Hindus. There is also the Muslim-on-Muslim violence that we see across the Middle East. We know that religion is used in a whole host of ways across a great many countries.

Religion has linked historically with power and has also—sorry; I have lost one of my pages. Religion was abused as part of the way in which states established themselves, such as forced conversions and killings of religious minorities. When I read of the way that ISIS is behaving in Mosul, I recalled that in 1870, when the tsarist Russians conquered the north Caucasus, they offered the Circassians and the Chechens the choice of conversion or expulsion. That is the origin of the Chechen and Circassian communities in Aleppo, Amman and elsewhere. It is one of the reasons why the king of Jordan has just visited Grozny to talk to the local Chechens about some of those links.

We all have to recognise that tolerance takes a long time to develop. Religion and modernity have had a difficult relationship. Indeed, the origins of religious fundamentalism were in the 19th century United States, as rural communities came to terms with the tremendous problems of transition to urban and modern life. We have seen that turbulence now running across the Middle East and elsewhere, where the speed of change from traditional society to modernity is so much greater and where, therefore, the fundamentalist reaction is often so much stronger.

We are conscious that the resistance to a liberal and open society has been there in a great many religions. I recall the papal bull that denounced liberalism and all its works in the 1870s. To some extent, the disillusion with Arab nationalism and the collapse of the secular faith of Marxist communism have left a hard-line version of political Islam as an all-enveloping ideology for the discontented, dispossessed and frustrated young men of so many countries, including some of our communities in this country.

A number of noble Lords have talked about the United Kingdom as an example. Among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, talked about the importance of remembering that religious toleration begins at home. I am not entirely sure that we should quote Magna Carta in our defence. I know that Article 1 of Magna Carta says that the English church is to be free, but that is the defence of the organised religion, not of the individual. It is also the defence of the church and all its privileges from the king. That is not my understanding of Article 18, so we need to careful about quoting Magna Carta.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry:

I interpreted it as the seed from which has grown the tree and a proper universal application of that principle of seeking for religion not to be controlled by the state.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

My Lords, it was a very small seed and, sadly, the tree—looking back at British history—grew rather slowly. We had a civil war and quite a lot of killing of Protestants by Catholics and Catholics by Protestants and others on the way to the achievement of the religious toleration that we have.

I grew up as a Protestant and I was instinctively anti-Catholic. I did not have the category of Jewish in my mind so I had no concept of whether I should be anti-Jewish, pro-Jewish or what. I slowly learnt not to be anti-Catholic and so one has moved. Over the past two to three generations in this country, the levels of intolerance have, happily, gone down a great deal. When I occasionally go to services in Westminster Abbey where I was a choirboy, and where you would never have seen a Catholic priest in the 1950s, I see not only representatives of the other Christian churches, but a range of other faiths represented: the Chief Rabbi, representatives of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian, Baha’i and other communities. That is the way we should be going; interfaith dialogue and understanding in our schools and among different organised churches are what we should be doing to promote and defend an open society.

In particular, I regret that as regards what I think I learnt as a child about the three religions of the book—the Abrahamic faiths—we have lost some of that sense that the three great monotheistic religions belong together.

Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab):

In the profound spirit of liberalism and ecumenicism that has pervaded his speech, could the Minister have a look at the rules concerning Catholic marriages in the Crypt?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

I was going to make another point, which is that we are all deeply aware at the present moment of the current conflicts in the Middle East, including between Israel and Palestine and the extent to which that spills over to some of the misunderstandings of our discontented young. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, that I went to address the Board of Deputies before the last election on behalf of my party and said, among other things, that we all have to understand that Jerusalem is a holy city for three faiths. I was heckled by someone who said, “No it isn’t. It’s the eternal city of the Jews”. We all recognise that there are some great sensitivities here, with different understandings of the past, and that what some call Judea and Samaria others call the West Bank and others call the Holy Land. They are matters that we cannot get away from and have to address.

There are many who do a lot of good work in that respect in the United Kingdom. I recall Tariq Ramadan, now on the panel of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, saying that he sees Europe as the society within which the necessary reconciliation between Islam and modernity will take place. Let us all work for that.

A large number of countries have been mentioned in the debate and it is impossible in these last few minutes—

Lord Clarke of Hampstead:

I wonder if I can help the Minister. Ten years ago, as a practising Roman Catholic, my wife and I renewed our marriage vows in St Mary Undercroft. We have not been able to do it this year for our diamond wedding anniversary, but that might alleviate some of the fears that some Peers have.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

I thank the noble Lord for that contribution.

The situation in Iran and across the Middle East, the question of south Asia, what is happening in Burma, Indonesia and the new laws set out in Brunei—a great many countries have been mentioned. Sadly, however, we have not mentioned the Central African Republic, where Christians, or people who call themselves and identify themselves as Christians, are killing Muslims, and people who call themselves Muslims are killing Christians. I regret to say that they are probably using the religious symbol as an excuse for competing with the others. We have to recognise that not just modernity, but rising population and shortage of resources fuel some of those conflicts that appear to be religious.

Lord Lea of Crondall:

The Minister will be aware that I was not the only one who asked a specific question about what steps the Foreign Office is considering, and whether there is any brainstorming there, as to how to strengthen the adherence to the famous article.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire:

My Lords, I have two minutes left, which is why I am attempting to run through this. I promise I will write to the noble Lord, in so far as I can. I have already explained that the Foreign Office is actively engaged in all of this in terms of internal education and our constant dialogue with others. We have, again, come back on to the Human Rights Council so we are working across the board on this issue.

The debate has demonstrated our concern with the large number of countries in which religious toleration is absent and where there is discrimination against minorities within each religion and against different religions from that which is the official religion of that country. I can assure your Lordships that the Government are actively concerned with this. We see it as something that the British Government must actively work on, at home and throughout the world, as one of the important ways in which we help to maintain our open and tolerant society and to strengthen those principles of liberal, open societies across the world.

2.09 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

My Lords, although I had the privilege of entering your Lordships’ House in 1997 as an independent Cross-Bencher, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and I first met—in what seems a far-off age—when I was president of the National League of Young Liberals. I immediately recognised that I had encountered someone who had an extraordinary breadth of knowledge of world affairs. But as befits a former cathedral chorister, as he has pointed out, he also has a great knowledge of the relationship between faith and politics. Although he is not the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to whom we have all paid tribute for the extraordinary work that she does in this area, we are all indebted to him for his reply today, and we look forward to the correspondence that will come from the detailed questions that have been raised.

I thank all noble Lords who have made such rich, eloquent and knowledgeable contributions to this debate. None of us could have known how topical and timely this balloted Motion would prove to be. Many have spoken from first-hand experience. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, set us off with a metaphor about the unleashing of a tiger, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, used a similar metaphor when he talked about the prairie fire that is likely to spread. Many noble Lords referred to the dangers of that fire burning closer to home, including the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson.


The Minister actually took only 15 of his allotted 20 minutes, and with one speaker struck off the list—

Lord Newby (LD):

My Lords, I inform the noble Lord that the reason that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, took less than his time was because he did not have any more time than that to take.

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

I am sorry, my Lords, but people stuck to their time limits and one noble Lord removed his name from the list, so there was some extra time. The courtesy of the House is all that I am trying to observe in thanking all those who have participated in this important debate.

Article 18 demands an end to suppression, persecution and gross injustice. It should be at the heart of our concerns, not an orphaned right.

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con):

My Lords, I apologise, but the time allotted for this debate has now elapsed and I must put the question.

Motion agreed.


Also see:

Courage is needed now to stop the genocide of Christians in Iraq. Congressman Frank Wolf gave a floor speech declaring the expunging of Christians from Iraq as Genocide. Please listen to him. You can find his speech here.

Iraqi Christian Persecution Floor Speech by Congressman Frank Wolf

Meanwhile, the Assyrian International News Agency reports that All 45 Christian Institutions in Mosul Destroyed or Occupied By ISIS.

(AINA) — Since taking over Mosul on June 10, ISIS has destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered all 45 Christian institutions in Mosul.

The following is the complete list of the Christian institutions in Mosul, grouped by denomination.

Syriac Catholic Church:

1. Syrian Catholic Diocese – Maidan Neighborhood, Mosul

2. The Old Church of the Immaculate – Maidan Neighborhood, Mosul (The church goes back to the eighth century AD)

3. The New Church of the Immaculate – Maidan Neighborhood

4. Church of Mar (Saint) Toma – Khazraj Neighborhood

5. Museum of Mar (Saint) Toma – Khazraj Neighborhood

6. Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation – Muhandiseen Neighborhood

7. Church of the Virgin of Fatima – Faisaliah Neighborhood

8. Our Lady of Deliverance Chapel – Shifaa Neighborhood

9. The House of the Young Sisters of Jesus – Ras Al-Kour Neighborhood

10. Archbishop’s Palace Chapel – Dawasa Neighborhood

Syriac Orthodox Church:

1. Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese – Shurta Neighborhood

2. The Antiquarian Church of Saint Ahodeeni – Bab AlJadeed Neighborhood

3. Mar (Saint) Toma Church and cemetery, (the old Bishopric) – Khazraj Neighborhood

4. Church of The Immaculate (Castle) – Maidan Neighborhood

5. Church of The Immaculate – Shifaa Neighborhood

6. Mar (Saint) Aprim Church – Shurta Neighborhood

7. St. Joseph Church – The New Mosul Neighborhood

Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East:

1. Diocese of the Assyrian Church of the East – Noor Neighborhood

2. Assyrian Church of the East, Dawasa Neighborhood

3. Church of the Virgin Mary (old rite) – Wihda Neighborhood

Chaldean Church of Babylon:

1. Chaldean Diocese – Shurta Neighborhood

2. Miskinta Church – Mayassa Neighborhood

3. The Antiquarian Church of Shimon alSafa – Mayassa Neighborhood

4. Church of Mar (Saint) Buthyoon – Shahar AlSouq Neighborhood

5. Church of St. Ephrem, Wady AlAin Neighborhood

6. Church of St. Paul – Majmooaa AlThaqafiya District

7. The Old Church of the Immaculate (with the bombed archdiocese)- Shifaa Neighborhood

8. Church of the Holy Spirit – Bakir Neighborhood

9. Church of the Virgin Mary – Drakziliya Neighbourhood

10. Ancient Church of Saint Isaiah and Cemetery – Ras AlKour Neighborhood

11. Mother of Aid Church – Dawasa Neighborhood

12. The Antiquarian Church of St. George- Khazraj Neighborhood

13. St. George Monastery with Cemetery – Arab Neighborhood

14. Monastery of AlNasir (Victory) – Arab Neighborhood

15. Convent of the Chaldean Nuns – Mayassa Neighborhood

16. Monastery of St. Michael – Hawi Church Neighborhood

17. The Antiquarian Monastery of St. Elijah – Ghazlany Neighborhood

Armenian Orthodox Church:

1. Armenian Church – Maidan Neighborhood

2. The New Armenian Church – Wihda Neighborhood

Evangelical Presbyterian Church:

1. Evangelical Presbyterian Church – Mayassa Neighborhood

Latin Church:

1. Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers and Convent of Katrina Siena Nuns – Sa’a Neighborhood

2. Convent of the Dominican Sisters, – Mosul AlJadeed Neighborhood

3. Convent of the Dominican Sisters (AlKilma Monastery) – Majmooaa AlThaqafiya District

4. House of Qasada AlRasouliya (Apostolic Aim) (Institute of St. John the Beloved)


1. Christian Cemetery in the Ekab Valley which contains a small chapel.

This item is available as: HTML | PDF.

© 2014, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use.

Update July 31st:

INA News

Timeline of ISIS in Mosul

Posted 2014-07-29 15:57 GMT

he Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured the city of Mosul, Iraq on June 10. Almost immediately thereafter it began to drive Assyrians out of Mosul and destroy Christian and non-Sunni institutions. Here is the status as of July 29:

• There are no Assyrians/Christians remaining in Mosul, all have fled to the north, to Alqosh, Dohuk and other Assyrian villages.

• All Christian institutions in Mosul (churches, monasteries and cemeteries), numbering 45, have been destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered (story).

• All non-Sunni Muslim groups in Mosul — Shabaks, Yazidis and Turkmen — have been targeted by ISIS. Most have fled.

• Water and electricity have been cut off by ISIS. The water shortage in the areas surrounding Mosul is now a full-blown crisis. Residents have been forced to dig wells for drinking water. Water tankers are providing some relief.

• Mosul is now governed under Sharia law.

• 50,000 Assyrian residents of Baghdede (Qaraqosh) fled from fighting between ISIS and Kurds. Nearly 80% have returned.

The following is a summary of the events that have unfolded in Mosul.

• June 10: ISIS captures Mosul, occupies the Assyrian village of Qaraqosh, enters the St. Behnam Monastery, bombs an Armenian church (story).

• June 12: ISIS issues Islamic rules for Mosul (story).

• June 14: Assyrian, Yezidi and Shabak Villages come under Kurdish Control (story).

• June 15: Kurds attempt to remove an Assyrian council leader in Alqosh and replace him with a Kurd (story).

• June 18: ISIS Cuts Off Water, Electricity, Destroys Churches (story).

• June 19: ISIS destroys statue of the famous Arab poet Abu Tammam (story).

• June 21: ISIS begins imposing a poll tax (jizya) on Assyrians in Mosul (story), orders unmarried women to ‘Jihad by sex’ (story), destroys the statue of the Virgin Mary at the Immaculate Church of the Highest in the neighborhood of AlShafa in Mosul, as well as the statue of Mullah Osman Al-Musali. Shiite Turkmen in the villages of AlKibba and Shraikhan flee after receiving threats from ISIS. ISIS arrests 25 village elders and young men who are Turkmen in the village of AlShamsiyat; their whereabouts is still unknown. (story) ISIS orders Christian, Yazidis and Shiite government employees not to report for work in Mosul (story).

• June 23: ISIS Rape Christian Mother and Daughter, Kill 4 Christian Women for Not Wearing Veil (story).

• June 25: ISIS limits water from the plants in Mosul to one hour per day. Residents in surrounding areas are forced to dig wells (story).

• June 26: Kurds Clash With ISIS Near Assyrian Town East of Mosul, forcing nearly 50,000 Assyrians to flee (story).

• ISIS begins confiscating the homes of Christians and non-Sunni Muslims. ISIS rounds up many of the security agency members of the police and army in Sabrine Mosque and asks them to declare “repentance” and surrender their weapons and other military equipment. After doing so, all of the prisoners are tried and sentenced according to Sharia law and executed. ISIS has prevented delivery of government food rations to Tel Kepe and other areas not under their control (story).

• June 28: ISIS kidnaps two nuns and three Assyrian orphans. They are eventually released (story).

• July 3: ISIS seizes the house of the Chaldean Patriarchate and the house of Dr. Tobia, a member of Hammurabi Human Rights Organization and an Advisor to the Governor of Nineveh on Minority Affairs and General Coordinator with International Organizations (story).

• July 8: ISIS Removes Cross From Church in Mosul (story).

• July 10: ISIS bars women from walking the streets unless accompanied by a male. Nearly all barber shops and womens’ salons are closed (story).

• July 15: ISIS Stops Rations for Christians and Shiites in Mosul (story).

• July 17: ISIS issues statement ordering Christians to convert or die (story).

• July 18: ISIS in Mosul marks Christian homes with the Arabic letter “N” (for the word Nasrani, which means Christian) (story).

• July 19: ISIS plunders Assyrians as they Flee Mosul; families march 42 miles (story).

• July 22: ISIS and Kurds clash near Assyrian town, 2000 Assyrian families driven from Mosul (story).

• July 25: ISIS destroys the tomb of the Prophet Jonah (story).

A US-based international Catholic agency has issued a plea for emergency funds to help tens of thousands of Christians forced to flee their homes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

“These Christian families have arrived with only their clothes, having been forced to leave everything behind in Mosul,” said Ra’ed Bahou, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s (CNEWA) regional director for Jordan and Iraq.

As families were “fleeing the city on foot,” he said, “ISIS militants stole whatever dollars they had in their pockets, even their passports and identification papers.”

Bahou made the comments in a news release from CNEWA announcing the agency has launched a campaign to rush funds to the families.

The Islamic State fighters, a group of militant Islamists formerly known as ISIS, have solidified their control over Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul by imposing Shariah, Islamic law, and have ordered Christians to convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed.

Mosul’s Christians have instead fled to the Christian villages of Ninevah province, some just a few miles from Mosul, or to the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.

An agency of the Holy See, CNEWA works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Jordan, Beirut and Jerusalem. It has been active in Iraq for more than 50 years, but redoubled its efforts among the vulnerable Christian population in 1991.

“Christian families have found refuge in churches, convents and monasteries,” Bahou added.

With the Syrian Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul and the Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena, who are homeless themselves, the clergy, religious and villagers are trying to provide basic necessities, said the CNEWA release. It said refuge, especially in the villages of Alqosh, Bakhdida (Qaraqosh), Bartella and Tel Kaif, is “tenuous at best,” because the Islamic State has cut the electricity and water supply and has announced its intentions to overrun the region.

“These villages are in the hands of God,” Bahou said, “as ISIS says their next ‘gift’ will be the villages of the Ninevah Plain.”

Monsignor John E Kozar, the president of CNEWA, said the agency will get the emergency funds to the bishops, clergy and religious, “who in the frenzy are courageously providing water, food, mattresses and medicines” to fleeing Christians.

The world is “witnessing, at the hands of extremist thugs, the eradication of a cradle of Christianity in the cradle of civilization,” the priest said in a statement.

He added that the agency will help the “shepherds of this flock to tend their sheep, with the basics they need for survival now, even if their flock is dispersed.”

The BBC reported on July 28 that in a joint message, France’s foreign minister and interior minister have offered Iraqi Christians asylum. “We are ready, if they so desire, to help facilitate asylum on our territory,” their statement said.

Symbol N

This symbol is the letter “N” in Arabic, and ISIS painted it on Christian homes in Mosul to identify the homes as followers of the Nazarene/Christian. Christians were given the ultimatum to leave, pay the jizya tax of an exorbitant rate, or be killed. The last Christian has left Mosul or was forced to convert.


From The Oasis Trust:

‘Hurry up, the Life of Iraq Depends on it’

Letter to the Honourable Parliamentarians of Iraq from the Patriarch of Babylonia of the Chaldeans (15 July 2014)

Louis Sako |

My greetings to you,

At a moment when our beloved Iraq is undergoing a crisis of security and order, when day by day the number of deaths and refugees is growing and destruction is growing worse, we unite our humble voice, as an Iraqi Christian religious point of reference, to the voices of the Shiite and Sunni authorities to beg you to speed up the election of the three presidencies [the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the President of the Parliament] and thus to save the country from the danger of chaos and fragmentation.

This is a national, moral and historic responsibility which hangs over you. Hurry, therefore, to stoop to compromises and set to work to choose the three presidents in an urgent way, because the life of the Iraqis and the unity of Iraq depends on it. As citizens we believe that salvation for all of us depends on your unity and on your mutual comprehension.

We propose that you say this prayer at the beginning of your session: ‘O God, help us to set in motion a dialogue between us so that we can understand each other and resolve divergences without becoming rigid in our approach and without forms of obstinacy. O God, help us to spread peace and calm amongst the children of our people so that Iraq emerges victorious from this trial. Amen.’

We place great hope and trust in you and we wait impatiently, together with millions of Iraqis, to receive good news.


Have we Become Used to the Elimination of the Christians?

A cry has gone up from the heart of old Europe: Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the Archbishop of Lyons calls our attention to the Christians being systematically killed in Iraq. Because we cannot become used to the news of death that comes every day from the East and because we cannot remain silent. He calls on everyone to act in first person.

Philippe Barbarin |


Words seem powerless in front of the tragedy of the Christians of the Middle East. The information – which is at times contradictory – that arrives from Iraq bear witness to the chaos and the anxiety of our brethren. On Tuesday evening I received the appeal of the Patriarch of the Chaldeans, Louis-Raphaël I Sako, who in March I had the joy of receiving in Lyons and who is now involved in the synod, together with about twenty bishops of the region. He told me that the situation was a frightening one but that the worst was still to come. Unfortunately, the elimination of the religious minorities is not the collateral damage of the mad strategy of the murderers – it is their declared objective.

It should be said that in France the situation of the Christians of Iraq is not a great generator of emotions. How can we explain that in our parishes as well we do not share sufficiently in the worries of our brethren in the East? The explanations without doubt vary. The press reflects the consciences of our country: the Christians of those areas are seen as an external problem. And then there is certainly a sort of fatalism: the region has fallen prey to deathly quakes for such a long time that all of us have become habituated to what is unacceptable.

The fact that here in the West religions are officially respected but often the object of suspicion does not help matters. The situation of persecuted Christians in the world often provokes in our politicians only a polite and tardy compassion that is rarely followed by consequences. Asia Bibi has begun his fourth year of protective custody in a Pakistani high security prison without this depriving the world of its sleep; Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag gave birth in a Sudanese prison, breastfed her baby chained up on death row, was freed for a few years in response to American pressure, and was then arrested again. Once again there has been an absence of important French voices capable of putting up opposition with simplicity, strength and firmness.

The communal reflex of a human group leads it to defend its own members. That Christians have received the vocation to love all men without distinctions as regards race, culture or religion is a teaching that comes directly from the Gospel. But this – which is a grace – should not make us close our eyes to the disasters that befall our nearest neighbours.

In 1794 Rochefort was the place of one of the greatest massacres of priests in our history. 829 refractory priests were deported by the Committee of Public Health. Out of 829, only 274 survived: they had sworn never to speak of the horror that they had witnessed in order to allow France to rise up again. Today the city of Qaraqosh, in the plain of Ninive, with the inflow of refugees, has become the largest Christian city in Iraq. Do you hear the cries that come from it? They are those of a refugee camp. Qaraqosh is not Rochefort because the massacre is under way. This is why we cannot keep quiet in silence.

Yesterday the Patriarch said to me that a division of the country would be preferable to a civil war which would kill all the innocent first of all. If only the international community could help in finding a solution…But let us not expect everything from states and their diplomacy. Let us act here and now, as indeed the Pope has invited us to do.

When John Paul II welcomed me to the College of Cardinals he laid emphasis on the meaning of the purple of the cardinalate: it is a reference to the blood of martyrs. For this reason today I invite Western Christians to raise a fervent prayer to heaven for our Eastern brethren. I invite them to cultivate awareness of this brotherhood that unites us beyond any distance, beyond the centuries. I would like to repeat to them the words of the Patriarch: ‘What we most lack is your nearness, your solidarity. We want to be certain that we are not forgotten’.

I propose that we encourage the associations that at the present time work in the plain of Ninive. I beseech Western Christians and all men and women of good will who work in the field of health care, of education, of alimentation and of first aid to come to the help of the survivors. I would like to launch a twinning of our diocese with one of the dioceses that is most in need. I propose that a percentage of the money of the collections of our parishes, if they so wish, should be given during the course of the year to alleviate the poverty of our brethren in Iraq. I invite all Christians to remain vigilant and careful and to watch over their brethren.

May the heirs of St. Pothin become the brothers of those of St. Thomas, the Apostle of the East! As Pope Francis has said, we are faced with an ecumenism of blood: it is not Catholics, Protestants or Orthodox that are martyred – it is Christians. And there is reason to fear that the persecutions will not stop with the Christians. From today the city of Qaraqosh should become a sanctuary for all the belligerents and a port of peace for the thousands of civilians of all confessions who go there. Because it is men who are killed, in silence, amidst the cries of a Brazilian football pitch.

The Patriarch said to me: ‘We retain our hope but, as you know, hope is fragile’. And if their hope was also in our hands? Pope Francis observed: ‘Christians persecuted for their faith are many in number. Jesus is with them, and so are we’. So are we!

Complete version of the appeal published in Figaro on Thursday 26 June 2014.





British Parliament debates the United Nations Commission of Inquiry Report into Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea – also see parliamentary replies

Also see The Washington Post:

Meeting at the House of Lords with Mr.Justice Michael Kirby's Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in North Korea.

Meeting at the House of Lords with Mr.Justice Michael Kirby’s Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in North Korea.

Border Crossings Can Often Result In Death As North Koreans -m some of them Christians -are Shot By Border Guards

Border Crossings Can Often Result In Death As North Koreans -m some of them Christians -are Shot By Border Guards

Shin Dong Hyok - born in Camp 14 where he was incarcerated for 23 years

Shin Dong Hyok – born in Camp 14 where he was incarcerated for 23 years

North Korea: Human Rights

Question for Short Debate

4.46 pm

Asked by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the work of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, on 21 March 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council established the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with a mandate to,

“investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with a view to ensuring full accountability … for violations which may amount to crimes against humanity”.North Korea’s scant respect either for its own people or for the people and security of the region as a whole is underlined by the launching of artillery shells and short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, concomitant with the squandering of desperately needed resources that could be used to feed the millions of North Koreans who suffer acute malnutrition and chronic food shortages. Four times in the past two weeks alone, North Korea has test fired short-range missiles and rockets, and threatened a fourth nuclear test in violation of United Nations sanctions.

While 84% of North Korean households have borderline or poor food consumption, it is reported that in 2012 Kim Jong-un spent $1.3 billion on North Korea’s ballistic missile programme, in addition to $300 million on leisure facilities and nearly $700 million on luxury goods including watches, handbags and alcohol. Set against that, the findings of the commission of inquiry, which completed its investigation and released its findings last February, should be looked at from an accurate perspective. Its report detailed a truly shocking disregard for humanity, which included,

“extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, and other grave sexual violence and persecution on political, religious and gender grounds”.The chairman of the commission, Mr Justice Michael Kirby, found many of these violations committed by the Government of North Korea to be,

“without parallel in the contemporary world”, and to constitute crimes against humanity.

It will come as no surprise to noble Lords that at every stage the Government of North Korea refused to co-operate with the commission’s investigation and have since dismissed the report as,

“a product of political confrontation and conspiracy”,

and rejected its findings.

During the four visits that I have made to North Korea, three of which were with my noble friend Lady Cox, I have been deeply impressed by the dignity and forbearance of the North Korean people, but equally dismayed and saddened by the hateful ideology that criminalises and brutalises its people.

Some North Koreans who have fled their country were able to testify at the Commission’s public hearings in Tokyo, Seoul, Washington DC and here in London. Some originally gave their testimonies to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which I have chaired for the past decade. While mentioning the APPG, perhaps I may thank James Burt, its honorary secretary, for his work in preparing for today’s debate.

It hardly needs saying that the bravery of the testifying witnesses has been remarkable; one of them is with us today. Many have families in North Korea, who remain in constant fear of reprisals.

In breaking the wall of silence that surrounds the DPRK, those who have escaped—including 25,000 who now live in the Republic of Korea, and 700 or 800 who live in the United Kingdom—have been game changers.

As we meet today, 11 North Korean escapees are languishing in prisons in China’s Jilin province—a region I visited 18 months ago. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us whether Her Majesty’s Government would be willing to appeal to China to accept its obligations under international law and not return those escapees to North Korea, where they face persecution, torture and possible death.

I hope that China will give serious thought to relaxing its policy of repatriation, not least because the Commission of Inquiry’s report describes how pregnant women are forcibly aborted and their newborn babies killed if it is thought that mothers have “diluted” the Korean bloodline by bearing a child with a Chinese parent. Not only is this ugly racism, it is utterly lacking in humanity and deeply offensive to China.

For terrorised North Koreans and the international community alike, the Commission has marked a turning point. For too long, states have claimed that too little was known of the extent of North Korea’s crimes to justify action. In the words of Mr Justice Kirby:

“Now the international community does know. There will be no excusing a failure of action because we didn’t know…The suffering and the tears of the people of North Korea demand action”.

The findings detailed in the commission’s report stretch to well over 300 pages, and time does not permit a detailed overview. I know that other noble Lords will enlarge on some of these points but, in summary, the Commission found that the freedoms of thought, expression and religion were routinely and brutally curtailed in the North Korean state.

North Koreans are discriminated against on the basis of class, gender and disability. The vast majority of North Korean citizens are unable to leave their own country, choose where they live or decide where they work. The withholding of food by the North Korean state constitutes an explicit policy of enforced and prolonged starvation, which contributed to the deaths in the 1990s of at least 1 million people, with some estimating that as many as 2 million people died. Detention, torture and execution are established tools of social control. The abduction of foreign nationals has been routine. Up to 120,000 North Koreans face starvation, torture, forced labour, sexual violence and execution in the country’s political prison camps.

The Inquiry found evidence of crimes against humanity. One firm of celebrated lawyers also suggested that the evidence points to genocide against the country’s Christians—a point to which my noble friend Lady Cox will return. My noble and right reverend friend Lord Eames will refer to some of the other issues that have been raised in the report. One of its underreported aspects is gender-based crime against women; another is the indoctrination of children. I wonder whether violence against women was raised during the recent conference on preventing sexual violence in conflict.

One witness who fled North Korea told the Commission:

“You are brainwashed”,


“don’t know life outside. You are brainwashed from the time you know how to talk, about four years of age … North Korea is not open to the outside world”,but,

“is a fenced world … They want the people to be blind, deaf to the outside world, so that the people won’t know what is happening”.The CoI report challenges us to think about how we counter hateful propaganda and that wall of silence, and how we break the information blockade. This is why Mr Justice Kirby supports the extension of BBC World Service transmissions to the Korean peninsula. The All-Party Parliamentary Group has heard from groups that have successfully broadcast into the country, and also from North Koreans who escaped and who told of the importance of foreign broadcasts.

Only yesterday, along with other members of the group, I met with Diane Coyle, the acting chair of the BBC. I have reiterated on many occasions, as have other noble Lords, that it would cost only about £1 million to commit to broadcasting to North Korea, compared to DfID’s budget of £12 billion. Surely this is money that we can find, to at least try to help some of those who have escaped to become tomorrow’s journalists. Maybe that is an issue that the Minister could pursue with the BBC Media Action programme.

How do we intend to honour our obligations under Article 19 of the 1948 declaration if we are unwilling to break the information blockade? I have no problem with cultural programmes; but if that is all we do we will be failing North Korea. Instead of telling us about photographic exhibitions or cultural exchanges, I hope that the Minister will tell us whether any human rights projects, for instance, are going to be implemented in North Korea and how we will break the information blockade.

I was saddened that in a recent article a former FCO chargé d’affaires in Pyongyang, Jim Hoare, questioned the place of human rights in our engagement with North Korea, claiming that,

“human rights issues have proved a complication”,to the UK’s cultural projects in North Korea, and that a,“modestly-successful parliamentary linkage seems to have more or less ceased because of the preoccupation with human rights of many British parliamentarians”.

It is the job of parliamentarians to be preoccupied with gross human rights violations, and I would hope that it is a preoccupation that the Government and their officials might share. Engagement with North Korea is not always the same as engagement with the North Korean state. The biggest improvements to the rights of North Koreans have come in spite of the North Korean Government, not because of it. We must engage with the victims of human rights abuses as well as the perpetrators.

When the United Nations Human Rights Council met in March to discuss the report, both it and the United Kingdom voted to recommend that the General Assembly should submit the report to the Security Council for appropriate action, which could include a referral to the International Criminal Court.

Can the Minister tell us whether we will be seeking a Security Council resolution, a referral to the ICC or another judicial tribunal and an expansion of the existing sanctions regime to cover human rights violations?

The resolution also called upon member states to consider implementing the recommendations as laid out in the CoI’s report. Can the Minister tell us how many of the CoI’s recommendations that pertain specifically to states that Her Majesty’s Government have implemented thus far?

As this report describes, North Korea is a country that is beyond parallel. The United Nations special rapporteur, Mr Darusman, recently said, following the publication of the report:

“There is no turning back; it cannot be ‘business as usual’.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis, once said:

“We have been silent witnesses to evil deeds”.

Let that never be said of us.

4.57 pm

Lord Eames (CB):

My Lords, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a devastating indictment of life today in North Korea. It makes explicit reference to violations of the right to food; violations associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention; and violations of the right to life and freedom of expression. It paints a detailed picture of a society that exists on fear and intimidation. It talks about a captive people cut off from the outside world.

As one who visited North Korea in 2007, I have seen something of the atmosphere that prevails in the lives of ordinary people. I was asked by the then Archbishop of Canterbury to lead an international delegation of Anglican communion members to present the proceeds of a world appeal in the aftermath of the floods and storms that devastated North Korea. Despite the outward appearance that I was presented with—the official face of North Korea—nothing could hide the stark realities of everyday life: the subjection of its people; the isolation of villages completely cut off from each other; the enforcement of strict measures by the military; and the fear of foreigners.

However, the difficulty of a report such as we are discussing today is even more than the tragic picture it paints. It is surely the question, “What now?”. Nobody denies the details of life in North Korea it contains; but what are the opportunities for the UK Government to bring about change in that hidden country? What can the outside world actually achieve in the face of the almost total isolation of North Korea? Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind”.

In light of this, it may surprise noble Lords to learn that North Korea has acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Yet the commission reported that domestic violence is still rife in North Korea and that it is quite common to see women beaten and sexually assaulted in public. North Korean officials are said to exact penalties in the form of sexual abuse and violence with no fear of punishment, while single women who seek membership of the Workers’ Party of Korea are subjected to sexual abuse. It was even testified that the rape of adults is not really considered a crime in North Korean society.

Despite all the attention given to the CoI’s report by the international media and Governments around the world, gender-based violence has been the most overlooked aspect of the report. The former Foreign Secretary has been vocal on the role of the UK in ending sexual violence, most notably in his establishment of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. Can the Minister assure us that the FCO has been vocal on this issue in its dealings with the Government of North Korea? He may wish to consider matching FCO spending on cultural programmes in North Korea, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, with spending on projects designed to improve the rights of women in that country.

In its report, the commission documented countless violations of the freedom of thought, expression and religion in North Korea. Using the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as its benchmark, the commission concluded that the indoctrination of the North Korean population has been implemented to such a degree that the emergence and development of free thought and conscience is entirely suppressed. Such extreme indoctrination is not reserved for adults; the indoctrination of children is routine.

Children are taught violence and hatred of the outside world. Their aspirations are not set for personal betterment, but to aspire to and emulate their former leader, who remains the country’s “eternal president” despite his death in 1994. One witness even claimed that as a child he was only interested in becoming a great warrior in order to become a killer of his enemies. Children who do not live up to such hateful standards are instructed to publicly berate themselves in weekly confession and criticism sessions. The children we are talking about are aged four. In their project for North Korea, this Government concerned themselves with children’s care institutions and teaching programmes. The Minister may wish to consider how teaching programmes may challenge the indoctrination of children, which seeks to imbue North Korean children with hatred.

I am particularly concerned about the position of religion and religious groups in North Korea. The Christian community is totally outlawed. Public worship is banned. Freedom to express the Christian faith is forbidden and those who refuse to renounce Christianity are subjected to imprisonment, torture and even execution.

I have two final points for the Minister. Some weeks ago she responded to remarks we made about the work of the BBC overseas and the hope that one day a way would be found to encourage its use in North Korea. What encouragement can the UK Government give to the BBC to consider this possibility afresh? Secondly, our embassy in Pyongyang presents an opportunity to do things that are denied to some of our partners. Is the Minister satisfied that we are making the most use possible of this facility?

5.04 pm

The Lord Bishop of Peterborough:

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important and timely debate. The report of the United Nations commission makes horrifying reading, and it is surely incumbent on the democratic and free world to read, reflect, take counsel and take action. There is great evil in the North Korean regime, which the civilised world cannot simply ignore: not just because it threatens regional and world peace, although it does; not just because millions of innocent people are suffering, although they are; not just because every human right is being trampled, although it is; but, ultimately, because not to do anything about evil on this scale is to collude with it.

The Diocese of Peterborough is twinned through the Anglican Communion’s companion link scheme with the Diocese of Seoul in South Korea. That has given me the privilege of visiting South Korea, studying its history and culture, getting to know its people and seeing some of the wonderful work that the church does there. British people, even Members of your Lordships’ House, may be surprised to know that the Christian church is alive, strong and remarkably influential in South Korea—as it was in the north before the communist takeover. In the 2007 census, 46% of South Koreans identified themselves as having no religion; 29% as Christian; 23% as Buddhist; all other faith groups put together made up the other 2%.

Christianity has become the largest religion, and thrives. South Korea is second only to the United States in the number of its people travelling abroad as Christian missionaries. Internally, the Christian faith has had and continues to have great influence for the good on civil society, human rights—especially of women and children—and democracy.

During my most recent trip in May, I visited schools, residential homes and work projects for people with disabilities, migrant workers and others often seen as excluded in advanced industrial societies. Previously, I have visited major projects to feed and care for the homeless and a large residential home for the elderly, with high-dependency medical facilities and staff. All those projects are run by the Anglican Diocese of Seoul, sometimes under licence or with funding from the city council, sometimes simply as Christian charitable ventures. The big society—are we still allowed to use that phrase?—is alive and flourishing in South Korea, making civil society and people’s lives better.

The growth and influence of Christianity, not least through Minjung theology, which focuses on the image of God in people, their intrinsic worth and the need to lift them out of oppression and suffering, has been huge. The older Confucian hierarchical structure gave little or no value to individuals, and none to women or children. That culture has been totally transformed, largely through Christian influence.

My visit earlier this year followed shortly after the terrible ferry tragedy in which hundreds of children died. Seoul was covered with yellow ribbons in tribute to those children. The Government were in severe difficulty because of the avoidable accident. Those responsible were being prosecuted. Questions were being asked about how institutions and individuals could fail to protect children. Human life is now valued in South Korea as much as in the West, and that process has reached the point of looking for special protection for the weakest and most honourable. Christian influence and values have achieved that.

The process of advancing human rights and democratisation began across the whole of Korea before the Korean War, but has been effectively crushed in the north since then. I have also visited the demilitarised zone. I have not yet visited the north, but I have seen in Seoul’s Anglican Cathedral photos and lists of Christian leaders martyred by the communists during the Korean War, including the dean of the cathedral and the mother superior of the Anglican convent next door, where I stayed in May.

I have met some of the people involved in the Anglican Church’s remarkable initiative, TOPIK—Towards Peace in Korea. That organisation, which last year put on a major peace conference in Okinawa, Japan, works for the peaceful reunification of Korea. It provides famine and flood relief for North Koreans, and from time to time gets permission from the Pyongyang Government to take aid in. It promotes dialogue with North Koreans, and helps some of the few North Koreans who escape the brutality of their regime to resettle in the south.

I do not need to catalogue the horrors perpetrated by the regime in the north—the report does that. So do the testimonies of those who have escaped from the concentration camps, some of whom have been to speak to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, as we have heard. I do not need to remind noble Lords of the brutal attempt to wipe out religion, particularly Christianity—the report does that. So do the accounts of various atrocities brought to us by agencies such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

I am neither diplomat nor politician, but certain things are clear to me. First, keeping North Korea isolated, treating it like a pariah state, will not help. It may well be that individual leaders need to be brought to the bar of international justice, but the state itself and its people must be cared for as part of the human family rather than demonised and held at arm’s length. Western and Asian Governments should press for aid agencies to be allowed in, and should offer to feed a starving people. Diplomatic channels should be kept open. Ideally, China would help Pyongyang to be more open to the rest of the world.

Secondly, the Government of South Korea should be encouraged and helped by the rest of the world to continue to work and prepare for reunification. Such work is going on under President Park, but more is needed. The economic cost of reunification will be enormous, even for a relatively wealthy country such as South Korea. The infrastructure of the north is virtually non-existent, millions have starved in recent years, hundreds of thousands are in concentration camps, and there is no freedom or civil society. The civilised world needs to be ready to stand alongside South Korea for this enormous humanitarian nation-building task.

Thirdly, the people of North Korea must be helped to prepare for a better future. Some Christian and other agencies are already doing that on a small scale, at great risk to themselves. However, the world can and should do more. As has been noted already, the failure of the BBC to provide a Korean service to reach the north, and the failure of our Government to encourage and even fund the BBC to do that, is quite inexplicable. That sort of outreach helped prepare the people of eastern Europe, and most recently the people of Burma, to aspire to and then live in a freer society. The BBC has changed and is changing, but surely its responsibility to promote our democratic and free values—not least in places where they are under threat or do not exist—must remain.

The world community cannot simply ignore the plight of the people of North Korea. They are our brothers and sisters in the human family, and we have a responsibility towards them.

5.13 pm

Baroness Cox (CB):

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on securing this debate, on his tireless dedication to human rights and freedom around the world, and on his leadership on the situation in North Korea. As has been mentioned, I have had the privilege of travelling with my noble friend to the DPRK on three occasions and serving as vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the DPRK. I echo all the points my noble friend made.

North Korea is the world’s most closed nation, in which every article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is violated, and it has been aptly described as “one large prison”. As has already been emphasised, the report by the UN commission of inquiry has helped to put North Korea’s appalling human rights record higher up the international agenda and has shone a light on one of the darkest corners of the world. Among the catalogue of crimes against humanity which the commission has documented are the denial of freedom of religion and the brutal persecution of religious believers, which I wish to highlight today, echoing concerns eloquently expressed by the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords.

According to the UN inquiry:

“There is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association”.

It concludes that the regime,

“considers the spread of Christianity a particularly severe threat”,

and as a result:

“Christians are prohibited from practising their religion and are persecuted”.

Severe punishments are inflicted on “people caught practising Christianity”. We know from many testimonies of North Korean refugees that possessing a Bible in North Korea can lead to execution and/or incarceration in prison camps, being subjected to severe torture, inhuman conditions and, in some cases, slave labour.

I remember one story of a labour camp based in an iron foundry. One day, all the inmates were forced to stand in a large circle and the three Christian prisoners there were put in the middle. They were given an ultimatum: either they recanted their faith or they would die with molten iron poured over them. They refused to recant and they died singing praises to God as the molten iron was poured over them.

Although the DPRK’s constitution allows for freedom of religion in Article 68, in practice any belief that dissents from total loyalty to and worship of the Kim dynasty is a crime. An edict from Kim Il-sung declared that,

“religious people should die to cure their habit”.

The current ruler, his grandson Kim Jong-un, continues this policy. In 1950, 24% of the North Korean population practised religion. Today, that figure is just 0.16%. With the exception of the four state-controlled Potemkin-style churches in Pyongyang, which I and my noble friend have visited, Christians and other religious believers in North Korea worship in secret and in fear.

An indication of how the regime views religion—specifically Christianity—is seen in the response of the DPRK’s ambassador to the UN after the UN Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review. He highlighted the activities of Christians working among North Koreans in China, saying:

“There are in the northeastern area of China so-called churches and priests exclusively engaged in hostile acts against the DPRK. They indoctrinate the illegal border crossers with anti-DPRK ideology and send them back to the DPRK with assignments of subversion … human trafficking and even terrorist acts”.

China’s policy of forcibly repatriating North Korean refugees and sometimes arresting Christian missionaries who help them is cause for serious concern. North Korean escapees who are sent back into the DPRK face dire consequences, particularly if they are suspected of having converted to Christianity, of having been in contact with Christian missionaries or of possessing a Bible. I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government have raised these human rights violations with the Chinese authorities and, echoing the query raised by my noble friend Lord Alton, whether HMG have urged China to stop arresting missionaries and refugees and to end its policy of forcible repatriation.

A month ago, an international law firm, Hogan Lovells, commissioned by an international network of NGOs known as Human Liberty, published an independent legal analysis of North Korea’s human rights record, concluding that the DPRK’s targeting and extermination of religious groups might indeed constitute genocide. Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s 2007 report, North Korea: A Case to Answer—A Call to Act, also concluded that there may be “indicators of genocide” in relation to religious persecution. I ask the Minister to clarify Her Majesty’s Government’s response to the Hogan Lovells report. What steps are they taking to address the severe violations of freedom of religion and other human rights in North Korea, including lack of accountability and widespread impunity?

I also want to raise, briefly, two other issues: the information blockade, highlighted again and again by my noble friend Lord Alton and other noble Lords because it is so important; and humanitarian crises. Only by breaking the regime’s information blockade can the people of North Korea be given alternative ways of thinking to the propaganda that they are fed daily. I did a lot of work behind the iron curtain in the dark days of Soviet communism, and particularly martial law in Poland, and I remember how eagerly the people trapped behind the iron curtain yearned to hear news from the BBC and from the West. It was transformational in keeping them in touch with the wider world and giving them alternative ideas in preparation for the time of transition.

I therefore reiterate the view expressed on many occasions by many noble Lords that the BBC World Service should reconsider a Korean-language broadcast, especially as the UN inquiry notes the importance of foreign short-wave radio broadcasts. It calls on the international community to provide more support for the work of civil society organisations and to make efforts to broadcast accessible information to the country.

The inquiry also highlights North Korea’s dire humanitarian crises, concluding that the deprivation of food, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population, amounts to virtual extermination. In addition to the regime’s policies, which have caused food shortages and distributed food on the basis of political class, the international community also bears some responsibility. While there are legitimate questions to be asked about transparency and accountability of aid, what assistance will Her Majesty’s Government provide, and might that increase to meet the very real humanitarian crisis?

North Korea’s healthcare system is another issue needing urgent attention. The Guardian in April reported North Korean refugees describing a health system with,

“broken equipment, declining treatment standards and widespread self-medication”.

When my noble friend and I were in Pyongyang on one of our visits, we were told by local people that the contents of the first aid kit in our vehicle represented more equipment than would be found than in many a rural primary healthcare clinic in North Korea.

A US doctor, Ryan Choi, in a new paper on healthcare in North Korea, describes the healthcare system in shambles. The downstream effects are food shortages, a shortage of domestically produced pharmaceuticals, breakdown of the sanitation system, a shortage of medical supplies and, very seriously, a resurgence of infectious disease and a rise in mortality and morbidity. A 2010 report by Amnesty International paints a similarly disturbing picture. Are Her Majesty’s Government providing any assistance to address this crisis in the DPRK’s healthcare system?

I conclude with the words of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, from his most recent report. He said:

“The work performed by the commission of inquiry should be seen as the beginning of a process, not the end … The post-commission era presents a new phase for the human rights of the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea … and requires a decisive change in the approach going forward … The international community must set in train immediate, impartial and just action to secure accountability, fulfil the responsibility to protect, put human rights first and stop grave human rights violations, in accordance with international law … The revelation of the truth, international scrutiny and sustained pressure have had some initial effects and will continue to do so”.

I hope the Minister can provide assurances today that Her Majesty’s Government will treat the desperate human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea with the urgency and priority that are so desperately needed.

5.23 pm

Lord Burnett (LD):

My Lords, I am grateful to the Deputy Chairman, to my noble friend Lord Alton and to other Members of Committee for allowing me to speak in the gap. I congratulate my noble friend—and he is my noble friend—Lord Alton on calling this debate and I pay tribute to him for his tenacious and courageous commitment to the endeavour of securing respect for human rights and democracy in North Korea.

We have heard this afternoon that the 2014 report of the commission on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea sets out clearly the horrific and cruel nature of the regime. In the first paragraph of its conclusions and recommendations, it says that,

“systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials. In many instances, the violations of human rights found by the commission constitute crimes against humanity”.

Those are serious charges. It goes on to say:

“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world … a State that does not content itself with ensuring the authoritarian rule of a small group of people, but seeks to dominate every aspect of its citizens’ lives and terrorizes them from within”.

Amnesty estimates that more than 100,000 North Koreans are in prison camps, often at the whim of some apparatchik; slave labour, child abuse and torture are commonplace in these camps. Prisoners have little food and hundreds of thousands—possibly millions—of people have died in these camps since the 1950s.

In 1945, when the full nature of the heinous Nazi crimes became apparent, the free world wondered why it had failed to act, in the face of far less compelling evidence. We know what is happening in North Korea. We in Britain have a dilemma. We do not have the military or financial power to topple the regime. It is also in the best interests of those who sincerely wish to effect change and bring about democracy and respect for human rights in North Korea for us to preserve our embassy and representation in that brutally afflicted country.

Recently I took part in a debate on defence. I and other noble and noble and gallant Lords highlighted the fact that the world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place. It is not just the intractable Israel, Palestine and Middle East conflicts, and the conflicts that beset almost the entirety of Africa from north to south; it is the conflicts in Ukraine, India and Pakistan and the continued tension between China and Japan, as well as other conflicts in other parts of the world. Those of us who are deeply concerned about North Korea fear that the conflicts raging elsewhere are bound to take the attention and priority of the nations that can effect change in North Korea. I refer principally to China.

Our relations with China seem to be on a constructive course and there is some evidence that China takes an increasingly critical view of the horrors that the North Korean regime inflicts on its people. The United Nations special rapporteur’s report on human rights of June 2014 makes certain recommendations in paragraphs 51 and 52 in respect of neighbouring and other states concerned.

Paragraph 51 starts:

“On the issue of refoulement”—

that is, forced repatriation—

“the commission of inquiry recommended that China and other States should respect the principle of non-refoulement and, accordingly, abstain from forcibly repatriating any persons”—

Baroness Jolly (LD):

I am sorry, but the noble Lord is speaking in the gap and his time is four minutes.

Lord Burnett:

I will finish by saying that we know how sensitive the matter is. We in Britain have a great deal of influence in the world. We in Parliament must continually impress on our Government the necessity to bring about the changes that should have been made decades ago to this cruel, unforgiving regime, which has for years imposed itself on the people of North Korea.

5.28 pm

Lord Bach (Lab):

My Lords, the House again owes a debt to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not just for obtaining this debate, but for the extraordinary work he has done in relation to North Korea for many years—often in association with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. Without him, the public, Parliament and—dare I say—Government would be much less well informed than they are. He has raised this issue up the agenda, where it should and must be.

Reading the commission’s report was unlike reading any other report I can remember. In clear, reasoned and judicious terms, it sets out what the horror of being a citizen of North Korea today involves. Life in North Korea would be a classic case of dystopia, except that it is not imaginary. It is real. George Orwell’s magnificent imagination, which created Oceania in the wonderful novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, perhaps gets closest to it, but by comparison Oceania seems positively liberal.

In short, the report is a shocking read and noble Lords in this debate with much more expertise than me have spoken of their response, and it is difficult to say anything original or new. As has been pointed out, the challenge is how to respond to such a regime. Of course, engagement is the right course, difficult as it is in practice, provided—and this is a big proviso—that we never leave behind human rights issues. That is why our diplomatic presence in North Korea is to be welcomed. It is also why the work of the British Council—here I again declare my interest as chair of the British Council All-Party Parliamentary Group—is to be admired and encouraged. It was good to read the speech made by the Minister’s colleague, the honourable Hugo Swire, in a debate in another place on North Korea on 13 May when he said that,

“through the British Council and educational immersion programmes, we have provided thousands of North Koreans with their first access to a foreigner and an understanding of British culture and values”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/5/14; col. 236WH.]

It is also why it is right for noble Lords today to have been pressing, in a proper and appropriate way, for the BBC to set up broadcasts to the Korean peninsula. If ever there were a people who needed to hear the World Service and for whom the World Service was appropriate, it is surely the North Koreans. However, we must never not talk about human rights.

In a major debate in your Lordships’ House on 21 November last the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made an important point when discussing how to respond generally to human rights abuses:

“In considering how Britain should respond to human rights abuses, I suggest that one mistake we need to avoid is looking at the issue principally, or even solely, in the context of our bilateral relationship with the country in question. However, Britain’s influence and leverage are unlikely to be decisive nowadays. All too often we have seen how easy it is for the country in question to punish us for our temerity and play us off against other countries which have been less assertive”.—[Official Report, 21/11/13; col. 1107.]

Human rights abuses are legion in North Korea and many undoubtedly constitute crimes against humanity. Of course the British Government must have a bilateral relationship with North Korea, as they must with all countries, but surely the UN Human Rights Council, the General Assembly of the UN and the Security Council of the UN are the key bodies to work through in combating these abuses. Do the Government agree with that sentiment?

Given the totally negative attitude of the North Korean Government, the remarkable Michael Kirby and the other members of the commission of inquiry have produced a full and devastating report. Whichever section of it one reads, I am afraid that the same deeply depressing verdict is overwhelming. Whether it is about abductions, freedom of thought, expression and religion; or about discrimination or violations of freedom of movement and residence; or the deeply shocking violations of the right to food and the equally shocking section on arbitrary detentions, torture, executions and prison camps, there is little or no comfort to be found. It is a very bleak picture indeed. However, at its end the report makes what I believe to be sensible recommendations. It points out the need for those responsible to be held to judicial account and, in its last recommendation, it calls for the UN and the states involved in the Korean War to convene a high-level political conference to consider and ratify a final, peaceful settlement of that war. That is a brave—some might even say a courageous—recommendation but it is also one which demonstrates that, even after hearing the appalling evidence about the regime, the authors of the report are determined to keep a light shining in the massive gloom that prevails. If they can keep that light shining, surely it is our duty to do so, too.

5.34 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in relation to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on introducing this debate and shining a spotlight on atrocious human rights abuses in the DPRK. I pay tribute to his work, and indeed to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and that of the North Korea All-Party Parliamentary Group for what, I believe, is the most important aspect of that work, which is giving ordinary North Koreans a voice.

Noble Lords will know that the United Nations commission of inquiry has provided an authoritative account of the systemic, widespread and gross human rights violations committed by a state described as,

“without parallel in the contemporary world”.

As others have said, it is now vital that we ensure that its report is a beginning, not an end. The commission of inquiry report called for:

“Urgent accountability measures … combined with a reinforced human rights dialogue, the promotion of incremental change through more people-to-people contact and an inter-Korean agenda for reconciliation”.

23 July 2014 : Column GC461

I cannot comment on inter-Korean reconciliation—that is a matter for the two Koreas—but I will set out how, as asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, the UK is responding, bilaterally and with others, to the commission’s recommendations on accountability, human rights dialogue and people-to-people contact.

First, on accountability, the UK agrees that, with no willingness from the DPRK to hold perpetrators to account, the international community has a responsibility to take action. We have already taken several steps. We worked with others to ensure that the UN Human Rights Council’s DPRK resolution in March contained strong language on accountability, including a recommendation that the commission’s report be forwarded to the UN Security Council. In April, we joined other Security Council members for an informal public briefing by commissioners. In May, we raised DPRK human rights issues during closed consultations with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In June, my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Member for East Devon, visited Geneva. He took part in an interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK, raised DPRK human rights with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and discussed accountability with representatives from the United States, France, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the EU. We will continue to work with like-minded partners to maximise the prospects of achieving genuine accountability, despite the challenges.

There is broad agreement on what we need to do: focus on DPRK human rights at this autumn’s UN General Assembly; achieve a strong, well supported DPRK resolution in the UNGA Third Committee; and take forward the recommendation that the UN Security Council should formally consider the commission’s findings and recommendations. This includes referral to the International Criminal Court, which the Government have made clear we would support. However, the DPRK has not signed the Rome Statute. As noble Lords will be aware, this means referral can be achieved only through a UN Security Council resolution. As we saw with Syria, China and Russia are likely to use their vetoes to block any such resolution. This does not mean that we should not pursue an ICC referral, but it does mean that we need to think carefully about when and how to take one forward, not least to ensure the maximum support from other members of the Security Council and the wider UN membership.

However, not all the commission’s recommendations on accountability need Security Council action. A number of measures are already moving forward, including renewal of the special rapporteur’s mandate and the creation of a new regional field office, to be based in the Republic of Korea. This new office will continue the commission’s work of collecting and documenting human rights violations until the North Korean regime can be brought to account. The UK stands ready to offer our support.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked specifically about sanctions. The commission made a recommendation to the Security Council on targeted sanctions. Existing UN and EU sanctions against the DPRK are based on UN Security Council resolutions targeting the DPRK’s

23 July 2014 : Column GC462

nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Like an ICC referral, a new UN sanctions regime would require a UN Security Council resolution. The UK would want any new sanction proposals to have a clear impact on the human rights situation in North Korea without any unintended negative impact on the general population. After recent successful legal challenges, we need to be sure that any proposals are both legally and politically deliverable in the European Union.

Alongside accountability, the UN commission of inquiry stressed the importance of continued human rights dialogue. The universal periodic review remains one of the few forums in which the DPRK is willing to engage on human rights, so we are exploring with partners how we can build on that.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, asked what avenues are open to the UK to influence the present regime. Bilateral human rights have always been an integral part of the dialogue with the DPRK. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough said, we believe in the importance of keeping those diplomatic channels open. Through our embassy in Pyongyang and its embassy in London, we deliver clear messages about the unacceptability of ongoing human rights violations, including the persecution of Christians, which both the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, have rightly highlighted.

In this regard, we are aware of the report to which the noble Baroness referred—the Hogan Lovells report—and its conclusions with respect to genocide on religious grounds. This of course differs from the position taken by the commission of inquiry, which concluded that the available evidence in this respect was ambiguous. We raised the need for the DPRK to engage with the international community on these issues and made clear our readiness to work together to improve the situation on the ground.

In a small way, our engagement on disability rights has shown that this is not completely impossible, and that progress can sometimes be made. More meaningful improvements would need a radical shift in DPRK thinking. We must convince it that, if it takes that chance, the international community will respond in good faith.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, again asked about our human rights dialogue and how we raise particular issues. There are occasions when we raise individual cases as a way of making the broader points. One such case was that of the South Korean national Kim Jung-wook, who was sentenced in May to life with hard labour following convictions for trying to establish underground churches and espionage; another was that of the 33 North Koreans who allegedly have been sentenced to death for contact with Kim Jung-wook.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about whether the DPRK has committed crimes against humanity. The commission’s report presents horrifying accounts of the scale of human rights violations in the DPRK. Ultimately, as the noble Lord knows, only a court of law can rule on whether crimes against humanity have been committed in legal terms, but it is clearly a very strong case to answer. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, also asked about the position of China. We raised DPRK human rights

23 July 2014 : Column GC463

concerns with China, including the specific issue of forced repatriation, which I think was mentioned by other noble Lords as well. The then Foreign Secretary raised this during his meeting with State Councillor Yang Jiechi in February this year, and officials raised it during the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue on 19 and 20 May.

Another area which the commission of inquiry highlighted was the role of people-to-people contact in supporting long-term change by giving North Koreans the opportunity—

Lord Burnett: I am sorry to interrupt. Can my noble friend tell the Committee the result of the representations that were made to the Government of China this year?

Baroness Warsi: I do not have the specific read-out of that meeting with me, and I need to be accurate about the information that I give at the Dispatch Box. I will therefore write to the noble Lord with further information.

I return to people-to-people contact, an issue highlighted by the commission of inquiry as a way of effecting long-term change. This is an area where the UK can help, given our presence on the ground in Pyongyang. Many of our engagement activities are designed precisely to increase such people-to-people contacts. Through the English language teacher training programme, we have provided thousands of North Koreans with their first access to a foreigner and an understanding of British culture and British values. The British Council is considering the scope of further cultural activity in line with its own commitment to engagement, not isolation. This year our embassy has funded a number of economic workshops, another area of engagement referred to in the commission’s recommendations.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough all argued about whether the Government would support Korean-language broadcasts by the BBC World Service in line with the commission’s recommendation on addressing the information blockade. This is a question that has been asked on a number of occasions, as noble Lords will know, and I think I will disappoint them by repeating what I have said—that the BBC World Service is operationally, managerially and editorially independent. Decisions on new language services are for it to consider, and then, if appropriate, to put to the Foreign Secretary. It has undertaken to keep this issue under review. I remind noble Lords of the last Oral Question that I answered on this, when I went into some detail on some of the challenges that that proposes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the right reverend Prelate again raised the issue of the humanitarian situation. While that has improved somewhat in recent years, there remain many causes for concern, such as those highlighted with regard to food security and healthcare. The UK helps to address these needs through its core funding to the multilateral aid organisations operating in the DPRK. The amount that goes to the DPRK varies, but in 2011-12 it was around £2 million.

23 July 2014 : Column GC464

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, specifically asked about the former chargé d’affaires and referred to comments he had made recently. I cannot comment on his personal views or what he may have said or written since leaving the FCO—he left in 2003—but I am aware that during the time he was in post his views were those of Her Majesty’s Government.

This Government are fully committed to tackling North Korea’s poor human rights record. We do not underestimate the challenges, but we do believe that change is possible. We, along with the rest of the international community, have a responsibility to do everything we can to support it.


Taking evidence about life in North Korea's prison camps at a Hearing in the House of Lords.

Taking evidence about life in North Korea’s prison camps at a Hearing in the House of Lords.

North Korea Prison Camps Kim Young Soon - a survivor giving testimony

North Korea Prison Camps Kim Young Soon – a survivor giving testimony

 With Baroness (Caroline) Cox at the North Korean border post of Panmunjom inside North Korea

With Baroness (Caroline) Cox at the North Korean border post of Panmunjom inside North Korea

Also see:

Award for Championing Religious Freedom and Minority Rights


Award for Championing religious Freedom presented at a meeting in the American Congress 2014

David (Lord) Alton, has received an award for his work for human rights and particularly for championing the rights of minorities persecuted for their beliefs.

The award was presented at a meeting being held in Washington DC at the American Congress. David Alton was nominated for the award by Egypt’s Coptic community for his long standing work on their behalf.

For the past twenty years Lord Alton has served as honorary President of the UK Copts.

At the award ceremony he said that “all over the world majorities and minorities need to learn again the art of co-existence, learning to respect diversity and plurality. Without co-exisence and ability to live together peaceably the world descends into chaos.”

Boko Haram – and the abduction of

Boko Haram say they want to destroy all westerrn ideas, including democracy, and replace Ngieria's federal constitution with Sharia law.

Boko Haram say they want to destroy all westerrn ideas, including democracy, and replace Ngieria’s federal constitution with Sharia law.

Boko Haram protest

Boko Haram, the Nigerian radical Islamist group, has claimed responsibility for the abduction of 276 schoolgirls during a raid in the village of Chibok in northeast Nigeria last month. Boko Haram means “eradicate western education/influence.”The group’s leader Abubakar Shekau has publically boasted: “I abducted your girls” – referring to the hundreds of students kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Borno state, on April 14.

“By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace,” he said in the video that starts with fighters lofting automatic rifles and shooting in the air as they chant “Allahu akbar!” or “God is great”.

Boko Haram stormed the all-girl secondary school, then packed the teenagers, who had been taking exams, onto trucks and disappeared into a remote area along the border with Cameroon. They have previously attacked students, children, churches and other targets.

On May 7th 2014 it was further reported that suspected Boko Haram Islamist militants have abducted eight more girls in north-eastern Nigeria.

The latest kidnapping happened on Sunday night in the village of Warabe, in Borno state. The girls taken were aged between 12 and 15

Boko Haram's leader has threatened to "sell" more than 230 girls seized from their school,  in Borno, on 14 April 2014.

Boko Haram’s leader has threatened to “sell” more than 230 girls seized from their school, in Borno, on 14 April 2014.

In recent months these have been some of the questions to the British government about the role which Boko Haram has been playing in spreading violence and intimidation, destabilising previously tolerant relationships of co-existence.

Boke Haram have murdered more than 600 Nigerians during the first six months of this year

Boke Haram have murdered more than 600 Nigerians during the first six months of this year

Cameroon: Boko HaramQuestion – May 2014
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of the kidnapping of two Italian priests and a Canadian nun by unidentified gunmen in the Maroua district of Cameroon, and of the identity of the perpetrators; and what information they have of the spread of Boko Haram’s influence and activity in Cameroon.[HL6642]

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): We are very concerned about kidnappings in Cameroon, which follow two similar incidents in 2013. We are aware of the growing evidence of Boko Haram having a presence in Cameroon, and discuss this regularly with the Government of Cameroon and other partners in the region. Our Travel Advice reflects the threat from kidnapping in Cameroon and other countries in the region. We have advised against all travel to the Far North Province of Cameroon since March 2013.

March 27th 2014:

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have had discussions with the government of Turkey concerning reports that Turkish Airlines was used to ship weapons to the Nigerian terrorist organisation Boko Haram.
• Hansard source (Citation: HL Deb, 27 March 2014, c146W)

Baroness Warsi (Conservative)
We are aware of allegations by some media outlets and certain members of the Turkish opposition suggesting that Turkish Airlines shipped lethal material to Nigeria. We have not discussed the allegations with the Turkish government, but our officials regularly meet their Turkish counterparts to discuss counter terrorism issues.

January 16th 2014
Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)
My Lords, can the Minister reflect on the role that outside insurgents are playing in the Central African Republic? Can she tell us what the Security Council is doing to ensure that the western borders of the republic are secured, so that organisations such as Boko Haram are not able to influence events inside the CAR, where jihadists are already present?
• • Hansard source (Citation: HL Deb, 16 January 2014, c350)

Baroness Warsi (Conservative)
The information that I have from my brief—although I stand to be corrected by the noble Lord, who is greatly experienced in the area—is that the situation has at this stage been contained within the borders of the Central African Republic. There are some concerns about external elements and a potential religious element to this developing, and we are of course keeping an eye on that.

Feb 4th 2013
Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Hill of Oareford on 21 January (Official Report, col. 970) that Ansaru was proscribed by Her Majesty’s Government as a terrorist organisation in November 2012, how many attacks and fatalities have been attributed to Ansaru; how many attacks and fatalities have been attributed to Boko Haram; and what factors have led to the proscribing of Ansaru but not Boko Haram.
• Hansard source (Citation: HL Deb, 4 February 2013, c1W)

Baroness Warsi (Conservative)
There are no reliable statistics available on the division of responsibility for attacks in Nigeria.
I refer the noble Lord to the Statement made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, on 22 November (Hansard, col. 2020) for the circumstances which led to the proscription of Ansaru. Ansaru is an Islamist terrorist organisation, based in Nigeria, which publicly emerged in January 2012. It is motivated by an anti-Nigerian Government and anti-western agenda and is broadly aligned with al-Qaeda.
Ansaru is believed to be responsible for the murder of British national Christopher McManus and his Italian co-worker, Franco Lamolinara, in March 2012, the kidnap of a French national in northern Nigeria in December 2012, the attacks on a police station in Abuja in December 2012 and also the recent attack on a Nigerian military convoy in Kogi state.
With respect to Boko Haram, the Government do not comment on whether any group is under consideration for proscription.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench) January 21st 2013.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that two of the fatalities were men from Liverpool? Paul Morgan, the head of security, originated from Aigburth, and was killed while trying to repel the attackers. Garry Barlow, from Allerton, reportedly had Semtex strapped to his chest. Their deaths left their loved ones and the local community utterly devastated. Will the Minister ensure that every practical help is given to these and the other grieving families as they try to come to terms with their loss? As this jihadist contagion threatens other countries, especially Nigeria, will he look again at the proscribing of Boko Haram, which has been responsible for hundreds of deaths, and the need to find political and economic solutions to deter the easy recruitment of the disaffected, as well as the wisdom of supporting militias in places such as Syria, which have links with Al-Qaeda, or share jihadist indifference to the slaughter of innocent people?• • Hansard source (Citation: HL Deb, 21 January 2013, c969)

Lord Hill of Oareford (Conservative)
First, I agree very much with the noble Lord how important it is that these poor families have every support that we can give them. I know that through the police and in other ways through our embassy we have been providing as much of that support as we possibly can.
On his broader point about Nigeria, we strongly condemn the violence that there has been in northern Nigeria. We are working with the Nigerian authorities to try to find lasting solutions to that conflict and, through our High Commission in Abuja, we are supporting counterterrorism work and interfaith projects. In November, the terrorist organisation, Ansaru, was proscribed by Her Majesty’s Government, which I hope sent a clear message that we condemn its terrorist activities.

Nigeria Risks Becomming Another Sudan - where 2 million died after Khartoum declared war on its own people.

Nigeria Risks Becomming Another Sudan – where 2 million died after Khartoum declared war on its own people.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of people (1) displaced, and (2) facing a humanitarian crisis, in the northern Nigerian states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa as a result of the insurgency by Boko Haram; and what assessment they have made of the needs of those people for aid.[HL6380]
Baroness Northover (LD): The UK Government supports the assessment of humanitarian needs in Northern Nigeria through OCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Although figures are difficult to quantify, OCHA estimate 5.9 million people have been affected by the insurgency in northeast Nigeria and an estimated 350,000 people have been displaced since May 2013, both within Nigeria and across the borders into Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Most displaced people are living in host communities, although around 5,000 are in camps. OCHA has assessed the priority needs of affected people as food, water, health and shelter.

Left for dead Nigerians outside a Catholic Church - murdered by Boko Haram

Left for dead Nigerians outside a Catholic Church – murdered by Boko Haram

11 Mar 2014 : Column WA372
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the government of Nigeria following the recent attacks by Boko Haram at a boarding school in Yobe state, on students at St Joseph’s Seminary, Shuwa and at St Paul’s Catholic Church in Waga Chakawa, Madagali.[HL5705]

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): During his visit to Nigeria the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr Simmonds), met President Jonathan on 27 February 2014. Mr Simmonds discussed the security situation in the north east of Nigeria including the series of horrific attacks on civilians in northern Nigeria that have taken place over recent months. During his entire visit Mr Simmonds reaffirmed our commitment to assist Nigeria in its fight against terrorism, while stressing the importance that Nigerian forces respect human rights during their operations.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the attacks on villages in Adamawa and Borno states, Nigeria, on 26 January by members of Boko Haram; and when Ministers last met the Nigerian High Commissioner and representatives of the government of Nigeria to discuss the role of Boko Haram.[HL5168]
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): We are appalled by these attacks which resulted in the deaths of innocent Nigerians. There can be no justification for attacks which target ordinary people going about their daily business. The UK will continue to support the Nigerian authorities in their efforts to counter the terrorist threat and to help bring those responsible to justice.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr Simmonds), met the Nigerian President’s Special Envoy for Security, Professor Viola Onwuliri, on 5 June 2013 accompanied by the Nigerian High Commissioner to London. On 24 September 2013 Mr Simmonds again met the Envoy, who was by then also acting Foreign Minister. On both occasions Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers discussed the security situation and Boko Haram, and made clear that the UK continued to support the Nigerian government’s fight against extremism while stressing the need to ensure respect for human rights.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that 20 Nigerians in Bama and Damasak have been killed by members of Boko Haram; and what discussions they have had with the Government of Nigeria about the role of Boko Haram following the United Kingdom’s decision to proscribe that organisation.[HL2182]

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): The British Government condemn these attacks which targeted members of the Civilian Joint Task Force in Nigeria. This is the latest in a series of attacks on the Civilian Joint Task Force which is working with the Nigerian Security Forces to help protect communities from the terrorist threat posed by Boko Haram.
Following the decision to proscribe Boko Haram in the UK, the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) expressing his Government’s gratitude for our decision and confirming their appreciation for our support in tackling the challenges posed by terrorism.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Hill of Oareford on 21 January (Official Report, col. 970) that “through our high commission in Abuja, we are supporting counter- terrorism work and interfaith projects”, what are those interfaith projects; and what are the details of the support which has been given.[HL4835]

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): Recent examples of UK interfaith work in Nigeria as a contribution to reducing conflict include:
a Department for International Development (DfID) project entitled “Enduring Peace in Jos: Arresting the Cycle of Violent Conflict”;
4 Feb 2013 : Column WA20
the Government are providing £800,000 over three years for work towards creating space for dialogue where the different communities can come together to discuss intercommunal issues in areas of tension;our high commission in Abuja has been involved in a programme to train youth peace ambassadors from both Christian and Muslim communities;our high commission has also funded a TV series to debate interfaith issues; andDfID has established a Nigeria stability and reconciliation programme, which specifically aims to address the grievances that can lead to extremism and terrorism.
The Government are considering the funding of a further interfaith project and will continue to work with the Nigerian Government and civil society to find a lasting solution to violence in Nigeria.

14 Nov 2012 : Column WA297

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in establishing whether or not there are links between Boko Haram and organisations and individuals in the United Kingdom.[HL3040]
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): It is long-standing British Government policy not to comment on intelligence matters.

13 Nov 2012 : Column WA283
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have about the attack on St. Rita’s Church, Kaduna, Nigeria, on 28 October; and what is their assessment of the role played by Boko Haram in that attack.[HL3039]
Baroness Warsi: Our high commission in Abuja understands from reporting in Nigeria that a suicide bomber in a car containing explosives pulled up to the church, was refused entry, reversed and then rammed into blockers, detonating the explosive devices in the car. The Nigerian authorities have confirmed that only one suicide bomber was involved.
Responsibility for a number of attacks against places of worship has been claimed by the Islamist extremist group commonly known as Boko Haram. Although there is widespread belief that Boko Haram is responsible for this incident due to the target and nature of the attack, there has been no claim or denial of responsibility and we cannot confirm whether the group was involved.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they last discussed the role of Boko Haram in Nigeria with the Government of Nigeria; and what is their assessment of alleged links and connections between Boko Haram and groups or individuals in the United Kingdom.[HL2741]
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: We regularly discuss the threat posed by terrorist groups including Boko Haram with the Government of Nigeria at both official and ministerial level. Most recently our acting high commissioner raised the threat posed by Boko Haram and affiliated groups with a senior Nigerian official in early October.
In relation to any presence of the organisation in the UK, it is a long-standing British Government policy not to comment on intelligence matters.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the Human Rights Watch report Spiralling Violence: Boko Haram Attacks and Security Force Abuses in Nigeria, published on 11 October. [HL2620]

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): The Human Rights Watch Report highlights the threat that violence in Northern Nigeria poses to human rights. It calls on the main Islamic group, known as Boko Haram, to stop its campaign of indiscriminate violence and calls on the Government of Nigeria to investigate and hold to account all those accused of human rights abuses, including members of the security forces.
29 Oct 2012 : Column WA105
We have strongly condemned the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram. We are deeply concerned about the allegations of human rights abuses being perpetrated by members of the Nigerian security services, including the ones contained in the recently published Human Rights Watch report. These are serious allegations from a respected organisation. We expect the Nigerian authorities to investigate the allegations thoroughly and independently, and to prosecute and punish anyone found guilty.
The Human Rights Watch report recognises the UK’s engagement on these issues. However, it also calls on the UK to be even more proactive. Our high commission in Abuja and visiting officials regularly call for those responsible to be brought to justice, including members of the security forces. UK policy towards Nigeria is clear. Our programmes such as the Department for International Development’s Justice 4 All and the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme are designed to increase human rights awareness and ultimately protection. We will continue to explore further opportunities to tackle violence and engage on human rights in Nigeria.

See also

Written Answers — House of Lords: Nigeria (14 November 2012)
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in establishing whether or not there are links between Boko Haram and organisations and individuals in the United Kingdom.
Written Answers — House of Lords: Nigeria (13 November 2012)
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have about the attack on St. Rita’s Church, Kaduna, Nigeria, on 28 October; and what is their assessment of the role played by Boko Haram in that attack.
Written Answers — House of Lords: Nigeria (7 November 2012)
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they last discussed the role of Boko Haram in Nigeria with the Government of Nigeria; and what is their assessment of alleged links and connections between Boko Haram and groups or individuals in the United Kingdom.
Written Answers — House of Lords: Nigeria (29 October 2012)
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the Human Rights Watch report Spiralling Violence: Boko Haram Attacks and Security Force Abuses in Nigeria, published on 11 October.
Nigeria — Question (24 July 2012)
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, given that 600 people in Nigeria have already been murdered this year by Boko Haram, which states that it wants to extinguish all reference to western ideals, including democracy, why have we not proscribed it as a terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom? Has the Minister had a chance to look at the information which I have sent to his office about the links between funding…
Written Answers — House of Lords: Political Groups: Islamist Organisations (11 June 2012)
Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have designated Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation.
Niger — Question (25 January 2012)
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, has the Minister seen the reports this week that Boko Haram, the radical Islamist group in Nigeria, has been responsible for a large number of people escaping from the violence there into neighbouring areas in Niger, and that this is both leading to an exodus of refugees, compounding the existing problems in Niger, and preventing food being transported from Nigeria into Niger? Did…

Boko Haram say they want to destroy all westerrn ideas, including democracy, and replace Ngieria's federal constitution with Sharia law.

Boko Haram say they want to destroy all westerrn ideas, including democracy, and replace Nigeria’s federal constitution with Sharia law.

Susie Younger and Korea’s Never Ending Flower and links to UN Commission of Inquiry Into Human Rights Abuses in North Korea and June 2015 replies to recent parliamentary questions about North Korea

June 2015 North Korean Questions raised In Parliament:

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether the Six Party Talks on North Korea will resume, and of the likelihood of progress on the issue of nuclear weapons controls in the light of the five previous United Nations Security Council Resolutions and two Agreed Frameworks.
Hansard source
(Citation: HL Deb, 10 June 2015, cW)

Baroness Anelay of St JohnsBaroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative
The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), discussed this with the Assistant Secretary in Washington on 2 June. An immediate resumption of Six Party Talks appears unlikely. While the US remain open to the prospect of resuming dialogue, they have also called for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to demonstrate good faith before returning to talks. Thus far, the DPRK has rejected all proposals for talks on these terms.

We remain extremely concerned by the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and continue to urge the DPRK to: comply with its obligations under relevant UN Security Council Resolutions; refrain from any further provocations; abide by its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and permit full access by the International Atomic Energy Agency. We urge the rigorous implementation of sanctions by the international community to limit the DPRK’s ability to advance its programmes.


Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by the Minister of State for Immigration, James Brokenshire, on 26 March (HC228701), and in the light of the ongoing practice of the United Kingdom of deporting North Korean asylum seekers to South Korea, what assessment they have made of the statement by the government of South Korea in a letter to the Secretary of State in 2010, cited in the judgment of the Upper Tribunal in GP and others (South Korean Citizenship) North Korean CG [2014] UKUT 391(IAC) that North Korean refugees must “desire to live in the Republic of Korea” before they can be considered South Korean nationals or be offered protection and settlement support.
Hansard source
(Citation: HL Deb, 8 June 2015, cW)
Lord Bates Conservative
The July 2010 letter written by the South Korean Embassy in London to the Home Office was fully considered by the Upper Tribunal in the case of GP and others.

In paragraph 104 of its determination the Upper Tribunal noted firstly that the subsequent United Kingdom-South Korea Readmission Agreement entered into between the two countries on 10 December 2011 provides a mechanism for the issue of travel documents which is not dependent on the genuineness of the individual’s wish to live in South Korea; and secondly, the question of refugee status is an objective test which requires the person to demonstrate that they have cooperated by seeking to establish whether they can avail themselves of protection from another State of which they may be a citizen.


Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to  parliamentary question (HL126):
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the proposed United Nations field office in South Korea will monitor human rights violations in North Korea; and what is their assessment of the state of progress in establishing that office. (HL126)
Tabled on: 01 June 2015
Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
The UN Human Rights Council mandated the UN field office in Seoul to monitor and document the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in resolution A/HRC/RES/25/25. This resolution also mandates the field office to enhance the engagement and capacity-building of various stakeholders and to maintain the visibility of the human rights situation in the DPRK. The UK supported this resolution and looks forward to the opening of the field office. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva have advised us that the field office should become operational this month.
Date and time of answer: 04 Jun 2015 at 16:53.


Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to  written parliamentary question (HL127):
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the United Nations World Food Programme’s estimate that $69 million is required to ensure food security in North Korea, in the light of the level of spending by the government of North Korea on defence and luxury facilities; and what discussions they have had with the government of North Korea about their spending priorities and their requests for international aid. (HL127)
Tabled on: 01 June 2015
Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not made an independent assessment on the food security situation within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We remain concerned about the DPRK government’s continued prioritization of military spending over spending to feed its people. The UK does not have a bilateral aid programme in the DPRK nor have we held recent discussions with the DPRK government regarding spending priorities or requests for international aid.
Date and time of answer: 04 Jun 2015 at 16:52.


Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to  written parliamentary question (HL48):
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of recent reports of the execution of senior officials, and others, in North Korea; when they last raised human rights violations with the North Korean regime; what was discussed and what response was received. (HL48)
Tabled on: 27 May 2015
Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
We have seen recent media reporting speculating on the purge and execution of the Defence Minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), General Hyon Yong Chol, together with other officials. There has been no announcement from the DPRK on the fate of General Hyon and, due to the opaque nature of the DPRK system, it is difficult to verify the accuracy of such reports.
We continue to be deeply concerned by the DPRK human rights situation and use our diplomatic relations to press these concerns wherever possible. In January, representatives of EU embassies in Pyongyang, including the UK, met the DPRK Foreign Minister to discuss a range of issues including human rights. In February, Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials met with DPRK Embassy officials and discussed freedom of expression, the March UN Human Rights Council session and EU plans for a resolution on human rights in the DPRK. More recently, at a meeting in March with the DPRK Ambassador to the UK, we underlined the strength of British Government and public interest in this issue. We used these meetings to raise our concerns and to encourage concrete change in the DPRK and positive interaction with the international community. The DPRK expressed disappointment over the UK and EU’s work to raise our concerns in international fora and challenged international assessments of its domestic human rights situation.
Date and time of answer: 04 Jun 2015 at 13:00.


Links to information on UN Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in North Korea….

Also see:
Susie Younger’s book “Never Ending Flower” was published in 1967.

Susie Younger Never Ending Flower 2

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.

Susie Younger with some of the girls for whom she provided shelter

Susie Younger with some of the girls for whom she provided shelter

Having arrived in Korea with a young Austrian companion, Maria Heissenberger, they set up a house for young street children, bootblacks whose employers exploited the children and 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.

They set up a house for young street children, bootblacks whose employers exploited the children and took most of their earnings from them

They set up a house for young street children, bootblacks whose employers exploited the children and took most of their earnings from them

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 some 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.

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

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

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.

Fr.Stephen Kim - who would become Cardinal Archbishop of Seoul and who would shelter democracy protesters  in his Seoul Cathedral

Fr.Stephen Kim – who would become Cardinal Archbishop of Seoul and who would shelter democracy protesters in his Seoul Cathedral

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.”

The Rose of Sharon - the Syrian Hibiscus - the national flower of Korea

The Rose of Sharon – the Syrian Hibiscus – the national flower of Korea

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, or in the aftermath of South Korea’s heart-breaking maritime tragedy – the resilience and the ability, in adversity, to renew and restore damaged beauty seems very apt.

Susie Younger

Susie Younger

Susie Younger with Fr.Lee

Susie Younger with Fr.Lee

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.

Paying A Price For Belief – the Assyrian Christians abducted by ISIS and face execution. Also, recent parliamentary interventions and the paltry sum we set aside to promote freedom of religion and belief


Also see: July 1st 2015 article on the targeting of Christians worldwide:

8.01 pm: Thursday June 25th, 2015 

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, Syria is the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our time, generating the largest movement of displaced people since World War II. We are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, for giving us this brief opportunity to turn a spotlight on these events. In my brief remarks, I will say something about the plight of minorities in Syria.

All faith communities and minorities, such as the Yazidis, have suffered, but the fate of the country’s Christians, already referred to, is catastrophic. The Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clément Jeanbart, asks:

“What are the great nations waiting for before they put a halt to these monstrosities? Let me cry with my people, violated and murdered. Allow me to stand by numerous families in Aleppo who are in mourning. Because of this ugly and barbarous war, they have lost so many loved ones, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters and cherished children”.

ISIS has murdered, plundered, raped and abducted, including whole villages of Assyrian Christians. Now that joint Kurdish and Assyrian forces have recently recaptured a number of villages, can the Minister tell us whether we are going to provide teams, especially in the Khabur River Valley area, to find and dispose of mines and make homes and villages safe again? Where ground has been recaptured, will we be supporting the proposal of my noble friend Lord Dannatt to enhance their military capability? Do we accept that more training and support are needed for the Kurdish-led alliance, which can likely even seize Raqqa, with the result of crippling ISIS in both Syria and Iraq?

Does the Minister agree that the Kurdish-Assyrian democratic self-administration governmental structure and its commitment to civil society and the rule of law should be the model for a post-Assad, post-ISIS Syria and possibly for the entire region? Will the Minister consider practical support for Bassam Ishak, the president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, who has a vision of a Syria in which rights are based on citizenship; where all people, regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender, are treated equally; and where women have a prominent role in the structures? These pillars of the DSA system should surely be the pillars of a post-Assad, post-ISIS Syria.

The overall goal must be to enable all Syrians who have left, including Christians, to return to their homes, to be safe when they return, and to participate in rebuilding the Syrian infrastructure and Government on the basis of social and political equality, with religious freedom and human rights being safeguarded. It is not perfect but the Kurdish-Assyrian coalition is the best example in this fractured region of hard-headed bridge-building and what the West should want to see in the Syria of the future.

8.04 pm


Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench – June 9th 2015 To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the circumstances of the more than 230 Assyrian Christian hostages taken by Da’esh in the north of Syria in February; (2) the capture by Da’esh of around 35 predominantly Assyrian villages along the Khabur river in the Hassake Governorate; and (3) how many people remain unaccounted for following those captures. Hansard source Baroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative We understand that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are still holding more than 200 Assyrian Christians who were abducted in February from villages along the Khabour river in Hassakeh Province of North-East Syria. We believe that, in another act of appalling barbarity, ISIL executed at least 15 of the hostages, and that 23 Assyrian Christians have since been released following the payment of ransom money by the families, and another two freed when the area was liberated at the end of May. We remain concerned for the remaining hostages, most of whom are women, children and elderly people. We support the UN Security Council Statement condemning the abductions and demanding the Christians immediate release. The UK is committed to defeating ISIL, an organisation that has no place in today’s world. We will continue to work with the Global Coalition of more than sixty countries to ensure that ISIL no longer poses a threat to the people of the region, to international stability or to our own national security. ————————————————————————————————————————————- Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the successful removal of Da’esh from the 35 villages along the Khabur river that had previously been captured, what steps they are taking to assist the clearing of mines and unexploded ordnance, to consolidate stability, and to create safe havens to enable the return of residents. Hansard source Baroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative While the UK is not carrying out any mine clearance operations in Syria, we fully recognise the widespread and severe civilian suffering caused by the conflict. The UK has given over £800m to the humanitarian response, more than we have given to any previous humanitarian crisis. Some of this has been targeted to provide humanitarian support to the Hasakah Governorate as and where security constraints have allowed. Although safe havens can be effective in some situations, they are not currently feasible in Syria. Without all parties agreeing on their establishment there would need to be sufficient military capability to guarantee the safety of individuals. That is not currently present in Syria. ————————————————————————————————————————————– June 11th 2015 –  – The Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe (FOREF) today highlighted the plight of 207 Assyrian Christians still in captivity after their abduction by Islamic State terrorists in February, and expressed deep concern for the safety of the hostages. “The Islamic State has demanded an unreasonable ransom, providing an excuse not to negotiate further,” according to Dr. Aaron Rhodes, president of FOREF. “As a result, the victims, who have been targeted because of their faith, are left in a state of limbo and in danger of being slaughtered.” Over 233 Assyrians were seized on 23 February 2015, from the villages of Tal-Hormez, Tal Gwran, Qaber-Shameh, Tal-Fieda, Tal-Shameran, and Tal-Jazera in Al-Hasaka Province. Following intervention by Arab tribesmen from south of the Alkhabour River in Al-Hasaka Province, the IS demanded about $100,000 for each kidnapped Christian, or about $23,000,000 total. Of the 207 Assyrians in captivity, 83 are men, 87 are women and 37 are children. They are held in the community of Al-Shadade, Al-Hakasa Province. The IS has set several of the hostages free. The Assyrian Christian community has suffered massive displacement as a result of the IS terror. Thirty-four (34) villages, where Assyrians have lived since Biblical times, have been evacuated, and reports from local residents suggest some of their inhabitants have been killed. According to information received by FOREF, over 1380 families have been displaced. See also: ————————————————————————————————————————————– Also see: Power Point presentation to accompany a talk given at Brentwood in March 2014 entitled “Paying a Price for Belief.”: Paying A Price For Belief Brentwood 2014 The lecture is also now on the Brentwood Cathedral website twitter feed a Price For Belief Brentwood: March 12th 2014. David Alton Barely a day passes without reports of some new atrocity being committed against Christians. These are four stories from the last few days from just one country – Egypt: 1. Arabic media has reported the murder of a Syrian Christian family who had been living in Alexandria. A 44-year-old man, his 35-year-old wife, their six-year-old son and the wife’s brother were stabbed to death at their home on 17 February. The attackers set the house on fire. 2. In a separate incident, a 30-year-old Christian woman, Madline Wagih Demian, was killed in an attack on a Christian community in Kom Ombo, Upper Egypt. A knife-wielding Muslim man went on a rampage, targeting two Christian-owned pharmacies. 3. Over the past two years, there have been more than 150 reported kidnappings of Christians in Minya Province in Upper Egypt, Criminal gangs have been able to operate with impunity. Payments extorted from families in exchange for their loved ones’ release range from US$7,000 to US$500,000. 4. Christians were the victims of a terrorist attack in Sinai where the Jihadist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis carried out a suicide bombing on a tourist bus carrying 31 South Korean Christians who were visiting historical Christian sites. Four people were killed and 14 injured. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has threatened further attacks on tourists and also to topple the interim government. Yet, in the face of reports like these, from all around the world, the West, including some Christian leaders, seem to be in a state of complete denial about the existence of religiously motivated persecution in countries like Nigeria or Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Sudan, Iran, Egypt, China and North Korea. Even in the UK we see examples of religious intolerance and discrimination – such as the dismissal of two Catholic midwives for refusing to take part in an abortion or the sacking of a Christian woman for refusing to remove her cross. And from Yorkshire where a college was told to remove Easter and Christmas from the calendar in case it offended people; to a Perth Hospital told to remove Communion Table or the attempt in Devon to force Bideford Council to ban prayers at the beginning of their meetings we see depressing examples of intolerance. A poll showed that more than four out of five churchgoers (84 per cent) think that religious freedoms, of speech and action, are at risk in the UK. A similar proportion (82 per cent) feel it is becoming more difficult to live as a Christian in an increasingly secular country. But tonight I want to highlight the systematic killing and outright persecution of Christians which takes place without hardly a murmur of protest – and also challenge the mistaken belief that somehow this has little or nothing to do with us. Unless we lay bare the ideology which lies behind radical Islamist thinking – and which too often reduces God to the status of a faction leader or tribal chief – and challenge the conspiracy of silence which surrounds the question of religious persecution, at the hands of radical Islamists and atheists alike – we will sleep-walk into a tragedy which has implications well beyond the ancient biblical lands or East Asia. The two greatest fault lines of our times are the fault lines between Christianity and secularism and Christianity and Islam. Yet, religious illiteracy amongst policy makers in Western nations means that the way we view these conflicts has led to serious mistakes being made and unless we are very careful those same mistakes will come to have consequences in our own back yard. Policy makers, intelligence services and the media need to have a much more considered understanding of religious radicalisation and intolerance. The first thing we must do is ensure that we examine events through the lens of the frequently overlooked and neglected Article 18 of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18, “the orphaned right”, was fashioned in the aftermath of the annihilation of millions of Jews in Nazi concentration camps. It boldly states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Yet, for millions of people this right to believe, or not to believe, is not worth the paper on which it is written – and like the United Nations’ much celebrated doctrine of “a duty to protect” creates the fiction that something promulgated will be championed and upheld. And what does a society lose when it fails to uphold the right to religious belief and fails to promote toleration and diversity? In 1965 the Second Vatican Council, in Dignitatis Humanae, put it succinctly: “A society which promotes religious freedom will be enlivened and enriched; one that doesn’t will decay”. And, speaking at Westminster Pope Benedict Emeritus said: “Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, and creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.” In country after country, all of this has been ignored. And what has happened to the duty to protect, or Article 18, in a country like Syria, where Christians, some of whom fled from the persecution in neighbouring Iraq, have been caught in the unremitting cross fire and targeted by radical Islamist groups? In October 2010, 58 Christians were killed during evening mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad: 1.4 million Christians reduced to 150,000. Little wonder that Pope Benedict on his visit to the Holy Land remarked: “Churches in the Middle East are threatened in their very existence” Or consider the daily bombardment by the Sudanese Government of mainly Christian populations in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Or, there is the plight of Egypt’s Copts. Think of the murder of two little girls at a recent Coptic wedding and the orgy of violence which I have described as Egypt’s Kristallnacht. Take Nigeria where, as February ended, Boko Haram – which means eradicate western education and influence – murdered, in cold blood, twenty nine students of the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, while they slept in their student hostels . Days later Boko Haram began the month of March with two explosions in Maiduguri leaving at least 50 people dead. The north-south conflict in Nigeria is reminiscent of Sudan – when 2 million, mainly Christian people, were killed, Christian pastors have been beheaded by Boko Haram who openly say their interim goal is “to eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country.” When their depredations are reported at all, Boko Haram are simply described as a terrorist group. What analysis is made of what motivates them to drive a jeep laden with explosives into a packed Catholic church in Kaduna or to kill students whose crime is to embrace Christianity?. Turn the tables for a moment and ask yourself what reaction there would be in the Islamic world if, heaven forbid, Christian gun men stormed a student dormitory and murdered dozens of sleeping teenagers; or if mosques in Bradford, Marseilles or Dusseldorf were burnt to the ground and believers praying there were car-bombed by suicide bombers. Or imagine the consequences if your daughter, on her way to study at school, was abducted and decapitated; or if your Christian family or friends who could trace their antecedents across two millennia, joined the exodus, now of biblical proportions. Although religious persecution can affect people of all faiths and none (a young atheist has just been released in Indonesia after serving two years in prison for stating on Facebook that he did not believe in God), in every single country where there are infringements of Article 18 Christians face persecution. For instance, Rohinga Muslims face persecution in Burma, Bahais face persecution in Iran, Tibetan Buddhists face persecution in China, but in every single country where persecution occurs because of religious belief Christians are in the front line. Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who, last month, chaired a Congressional Hearing on religious persecution, said that Christians “remain the most persecuted religious group the world over.” This echoes a recent remark of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who also said that she believes Christians are the most persecuted group in the world today. Giving evidence to Congress, Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, permanent observer of the Holy See Mission at the United Nations described “Flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages in the Middle East even as we meet.” Experts warned Congress that many Christians around the world are facing serious persecution that often goes unreported and undeterred. Other speakers at the hearing testified about violence against Christians in India, Nigeria, Myanmar, Sudan, Eritrea, and Indonesia. According to a Report by the Pew Centre between 2006 and 2010, Christians were harassed in 139 countries around the world. Tonight I am going to talk in more detail about three countries where being a Christian requires you to pay the ultimate price for your faith: North Korea; Pakistan and Syria; and I will conclude by both recalling the price which was paid in our own country that we might have the freedom to be Catholic and to ask whether we use our freedoms to defend those rights and to champion those who are denied them. North Korea. Last week, as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, I hosted a visit to Parliament by Hea Woo, a Christian survivor of a North Korean labour camp. In her testimony to the meeting, Hea Woo gave a graphic and powerful account of her time inside a the camp – where torture and beatings are routine, and where prisoners were so hungry they were reduced to eating rats, snakes, or even searching for grains in cow dung. In such places the dignity of human life counted for nothing. “Sometimes we had soup with nothing in it, just full of dirt,” said Hea Woo. “In some places whole families were put into camps. They separated the men from the women and even if they saw each other they couldn’t talk to each other. The guards told us that we are not human beings, we are just prisoners, so we don’t have any right to love. We were just animals. Even if people died there, they didn’t let the family members outside know. “ Becoming an illicit Christian in North Korea, worshipping in one of the country’s underground churches, is a serious crime with terrifying consequences. Some believers, one of whom stayed with my family over Christmas last, and who have escaped from North Korea, say that they had never seen a church or a Bible before leaving the country. Any of those caught in illegal church services or found with religious artefacts are sent to the numerous camps and prisons, where they are kept in horrific conditions. Fed on starvation rations and routinely deprived of sleep, they are crammed into overcrowded cells where there isn’t even enough room to lie down. Two years ago there were reports of a further campaign of execution against Christians in North Korea. At least 20 Christians were arrested and sent to the Yodok Political Prison Camp for their faith. In several meetings, I raised this and other cases with North Korean officials, but was told that these reports were “lies” and that the execution of Christians was “impossible.” It’s not execution – as Kim Jong Un’s uncle recently discovered – that is impossible, but meaningful dialogue about religious freedom which is impossible. This is because the role of the officials is to control and not enable. Nevertheless, Christian organisations have been able to get through the closed border and bring food and medicine into the country. These include a Catholic priest who has brought tuberculosis medicine into the country on over forty occasions and food relief which has been provided by Caritas and the Sant.Egidio Community. But as I have seen for myself, on four visits to North Korea, the suffering of its people is of a very high order. If you were to bench-mark the findings of the recent United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the abuse of human rights in North Korea, against the thirty articles set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it would be difficult to find a single article which Kim Jong-un’s regime does not breach. That Declaration was born in the in the criminality of twentieth century totalitarianism and the gas chambers of Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz. Michael Kirby, the eminent Australian jurist who chaired the Inquiry, told me that he believes that the network of gulags and camps, where over 200,000 North Koreans are incarcerated, bear direct comparison with Hitler’s camps and Stalin’s gulags. In a damning indictment, the COI concludes that egregious crimes against humanity are being committed and are of an order which makes them sui generis: “the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”. These “unspeakable atrocities” , include “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” and warrant a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although Article 18 of the 1948 Declaration is often, given lip service, not so in Michael Kirby’s report. In paragraphs 26-31 the COI state: “there is almost a complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”; that religious faith has been supplanted by a cult of “absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader” and “the State considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat.” The report cites the presence of four “official” churches – which I have visited, and all of which bear the marks of Grigory Potemkin fakery, built to deceive visitors into believing that the situation is better than it really is. These four churches are, of course, closely controlled by the state and overseen by the DPRK’s tame ‘church’, the Korean Christian Federation. These show churches exist to create an illusion of religious freedom. On my third visit to North Korea I was allowed to speak to the congregation at the Changchung Catholic church and met with members of the congregations at the other churches. The Changchung Catholic Church dates from 1988 but for sixty years no priest has been permitted to minister and in none of these churches is there anything that resembles true religious freedom. At Changchung I met Jang Jae-on, the Communist Party official who regulates religious belief. He produced a congregation of around sixty people, almost all women, mostly covered with mantillas. A picture of Pope Benedict was pulled out of a cupboard and put at the side of the sanctuary. After a hymn, three men, in deacon’s vestments, proceeded to read the liturgy of the word – and we passed seamlessly from the Gospel to the Lord’s Prayer and dismissal. Without any priest for six decades there is no Eucharist but knowing our own history of Penal Times it is impossible to believe that in Pyongyang, a city once known as “the Jerusalem of the East” that Faith has been completely eradicated. Who knows what was in the hearts of those who were worshipping at Changchung? Ironically, another of these Potemkin churches, Chilgol church was where Kim Il Sung’s mother, Kang Pan-sok, was a Presbyterian deaconess and in another ironic twist, a Russian Orthodox church was opened in 2006 – at the request of Russian diplomats no longer wrapped in the Stalin’s flag and anxious to worship God. Beyond the show churches Judge Kirby says that “Christians are prohibited from practising their religion and are persecuted. People caught practising Christianity are subject to severe punishments in violation of the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition of religious discrimination”. As if to graphically underline Kirby’s verdict, the day after the publication of the COI Report, John Short, an Australian countryman, was arrested in Pyongyang for being in possession of Scriptures. In North Korea Article 18 is not worth the paper on which it is written. Jang Jae On, the Communist Party official who regulates religious belief, is scornful when you point him to its provisions. However, just occasionally an official will quietly mention that their family were Christians and, in the town of Anju, the mayor told me that every week for sixty years, since the Korean War, Catholics have met in the rubble of their church. That believers are persecuted and suffer grievously is indisputable. Just over ten years ago I met Yoo Sang-joon, a North Korean Christian who had escaped after his wife and children had died in the famine. Routinely, Yoo has been going back and forth helping others get out. Some escapees, like Jeon Young-Ok and Shin Dong Hyok, have appeared before the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. Jeon Young-Ok told us that she 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.” She added that “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.” Shin Dong Hyok was born in the notorious Camp 14. After a failed escape attempt, he was made to watch the execution of his mother and brother. The guards then tortured him, roasting him over a fire. Shin describes how today the Christian faith has given him healing, the ability to forgive and the strength to strive for fundamental change. The courageous decision of so many North Koreans to tell their stories and the presence of several hundred North Korean refugees in England, and around 30,000 others now living in free countries, is a game changer. Of course, Korea is no stranger to suffering and the story of Christian witness graphically illustrates this. In the twentieth century the Church was a major opponent of Japanese occupation and the bravery of Cardinal Stephen Kim, and the Catholic convert, and future President, Kim Dae Jung, in opposing the south Korean military dictatorship ushered in South Korean democracy. From the nineteenth century the Church’s martyrology lists a representative group of the thousands who have died for their Catholic Faith. In 1984, at their canonisation, celebrated on the flat sands of the Han River, where many had been executed, Pope John Paul II described a community of Christians “unique in the history of the church” It was Korean lay-men, led by Yi Sunghun, who, in 1785, had brought the Faith to the country, not missionaries. Among the canonised were thirteen-year-old Peter Yu, tortured on fourteen occasions, and twenty-five-year-old Andrew Kim, the first Korean priest, executed in 1846 – killed as a traitor for fraternising with foreigners. Andrew Kim was stripped naked, and decapitated, proclaiming as he died: “This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively: if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die… God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.” Their fate was a foretaste of what, one hundred years later, would await Christians in the post-Korean Communist State. In a vivid account, recorded in “March Till They Die” by an Australian Columban priest, Fr.Philip Crosbie, seized in 1950, with two Irishmen, Monsignor Thomas Quinlan and Fr.Frank Canavan, and an American Maryknoll priest, Bishop Patrick Byrne, he described how they were put on starvation rations. They were then force marched with captured Carmelite nuns and sisters from the French Community of St.Paul of Chartres. For fifty years their provincial superior, 76-year-old Mother Beatrix, had worked with the sick, the poor and Korean orphans. When she could walk no further and lay by the roadside one of the guards shot her dead. Bishop Byrne also succumbed and Fr Crosbie wrote of his roadside burial: “The only sign of his rank was a light cassock of black silk, with red buttons and piping. The buttons under their covering of red cloth were of metal. Some day they may help to identify the remains.” Fr.Crosbie ended his account with a prayer for those who did not live to see freedom; and a prayer for those who had captured and abused them: “May there be none of us who will not find Him at the end!” Perhaps on reading Michael Kirby’s contemporary account of the continued suffering in North Korea, it is a prayer we can all echo. Pakistan: Let me turn to my second country study: Pakistan – responsible for some of the worst religious persecution in the world. At its foundation its first President, Jinnah, said:“Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life and their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed.” In a population of over 172 million people, only about 1.5% (3 million) is Christians -half Catholic, half Protestant. And, for them, the reality is rather different. March 2nd marked the third anniversary of the assassination of Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, murdered in cold blood and in broad daylight in Pakistan’s capital, and still no one has been brought to justice. Bhatti was the only Christian cabinet member and although a suspect has now been brought to trial that trial has been jeopardized by death threats to the lawyers and witnesses. Aged 42, the life of Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities, was cut short by self described Taliban assassins. His murderers scattered pamphlets describing him as a “Christian infidel”. The leaflets were signed “Taliban al-Qaida Punjab.” A devout Catholic, Shahbaz Bhatti stands in a long tradition – from Thomas Beckett to Thomas More, Maximilian Kolbe to Oscar Romero – of men willing to lay down their lives for their friends and their faith. Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder also ranks alongside assassinations which stirred consciences, precipitating change: Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr.Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy. Shahbaz Bhatti once said: “I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of the cross, and I am following the cross, and I am ready to die for a cause.” Bhatti knew his outspokenness against appalling discrimination would make him a target. He insisted his stand would “send a message of hope to the people living a life of disappointment, disillusionment and despair” adding that his life was dedicated to “the oppressed, the down-trodden and the marginalised” and to “the struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom and the empowerment of religious minorities’ communities.” Following his death, local Catholics in Bhatti’s diocese of Faisalabad fasted, prayed and venerated his legacy. Archbishop Saldanha of Lahore and the Pakistan Bishops Conference then wrote to Pope Benedict asking that Bhatti’s name be listed among the martyrs of the faith. At the time of the murder Pope Benedict Emeritus entreated the faithful to reflect on Bhatti’s death contrasting Christian suffering with the tepid way we take our religious liberty for granted: “I ask the Lord Jesus that the moving sacrifice of the life of the Pakistani minister Shahbaz Bhatti may arouse in people’s consciences the courage and commitment to defend the religious freedom of all men and, in this way, to promote their equal dignity.” Bhatti’s death recalls other shocking assassinations – those of Mahatma Gandhi, who was shot at point blank range in 1948; Dr. Martin Luther King, then aged 39, who was gunned down, twenty five years later, in Memphis, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter and then, two months after that came the killing of Robert Kennedy. Kennedy had a profound belief in the importance of individual actions;, that each of us is made in God’s image (Imago Dei), is, therefore, of inestimable worth; and that we should neither be discouraged by seemingly impossible odds or by the intractable nature of the challenges we face: “Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.” The anniversary of Shahbaz Bhatti’s death challenges should stir us to see politics differently: as sacrificial service: paying a price – perhaps even the ultimate one – for our beliefs.. Bhatti knew that he would lose his life. Yet, it did not deter him from insisting on justice for religious minorities in the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim nation. He did not run away or recoil from his calling, even sacrificing his personal life, by never marrying, which is explained was to spare a young family his anticipated fate. Bhatti’s last breaths were uttered in defence of Asia Bibi, the illiterate Christian mother of five, jailed in 1999, for alleged blasphemy against Islam, and sentenced to death. Today she languishes in jail, still on death row. Her appeal was due to be heard on February 14th but was cancelled at short notice by officials who simply said it is “a sensitive case.” After Shahbaz’s murder, his brother, Paul, a doctor whom I have met and know, followed him into the government to advise on “national harmony and minority affairs.” He successfully campaigned for the release of Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl who was jailed for blasphemy in 2012 even though she was mentally disabled and only 14 years old at the time. Masih and her entire family then fled to Canada. Paul’s work led to death threats against him and he too has now had to leave the country. In Pakistan there are regular mob rampages through Christian neighbourhoods – last March the Joseph Colony, a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, saw the torching of 200 homes and churches – and, shockingly, last September the suicide bombing at Peshawar’s Anglican All Saints Church led to carnage and many deaths. If the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Cabinet Minister, who was charged with upholding the rights of minorities, remains unresolved, what faith can ordinary citizens have in the justice system? Why should potential attackers fear the law? What does impunity say about the prospects for a plural and tolerant society where diverse religious belief is honoured and respected? I genuinely am staggered at our indifference to the deaths of men like Shahbaz Bhatti or Iraq’s Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, whose body was discovered in a shallow grave – one of an estimated 600 Iraqi Christians murdered as their churches have been bombed and desecrated. Hundreds of thousands fled – many to Syria – where the horror is being played out all over again. So, let me end by talking about Syria – which starkly reminds us what happens when we fail to find ways in which to live peaceably and harmoniously with one another. Syria. In Syria, where sarin gas has been used against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus; barrel bombs have rained down on Aleppo; and citizens have been under siege in Homs and elsewhere, are being starved to death. I was particularly struck by the death of an unborn child killed by a sniper’s bullet, shown on a scan, lodged in its brain. Vast numbers of people are suffering – and no-one more so than the ancient Christian community caught in the cross-fire. It’s reminiscent of earlier “never again” moments of history – but the chaos has also given some of the radical opposition groups never again happens too often all over again. For some, this has also provided a pretext, a convenient cover for opening a new chapter of religious persecution. I first went to Syria in 1980. I arrived in Damascus on the day war broke out between Iran and Iraq. It lasted for eight years and claimed more than 1 million lives. My visit was three months after the Muslim Brotherhood had made an assassination attempt on Ḥafez al-Assad (the current President’s father). His response was then to align Syria with Iran. King Hussein declared Jordan’s support for Iraq. One week after we met in Damascus, Assad was in Moscow signing a mutual friendship treaty. Depressingly, the lines in today’s conflict are not newly drawn. In 1980, I wrote about the repressive nature of the region’s regimes—repressive then and repressive now. Iran’s human rights record remains appalling. Saudi Arabia, referred to in endlessly as our strategic ally in the region, also commits egregious violations of human rights, including the persecution of Christians, and remains one of the deadliest exporters of global terror. But, the “Afghanisation” of Syria, with vast tracts falling under the control of dangerous jihadist groups, would hardly represent progress. These various factions – all reducing God to the status of a faction leader or tribal chief – are largely at war with one another. Describing them as the opposition conjures up images of a coherent and united group akin to opposition groups in parliamentary democracies. We should be very wary of using such descriptions. Take ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham – which uses suicide bombers; now controls territory in north-eastern Iraq and uses radicalised recruits ( like Anil Khalil Raoufi, a British Afghan who was studying engineering at the University of Liverpool and was recently killed in Syria in fighting between rebel groups). We should reflect for a moment on their ideology and world view. There will be no room in their brave new world for anyone of dissenting opinion or belief. For Muslims, too, a word devoid of minorities, will be a less tolerant place, a monochrome world lacking in diversity or pluralism. It will also have effects on the countries where there was once great co-existence between Muslims and their neighbours. Take a country like Indonesia. The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict identifies the radicalisation of young Indonesian men who have gone to Syria via Turkey. Their director Sidney Jones says: “Jihadi humanitarian assistance teams now appear to be facilitating the entry of fighters as well”. In appealing to hatred, many jihadists cite a seventh-century directive which requires Christians to convert to Islam and pay tribute to Muslim rulers or leave. It is being increasingly enforced by extreme Islamist groups. Their edict states that Christians are required “to pay Jizya tax on every adult male to the value of four golden dinars for the wealthy, half of that for middle-income citizens and half of that for the poor… They must not hide their status, and can pay in two instalments per year.” They are forbidden to renovate or build churches or to display the cross. To underline this, several Orthodox nuns who were abducted by opposition groups have had their crosses removed from their habits. Aymenn al-Tamimi, an academic based at the University of Oxford University and an expert on Iraq and Syrian jihadists, said the imposition of the jizya was derived from a verse in the Quran, which demanded submission by the “people of the Book” – Jews and Christians – who did not follow Islam. On the Syria Comment website, he went on to say: “In case ISIS’s ambitions to a global caliphate were still not apparent to anyone, ISIS’s official Twitter account for Raqqa province had this to say on the imposition of the dhimmi pact: ‘Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome.’” It was the late King Hussein who offered the wise advice to pray for God’s protection against, “those who believe that they are the sole possessors of truth.” These sole possessors of truth represent the biggest stumbling block in finding a peaceful way forward out of this confessional morass and in Syria they also represent the biggest danger to Alawites, Druze, Muslims from other traditions than their own, and Christians, and also the rights of women. Almost 1,500 years ago a wandering monk called John Moschos described the eastern Mediterranean as a flowering meadow of Christianity. That meadow is today a battlefield. Before the war the Christians of Syria accounted for between 4.5% and 10% of the population. What will it be after the war? Forty-seven churches have been closed; two priests and a nun have been murdered; two bishops, three priests and 12 nuns have been abducted. The city of Homs, the third largest in Syria, has now seen almost its entire Christian population of 50,000 to 60,000 flee for safety as fighting continues in that stricken country. The number of Christians left in the city has reportedly fallen to below 1,000. A Jesuit priest, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, who has spent most of his life championing reconciliation, was kidnapped in July 2013 after entering rebel-held territory. Opposition sources from Raqqah said that Paolo Dall’Oglio had been executed by extremist groups. Do we seriously want to see these groups replacing one repressive regime with another? I serve on the UK Board of the charity Aid To the Church In Need. I have been looking at first-hand accounts which they have received from Syrian Christians. Typical is this note from Basman Kassouha, a refugee now in the Bekaa Valley area of Lebanon. He says that the militias, “stormed my house, giving me one hour to evacuate or else they will kill me … I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost everything”. The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted in a number of places. I hope, as we collect evidence of the atrocities and crimes against humanity that none of the evidence will ever be lost to history but will one day be used to bring those responsible to justice. Bishop Sleman says: “There are many events that show that Christians are targeted, such as those of Maaloula, Sadad, Hafar, Deir Atiyeh, Carah, Nabk, Kseir, Rablé, Dmaineh, Michtayeh, Hassaniyeh, Knaïeh, and some villages of the Valley of Christians, Yabroud, Aafrd, the Jazirah region such as Hassaké, Ras El-Ain Kamechleh, and many other areas. Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”. The mostly Christian town of Saidnaya has experienced repeated attacks by extremists. The fourth attack on the city occurred on 19 January. The ancient site of the Convent of Our Lady on Mount Qalamoun has been frequently targeted by mortars. In Homs, a Dutch priest, Father Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city, described how residents cut off for more than a year developed chronic mental health problems following the breakdown of social order. He says, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”. In the largely Syrian Orthodox town of Sadad mass graves have been uncovered. A total of 45 Christians were killed and 1,500 families were held hostage when Sadad was stormed by the Al-Nusra Front and an organisation called the Grandsons of the Prophet on 21st October 2013. It was taken by government forces a week later. Among those killed by rebels were two teenage boys, their mother and three of their grandparents. The bodies of university student Ranim, 18, and her 16-year-old brother, Fadi were discovered at the bottom of a well, close to their home. Also brought to the surface were the remains of the youngsters’ mother, Njala, 45, and their grandparents: Mariam, a 90-year-old widow, as well as Matanios El Sheikh, 85, and his wife, Habsah, 75. Church sources say 30 bodies were also found in two separate mass graves. At the end of last year Damascus-based Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch remarked: “How can somebody do such inhumane and bestial things to an elderly couple and their family?” The Patriarch explained that thousands fled Sadad and initially were too afraid to return in case of further atrocities. Reports from the town described how vulnerable people unable to escape—including the elderly, disabled, women and children—were subjected to torture and some were strangled to death. Churches have been damaged and desecrated, while schools, and government and municipal buildings have also been destroyed. The imposition of Sharia Law in Syria and in vast tracts of the world represents a challenge to Western democracies and human rights. So does the nature of Global Jihad and militant Islam. Our secular society in which we have in the last two centuries, enjoyed religious toleration and increasing religious co-existence is under significant threat but we seem to be sleepwalking into this danger. While we overlook and fail to understand the religious dimension to these terrible atrocities, and the imperative of harnessing thoughtful and moderate religious leaders from all traditions, we will utterly fail to end the persecution and the unspeakable violence. We in the West, who enjoy so many freedoms and liberties, need to ask ourselves some tough questions about the disproportionate nature of the causes which we so readily embrace whilst ignoring the systematic violent ideology of an Islamist “Final Solution” directed at the Christian minorities. Hundreds of parliamentary hours can be spent asserting the rights of foxes or on discussing rights associated with our life- styles but when it comes to the killing of children and students, or the torching of their homes and places of worship, or the destruction of centuries old culture, our political classes have taken Trappist vows. This stems from a misplaced belief that their silence about radical Islamist groups represents “tolerance”. In reality it stems from fear and indifference. Ultimately, parliamentarians are only as good as the people who elect them – so their electorates are also partly to blame for not organising themselves in the way in which pressure groups do. If political leaders have been indifferent, where here are the western churches? Secular society has got its priorities wrong but so have western churches which too easily become intoxicated with their own introspective navel-gazing. If I was sitting in the rubble of a Syrian or Egyptian church, or in a gulag in North Korea, or had just seen my home destroyed or, even worse, my loved ones killed, I would think that our endless self absorbed debates, which often mirror the rights-driven agenda of the secular world, are self indulgence of a high order. If, in the face of evil deeds, secularists and Christians need to weigh up their silence and priorities, so do our Muslim brothers. Muslims, who have often settled in our democracies, need to be much braver in breaking the conspiracy of silence and in identifying with those who suffer – among whom are many Muslim victims of visceral hatred motivated by persecution for being the wrong kind of Muslims. Never forget that many of these families came to Europe to escape the intolerance of countries like Pakistan – where a young Muslim girl can be shot for wanting an education or its Catholic Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, can be assassinated for preaching co-existence. Many of our European Muslims are good, law-abiding people, who want the same things for themselves and for their families as the rest of us. They are not, as some foolishly and wrongly caricature them, an enemy within. But if they remain silent it will increasingly be seen as acquiescence. It will, however, require real courage to speak out against forces which have no respect for difference or diversity, or for life itself. As he began the slaughter of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, people with disabilities and many others, Adolph Hitler famously remarked “who now remembers the Armenians?”. Think also of the Poles who were slaughtered. According to the USHMM – “Between 1939 and 1945, at least 1.5 million Polish citizens were deported to German territory for forced labour. Hundreds of thousands were also imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps. It is estimated that the Germans killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians during World War II. In addition, the Germans murdered at least 3 million Jewish citizens of Poland.“ Poles also constituted the largest proportion of German Nazi SLAVE labour. Approx 1.5 million Polish people were also deported to Siberian slave labour camps by the Soviet Communists. Who now remembers them? In coming eras will our generation similarly ask the question “who now remembers the Christian minorities of the Middle East and North Africa?” Or will we ask the other famous question associated with the failure to speak out for the victims of the Reich “who will be left to speak for me?”. And finally, let us who enjoy the freedom to speak and to act not forget that these freedoms have been purchased by those who have gone before us. From the crucifixion of Christ Himself, to the stoning to death of Stephen; from the execution of Peter, Paul and the early disciples, to the deaths of maybe as many as 100,000 people at the hands of emperors such as Nero and Diocletian; to the executions of Penal times and the mass murders of the bloodied twentieth century – when more people lost their lives for their faith than in all the previous centuries combined – we have a precious narrative entrusted to us and which must be passed to those who follow. At this time we are thinking a great deal about the Ukraine. I first visited it before the fall of the Soviet Union. In Lviv I met Ivan Gel and Bishop Pavlo Vasylyk – who, between them had spent more than 30 years in prison for their faith. These are simply two of countless men and women who suffered for their faith in the life times of many of us. But remember, too, those great English men and women who gave their lives that we might be free to believe. As T.S.Eliot wrote of the murder of St.Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral: “Wherever a saint has dwelt, Wherever a Martyr has given his blood for Christ, There is holy ground, And the sanctity shall not depart from it.” At London’s Tyburn between 1535 until 1681, 105 Catholic men and women gave their lives for their faith – a sacrifice which paved the way for the religious freedoms and liberties which we enjoy today. The story of Tyburn is not a story calling for revenge or to be used for the stoking of old hatreds but it is an instructive story which the elders fail to tell their children at their peril. As Edmund Campion stood on the Tyburn scaffold, he famously prayed that the day would come when he and those who were sending him to his death would meet in heaven: “I recommend your case, and mine, to Almighty God, the Searcher of hearts, to the end that we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.” Our faith teaches us to forgive but until we meet in heaven we are not commanded to forget. The moment a nation slips into collective amnesia it risks repeating the old mistakes. Never again happens all over again. Tyburn’s is an instructive and inspiring story which must be told because of the courage, heroism and virtue which it represents. It must be told because of the high price which was paid. We all know that when a faith is worth dying for, it is worth living for – and just as the stories of our English martyrs inspired my generation let us ensure that the sacrifices which others are making for their faith today are widely known so that their blood will not be shed in vain. As Campion stood on the scaffold facing his executioner his blood splattered onto the young Henry Walpole, a graduate of Peterhouse, Cambridge. Walpole was sufficiently inspired to give up his law practice, to become a Catholic, a Jesuit, and in 1595, like Campion, to be hanged drawn and quartered – in his case at York. But unlike Campion, Walpole, Margaret Clitherow, Anne Line, More or Fisher, so often we hide behind our own weakness or inadequacies as an excuse for not speaking up or taking actions. So often we are like Tolkien’s Frodo who said : “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” As for our inadequacies, John Henry Newman once cautioned that: “A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault” “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” And Dietrich Bonhoeffer remarked that “We have been the silent witnesses of evil deeds.” and that “What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.” In our own times we must better comprehend the price which is paid for belief and allow the courage and heroism of those who suffer so greatly to shake us out of our apathy and our indifference. —————————————————————————————————- As we approach the 34th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, you might be interested in the music video which has been produced to honour his legacy. You may view the video at . For more information go to

Syria’s Suffering Continues Unabated While Minorities are Targeted – Christians forced to special pay taxes to militant Islamist group: “Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome” – 75 year-old-Jesuit murdered in Homs

Syria’s Suffering Continues Unabated while Minorities are Targeted

ACN News: Friday, 11th April 2014 – UK/INTERNATIONAL

With pictures of Lord Alton of Liverpool at the Aid to the Church in Need Lenten vigil service for the Suffering Church in Syria, at the Immaculate Conception Church, Farm Street, London (© Weenson Oo/

Lord Alton speaking on the plight of Christians in Syria at Farm Street, London, the days sfter the murder of  Father Frans van der Lugt, shot dead on Monday (7th April) in the Old City of Homs.

Lord Alton speaking on the plight of Christians in Syria at Farm Street, London, the days sfter the murder of Father Frans van der Lugt, shot dead on Monday (7th April) in the Old City of Homs.

Will anyone stand up for persecuted Christians?
Peer accuses West of ‘indifference’

By John Pontifex

CHRISTIANS in the Middle East and elsewhere are suffering “systematic killing and outright persecution”, according to a leading Catholic human rights campaigner, and yet the West’s response is to ignore it “without barely a murmur of protest”.

Highlighting worsening killing and kidnapping of Christians and arson attacks on their churches and homes in parts of Africa, the Middle East and other parts of Asia, Lord David Alton of Liverpool said the West’s “indifference” was compounding the crisis.

Lord Alton called on politicians including policy makers, intelligence and other security organisations, ethnic minorities, Church leaders and faith groups in general to take action to tackle persecution of religious communities, especially Christians who, he said, suffer the most.
And he went on to warn of disaster for the West itself if it fails to recognise the scale of the threat posed by violent and intolerant groups who, he said, had an increasingly global reach.

He said: “I want to highlight the systematic killing and outright persecution of Christians which takes place without hardly a murmur of protest – and challenge the mistaken belief that somehow this has little or nothing to do with us.

“Unless we lay bare the ideology which lies behind radical Islamist thinking and challenge the conspiracy of silence which surrounds the question of religious persecution, we will sleep walk into a tragedy which has implications far beyond the ancient Biblical lands…”

Lord Alton, a Crossbencher, made his comments earlier this week in an address given during a Lenten vigil service for persecuted Syrian Christians held in support of Catholic charity Aid at to the Church in Need and which took place at the Immaculate Conception Church of the Jesuits, Farm Street, in London’s Mayfair.

The service began with a procession led by clergy holding images of two Jesuits in Syria, Father Paulo Dall’Oglio, missing since last July, and Father Frans van der Lugt, shot dead on Monday (7th April) in the Old City of Homs.

Lord Alton’s speech, on Tuesday (8th April), came a day before Prime Minister David Cameron highlighted the persecution of Christians during an Easter Reception for Christians at 10 Downing Street, London.

During the reception, attended by leaders of Christian organisations, including Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, ACN (UK), Mr Cameron said: “It is the case that Christians are now the most persecuted religion around the world.

“We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other faith groups wherever and whenever we can.”

The Prime Minister’s comments come amid concerns that governments around the world are not doing enough to tackle the causes of religious persecution.

During his Farm Street speech, Lord Alton reserved his strongest criticisms for fellow Parliamentarians.

Lord Alton, vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Working Group for International Religious Freedom or Belief, said: “Hundreds of parliamentary hours can be spent asserting the rights of foxes or on discussing rights associated with our life-styles but when it comes to the killing of children, or the torching of their homes and places of worship, or the destruction of centuries-old culture, our political classes have taken Trappist vows.

“This stems from a misplaced belief that their silence about radical Islamist groups represents ‘tolerance’. In reality, it stems from fear and indifference.”

Lord Alton highlighted the threat of Islamism for Christian communities, many of them with roots dating back millennia.

He said: “While we [in the West] overlook and fail to understand the religious dimension to these terrible atrocities – and the imperative of harnessing thoughtful and moderate religious leaders from all traditions – we fail to end the persecution and the unspeakable violence.

“We in the West, who enjoy so many freedoms and liberties…, ignore the systematic violent ideology of an Islamist ‘Final Solution’ directed at Christian minorities.”

And he called on Muslims in the West to speak out against persecution.

He said: “Muslims, who have often settled in our democracies, need to be much braver in breaking the conspiracy of silence and in identifying with those who suffer – among whom are many Muslim victims of visceral hatred by persecution for being the wrong kind of Muslims.”
Lord Alton was the keynote speaker at the service which was led by Father Dominic Robinson SJ, and included music by the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School, directed by Charles Cole.
Other speakers included Louise Zanre, director, Jesuit Refugee Service UK, and Patricia Hatton and John Pontifex, both from ACN.

The event raised more than £3,300 for ACN’s work for Syria, which includes emergency and pastoral support for refugees and displaced people.
• To read Lord Alton’s talk in full as well as view images of the ACN vigil service for Syria at the Immaculate Conception Church, Farm Street, London, visit

Syria Support Syrian Christians

Full debate at:

Speech in the House of Lords on Thursday February 27th 2014:

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for tabling this Motion for debate today and for the tone that she set in her opening remarks. I refer the House to my non-financial interests as honorary president of UK Copts, a board member of the Aid to the Church in Need charity and a patron of various human rights groups that work in the region.

Earlier in our debate, my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond made an important and authoritative speech. I entirely agreed with his remarks about Syria and later in my remarks I will concentrate on what is happening there today. As he spoke, I reflected that I first met him in 1980 when he was our distinguished ambassador in Syria. With the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I arrived in Damascus on the very day when the war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed some million lives. Perhaps in the context of what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just said to the House, we should remember that.

Lord Wright of Richmond - former British Ambassador to Syria

Lord Wright of Richmond – former British Ambassador to Syria

I arrived in Damascus on the very day when the war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed some million lives

I arrived in Damascus on the very day when the war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed some million lives

In our subsequent report, we advocated a two-state approach as the only one likely to achieve sustainable peace between Israel and its neighbours

In our subsequent report, we advocated a two-state approach as the only one likely to achieve sustainable peace between Israel and its neighbours

During that visit, we met with Ḥafez al-Assad, Yasser Arafat, King Hussein and Anwar Sadat.

During that visit, we met with Ḥafez al-Assad

During that visit, we met with Ḥafez al-Assad

Yasser Arafat

Yasser Arafat

King Hussein of Jordan

King Hussein of Jordan

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat

In our subsequent report, we advocated a two-state approach as the only one likely to achieve sustainable peace between Israel and its neighbours.

Our visit was three months after the Muslim Brotherhood had made an assassination attempt on Ḥafez al-Assad, and his response was then to align Syria with Iran. King Hussein declared Jordan’s support for Iraq. One week after we met Assad, he was in Moscow signing a mutual friendship treaty. Depressingly, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup indicated, the lines in today’s conflict are not newly drawn.

In 1980, I wrote about the repressive nature of the region’s regimes—repressive then and repressive now. Iran’s human rights record remains appalling. Saudi Arabia, referred to in this debate as our strategic ally in the region, also commits egregious violations of human rights and remains one of the deadliest exporters of global terror. Back in 1980, Syria was expelling journalists and massacring dissidents. Surely the failure to see reform, change and sustainable solutions has had these disastrous consequences, nowhere more so than in Syria.

The failure to find solutions now includes 130,000 dead with millions more driven from their homes. Nine million are said to be displaced and 3 million have fled to neighbouring countries. One hundred and fifty thousand families are deprived of their father, 2 million dwellings are destroyed, 2 million families are without shelter and 2 million students without schools. The economy is in ruins, the currency is devalued by 300% and there is growing violence, anguish, division and bitterness every day.

Sarin gas used in a suburb of Damascus

Sarin gas used in a suburb of Damascus

Sarin gas has been used against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus. Barrel bombs have rained down on Aleppo.

Barrel Bombs have rained down on Aleppo

Barrel Bombs have rained down on Aleppo

Citizens have been under siege in Homs and elsewhere, being starved to death.

Citizens have been under siege in Homs and elsewhere, being starved to death.

Citizens have been under siege in Homs and elsewhere, being starved to death.

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.

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

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

The United Nations report published last week details arbitrary detention, ill treatment, torture and horrific abuses of children by both sides including beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons, sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape, mock executions, cigarette burns, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement. The report says that the opposition forces too have increasingly “engaged in such acts.”

The “Afghanisation” of Syria, with vast tracts falling under the control of dangerous jihadist groups, would hardly represent progress. We need to hear much more from the Government, and with much more clarity, of assessments of each of these various factions which are largely at war with one another.

each of these various factions which are largely at war with one another. Describing them as the opposition conjures up images of a coherent and united group akin to opposition groups in parliamentary democracies. We should be very wary of using such descriptions

each of these various factions which are largely at war with one another. Describing them as the opposition conjures up images of a coherent and united group akin to opposition groups in parliamentary democracies. We should be very wary of using such descriptions

Describing them as the opposition conjures up images of a coherent and united group akin to opposition groups in parliamentary democracies. We should be very wary of using such descriptions.

It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

Take ISIS. It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. There are also unverified reports, as we have heard, of a possible military confrontation between Hezbollah and ISIS. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what assessment she has made of the continuing use of ISIS suicide bombers, the territory it controls in north-eastern Iraq and its use of radicalised recruits, especially from the United Kingdom? I refer to recruits such as Anil Khalil Raoufi, a British Afghan who was studying engineering at the University of Liverpool and was recently killed in fighting between rebel groups. It is not just United Kingdom students—this week I sent the Minister a report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict which talks about the radicalisation of young Indonesian men who have gone to Syria via Turkey. Their director Sidney Jones says:

“Jihadi humanitarian assistance teams now appear to be facilitating the entry of fighters as well”.

It is not just that their presence in Syria fuels fundamentalism—it is that they are being radicalised in the process, posing dangers to the countries to which they return. The problem is exacerbated by the flow of arms into Syria.

In appealing to hatred, many jihadists cite a seventh-century directive which requires Christians to convert to Islam and pay tribute to Muslim rulers or leave. It is being increasingly enforced by extreme Islamist groups, so there is a religious dimension to this conflict. Here perhaps I would disagree on the margin with the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate, the bishop of Wakefield who said: “No, this is not a religious but a political conflict,”

In appealing to hatred, many jihadists cite a seventh-century directive which requires Christians to convert to Islam and pay tribute to Muslim rulers or leave. It is being increasingly enforced by extreme Islamist groups. Those who don't pay up are forced to leave or are murdered.

In appealing to hatred, many jihadists cite a seventh-century directive which requires Christians to convert to Islam and pay tribute to Muslim rulers or leave. It is being increasingly enforced by extreme Islamist groups. Those who don’t pay up are forced to leave or are murdered.

What, also of the 60,000 fighters of the Islamic Front? Do the Government believe that the Front is capable of producing a secular or plural Syria in which minorities such as those to which I have just referred are respected? Do they have the capacity to be part of a transitional body capable of restoring trust, an almost impossible task in the aftermath of such horror? It was the late King Hussein who offered the wise advice to pray for God’s protection against,

“those who believe that they are the sole possessors of truth.”

These sole possessors of truth represent the biggest stumbling block in finding a peaceful way forward out of this confessional morass and they also represent the biggest danger to Alawites, Druze and Christians, and the rights of women.

Almost 1,500 years ago a wandering monk called John Moschos described the eastern Mediterranean as a flowering meadow of Christianity. That meadow is today a battlefield

Almost 1,500 years ago a wandering monk called John Moschos described the eastern Mediterranean as a flowering meadow of Christianity. That meadow is today a battlefield

Almost 1,500 years ago a wandering monk called John Moschos described the eastern Mediterranean as a flowering meadow of Christianity. That meadow is today a battlefield. Before the war the Christians of Syria accounted for between 4.5% and 10% of the population.

What will it be after the war? Forty-seven churches have been closed; two priests and a nun have been murdered; two bishops, three priests and 12 nuns have been abducted. I have raised these cases with the Minister and gave her notice that I would raise them again today. A new video of the nuns has just appeared with their traditional cross removed from their habit.

A new video of the abducted nuns has just appeared with their traditional cross removed from their habit.

A new video of the abducted nuns has just appeared with their traditional cross removed from their habit.

Do we have any news of their whereabouts and when they may be released by their jihadist captors? What news also, about the Jesuit, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, kidnapped in July 2013 after entering rebel-held territory? Opposition sources from Raqqah said that Paolo Dall’Oglio had been executed by extremist groups. Do we have any news about that?

Opposition sources from Raqqah said that Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio SJ had been executed by extremist groups

Opposition sources from Raqqah said that Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio SJ had been executed by extremist groups

I have been looking at first-hand accounts which Aid to the Church in Need has received from Syrian Christians. Typical is this note from Basman Kassouha, a refugee now in the Bekaa Valley area of Lebanon. He says that the militias,

“stormed my house, giving me one hour to evacuate or else they will kill me … I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost everything”.

The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted in a number of places. I shall quote him because I hope, as we collect evidence of these sorts of events, none of this will ever be lost to history. He says:

“There are many events that show that Christians are targeted, such as those of Maaloula, Sadad, Hafar, Deir Atiyeh, Carah, Nabk, Kseir, Rablé, Dmaineh, Michtayeh, Hassaniyeh, Knaïeh, and some villages of the Valley of Christians, Yabroud, Aafrd, the Jazirah region such as Hassaké, Ras El-Ain Kamechleh, and many other areas. Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.

The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted: "Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.

The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted: “Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.

The mostly Christian town of Saidnaya has experienced repeated attacks by extremists. The fourth attack on the city occurred on 19 January.

The ancient site of the Convent of Our Lady on Mount Qalamoun has been frequently targeted by mortars.

The ancient site of the Convent of Our Lady on Mount Qalamoun has been frequently targeted by mortars

The ancient site of the Convent of Our Lady on Mount Qalamoun has been frequently targeted by mortars

In Homs, a Dutch priest, Father Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city, described how residents cut off for more than a year developed chronic mental health problems following the breakdown of social order.
Father Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city, described how residents cut off for more than a year developed chronic mental health problems following the breakdown of social order. He says, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”.

Father Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city, described how residents cut off for more than a year developed chronic mental health problems following the breakdown of social order. He says, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”.

He says, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”. I remind the noble Baroness of the situation in Sadad, where there was a terrible massacre that some have described as potential genocide. What news of the situation there?

While the quest for peace continues, perhaps the Minister will share with us what we are doing to provide direct help to these beleaguered minorities, what we are doing to stop the flow of arms into Syria, what progress has been made on the removal of the 700 tonnes of priority 1 chemicals, and what happens—as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, asked—if the deadline for removal of chemical weapons is passed. Even an agreement suspending the flow of arms and foreign militant activists would be a success, because the ceasing of fighting is the precondition for all forms of reconciliation.

Are we meticulously collecting accounts of crimes against humanity? will we be using the UK place on the Security Council to have these crimes referred for prosecution by the International Criminal Court?

Are we meticulously collecting accounts of crimes against humanity? will we be using the UK place on the Security Council to have these crimes referred for prosecution by the International Criminal Court?

Let me conclude by pressing for a response to the question I raised on Monday with the Minister’s noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is sitting on the Front Bench. I asked whether we are meticulously collecting information of atrocities, and whether in the Security Council we will be asking for a referral those responsible for prosecution by the International Criminal Court. If the danger of any other country raising a veto against us were to be used as a reason for not doing that, it would question the point of our membership of the Security Council and bring great dishonour on this country.

3.57 pm

Some additional points….

While in Damascus in 1980, I also met Yasser Arafat, who warned that disunity among Arab nations undermined progress and prevented any settlement of the Palestinian question. At the time I wrote that if the international community did not accelerate and deepen its efforts to find just solutions then there could be no peace and “the West will have to accept the consequences.”

The consequence of our signal failure to find durable solutions is that over thirty years later we are mired in one of the most brutal wars of this young century, which, for nearly three years, has led to ferocious carnage and savagery in Syria.

Take the atrocities in Sadad, which I have raised with the Government.

Mass graves have been uncovered in Sadad.

Mass graves have been uncovered in Sadad.

A total of 45 Christians were killed and 1,500 families were held hostage in Sadad, a largely Syrian Orthodox town, which was stormed by the Al-Nusra Front and an organisation called the Grandsons of the Prophet on 21st October 2013.

It was taken by government forces a week later.

Among those killed by rebels were two teenage boys, their mother and three of their grandparents. The bodies of university student Ranim, 18, and her 16-year-old brother, Fadi were discovered at the bottom of a well, close to their home.

Also brought to the surface were the remains of the youngsters’ mother, Njala, 45, and their grandparents: Mariam, a 90-year-old widow, as well as Matanios El Sheikh, 85, and his wife, Habsah, 75. Church sources say 30 bodies were also found in two separate mass graves.

Patriarch Gregorios III

Patriarch Gregorios III

At the end of last year Damascus-based Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch remarked: “How can somebody do such inhumane and bestial things to an elderly couple and their family?”

The Patriarch explained that thousands fled Sadad and initially were too afraid to return in case of further atrocities. Reports from the town described how vulnerable people unable to escape—including the elderly, disabled, women and children—were subjected to torture and some were strangled to death. Churches have been damaged and desecrated, while schools, and government and municipal buildings have also been destroyed.

The situation of the ancient Christian minority – which predates the coming of Islam to the region – is graphically illustrated by the story of Mariam, who is 67 years old. She is a widow, from Aleppo. She has three married daughters. She was living in a very dangerous area of the town and her house was destroyed. She lived with relatives in Syria for a while but decided to leave for Lebanon with her two daughters and their families because she was afraid that her family would be in danger. They arrived with nothing, only the clothes on their backs.

One of the girls found a part-time job and supports the family with its meagre income. All of them now live a single room. The oldest daughter also joined them from Syria, bringing her husband and four children.

Mariam is now chronically ill.

Mariam’s story is not unusual. Many refugees in the Bekaa region have faced horrendous conditions this winter, left with little to keep them warm and in some cases ten family members are living in one room with one shared bathroom. Medical supplies and access to hospital are severely limited and children, many of them traumatised, are being left without education.

Patriarch Gregorios III, the head of the Melkite Church, based in Damascus, has continually called for peace in the country, an end to armed conflict and substantial peace talks. Ahead of the recent Geneva II meeting he said:

“We beg [God] to inspire the countries and their representatives who are about to meet with the wherewithal for peace, security and a better future for Syrians.”

Patriarch Gregorios also stressed the need for unity among the international community in calling for peace and a halt to the influx of weapons to armed groups in Syria:
“The [international community’s] efforts should be concentrated on obtaining a peace that is really Syrian, for that would be true peace and the best and most suitable for all parties to the conflict and for all Syria.”

Today no group in Syria seems to control common criminal violence which is based on sectarian hatred; and no group seems in a position to deliver peace.

Diplomatic failure is attributable to intransigence and cynicism on the part of the Geneva participants but it also illustrates how ineffective the West has been with its own allies in the region and with the Syrian opposition which is partly a creature of the West’s invention.

In this intricate situation, there is one absolute priority: the civilian population of Syria.

Syria Syrian church congregationSyria Syrian church

Also see: The Daily Telegraph: Militant Islamist group In Syria Orders Christians To Pay Tax For Their Protection

Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome

Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent

6:48PM GMT 27 Feb 2014

A militant Islamist group has demanded Christians living in the north-east of Syria pay it a tax in return for protection as it seeks to build a traditional “Caliphate” in areas it controls.
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) published the terms under which minorities could live under its rule in a statement on the internet.

“Christians are obligated to pay Jizya tax on every adult male to the value of four golden dinars for the wealthy, half of that for middle-income citizens and half of that for the poor,” their decree said. “They must not hide their status, and can pay in two instalments per year.” Four dinars would amount to just over half an ounce of gold, worth £435 at current prices.

In return, Christians will not be harmed and will be allowed to worship privately, maintain their own clergy without interference and keep their own cemeteries, it added. They are implicitly allowed to continue drinking alcohol and eating pork, but may not do so publicly or trade them with Muslims. Nor may they build or renovate churches, or display the cross.

The demand carries weight because ISIS, which grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has become the most feared militia in Syria. It has now been disavowed by Osama bin Laden’s replacement as al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and is effectively at war with the rest of the rebel movement, including Jabhat al-Nusra, the group seen by al-Qaeda as its representative in Syria.

It controls nearly all of Raqqa province in the north-east, where it is attempting to build the institutions of an Islamic state. The decree refers to Christians as “dhimmis” – effectively protected minorities – a term that originated in the seventh century when the Muslim world was ruled by a single religious leader, the Caliph.

Raqqa, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim in make-up, had a small Christian community but much if not all of it has already fled. When The Telegraph visited Raqqa city not long after forces aligned to al-Qaeda took over last year, the two alcohol shops had already been smashed up and scrawled with Islamist graffiti, along with the town’s only restaurant that served alcohol.

There was said to be one Christian family still living in the town, but if so they were in hiding. Later, the crosses were removed from the top of the city’s two churches.

But there is growing resentment among activists towards the stringent controls ISIS has imposed on the general population, including the wearing of the veil by women and separation of the sexes, even in bread queues. A photograph circulated of an Assad-regime flag hanging from a house, an unthinkable act of defiance until recently.

Christians used to make up around one in ten of Syria’s 22 million population, but the civil war has forced an estimated 500,000 to flee their homes and villages, which are scattered across the country. Some 1,200 are thought to have been killed.

As a religious minority they enjoyed protection under President Assad, and as such have become an indirect target of the Sunni Muslim led uprising.

John Pontifex, of Aid to Church in Need, a Catholic charity that has highighted the plight of Christians in Syria, said: “We have already received reports of this nature,and if true, they spell out loud and clear the degree to which Christians are under attack and at risk.

“There seems to be a desire to flush Chrisians out or reduce them to second class status.”

Imposition of the so-called “dhimmi” rules conforms precisely with regime claims that the rebels are seeking to take Syria back to the Middle Ages.

Aymenn al-Tamimi, an Oxford University-based academic expert on Iraq and Syrian jihadists, said the imposition of the jizya was derived from a verse in the Quran, which demanded submission by the “people of the Book” – Jews and Christians – who did not follow Islam.

In a post to the Syria Comment website, he added: “In case ISIS’s ambitions to a global caliphate were still not apparent to anyone, ISIS’s official Twitter account for Raqqa province had this to say on the imposition of the dhimmi pact: ‘Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome.'”

Syria Support Syrian Christians

Make Caste History – International Conference on Dalits and Caste Discrimination – London February 2014 – 2016 Catholic Church document.


“Long overdue statement and a very welcome one. It is abhorrent in the 21st century that any human being should be seen as an untouchable.” -Alton

Dalit Christians face discrimination and untouchability, admits Indian Catholic Church – Firstpost

A policy document released by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) contained admissions of the Indian Catholic Church accepting for the first time in history that Dalit Christians face discrimination and untouchability



Also see article (page 30 ) Justice Magazine, Spring Edition:

The London Conference - Make Caste History

The London Conference – Make Caste History

It's not people who should be made untouchable but the caste system

It’s not people who should be made untouchable but the caste system

David Alton – Professor the Lord Alton of Liverpool.

Make Caste History

Cast out Caste - Make Caste History

Cast out Caste – Make Caste History

On a visit to West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi I spoke about the plight of India’s untouchables, the Dalits, and the forms of exploitation and slavery which stem from the caste system. Dalit is a term which derives from a Sanskrit word meaning “broken” or “crushed”.

200 million Dalits in India make up one sixth of India’s population and one thirty fifth of the world’s population. Dalits live in 132 countries, including countries like the UK, where South Asians have migrated.

Take Dalits and Tribals together, both of whom fall outside the caste system and experience discrimination: they comprise a quarter of India’s population and one twenty fourth of the world’s population.

Dalits live in grinding poverty

Dalits live in grinding poverty

Lest you think that these are historic questions let me make absolutely clear that hardly a day passes without some new horror perpetrated against the Dalits.

These are just some of stories taken from the Indian newspapers in the last seven days: Dalit woman burnt by employer for resisting rape in Bulandshahr- India Today; 5 held for gang rape of dalit girl near Dindigul- The Times Of India; Dalit woman assaulted, stripped in Hassan village- The Hindu Dalits, death and the fight for dignity – DNA; Dalit women in Haryana to march for redressal of cases of atrocities committed by upper caste men- Two Circle; Dalit Beaten Up for Touching Caste Hindu- The New Indian Express; Children protest against discrimination at school- The Hindu; No clean water for Dalits?- Kashmir Times; Sorcery slur on Dalit family- The Times Of India; Over 39,000 cases filed under Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Act in 2012: Business Standard

Two hundred years ago, on 22 June 1813, six years after he had successfully led the parliamentary campaign to end the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, William Wilberforce made a major speech in the House of Commons about India.

William Wilberforce called for the abolition of the caste system 200 years ago

William Wilberforce called for the abolition of the caste system 200 years ago

He said that the caste system,

“must surely appear to every heart of true British temper to be a system at war with truth and nature; a detestable expedient for keeping the lower orders of the community bowed down in an abject state of hopelessness and irremediable vassalage. It is justly, Sir, the glory of this country, that no member of our free community is naturally precluded from rising into the highest classes in society”.

Two centuries later the caste system which Wilberforce said should be abolished – and which the British during the colonial period signally failed to end – still disfigures the lives of vast swathes of humanity.

India's Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh

India’s Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh

India’s Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh has trenchantly and rightly argued that, “untouchability is not just social discrimination; it is a blot on humanity”.

What Gandhi had to say about untouchability

What Gandhi had to say about untouchability

Today, I would like to pay particular tribute to some of those who work tirelessly to combat caste, especially the work of Voice of Dalit International and the Dalit Freedom Network, particularly its international President Joseph D’Souza – whom I first met after he had joined forces, in 2006, with other Christian leaders after five Dalits were lynched for skinning a dead cow.

Dr.Joseph D'Souza with Archbishop Rowan Williams

Dr.Joseph D’Souza with Archbishop Rowan Williams

In New Delhi those leaders joined a protest, met the parents of the victims and provided their families humanitarian assistance. Dr.D’Souza said: “The statement we were making was that these Dalits were human beings, and that it was the caste system that consigned them to work with animals—a statement in direct contrast to that of a Hindu nationalist leader, who said that a cow was more valuable than a Dalit.”

In my study at home in Lancashire, I have a small terracotta pot given to me by Dr D’Souza. Such pots must be broken once a dalit has drunk out of them so as not to pollute or contaminate other castes. This is the 21st century. It is not the pots which need to be broken, not the people, but the system which ensnares them.

It's not the terracotta pot which needs breaking but the caste system

It’s not the terracotta pot which needs breaking but the caste system

Dr D’Souza rightly says:

“If we are not intentional about bringing change and transformation in lives and society it will not happen. To love people is to act on behalf of them”.

As Parliament considers the new Bill on modern slavery, reflect that the Global Slavery Index, published in October last, confirmed that around half of the world’s slaves are in India – some 13.9 million out of a global total of 29.8 million, and that most of them are Dalits or Tribals. In the Hindu caste system, they are regarded as subhuman—lower even than animals and left fighting a largely unknown struggle for emancipation.

Global Slavery Index 2013

Global Slavery Index 2013

Evidence points to 80-95% of bonded labourers (the vast majority of the ‘modern slaves’ in India) being Dalits, 99% of ritual sex slaves (the 250,000 temple prostitutes known locally as Devadasi or Jogini) being Dalits, and the majority of those trafficked into brothels or into domestic servitude being Dalits or Tribals.

Dalits, including children, are turned into modern day slaves

Dalits, including children, are turned into modern day slaves

If you are a Dalit in India you are 27 times more likely to be trafficked or exploited in another form of modern slavery than anyone else. Much of this is brilliantly documented in Dalit Freedom Network’s booklet, “Half the World Slaves?”

Half the world slaves?

Half the world slaves?

According to CNN, India’s former Home Secretary, Madhukar Gupta, “remarked that at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India”, whether for sex or for labour.
The head of the Central Bureau of Investigation said that India occupied a unique position as a source, transit and destination country for trafficking, and that it has more than 3 million prostitutes, of whom an estimated 40 per cent are children. These statistics are hugely significant: the situation in India simply must be at the heart of the global fight against trafficking
Caste should be recognised as a root cause of trafficking, of modern day slavery and poverty and unless we raise the profile of the oppressed Dalits nothing will change.

Dalits are trafficked and exploited. Who will raise their voice on their behalf?

Dalits are trafficked and exploited. Who will raise their voice on their behalf?

To prepare me for this conference, Voice of Dalit International were good enough to send me a copy of Dhananjay Keer’s admirable biography of Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891.

Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891

Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891

When Dr. Ambedkar died on December 7th, 1956, Prime Minster Nehru adjourned the Lok Sabha for the remainder of the day having told parliamentarians that Ambedkar had been controversial but had revolted against something which everybody should revolt against – all the oppressing features of Hindu society.

Nehru with Ambdekar

Nehru with Ambdekar

Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution once remarked that “Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”

that “Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”

that “Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”

Ambedkar’s life was a life of relentless struggle for human rights. Born on a dunghill and condemned to a childhood of social leprosy, ejected from hotels, barber shops, temples and offices; facing starvation while studying to secure his education; elected to high political office and leadership without dynastic patronage; and to achieve fame as a lawyer and law maker, constitutionalist, educator, professor, economist and writer, illustrates what the human spirit can overcome.

In 1927, the young Ambedkar famously led a march to the Chavdar reservoir, a place prohibited to Dalits. On arriving at the reservoir, he bent down, cupped his hands, scooped up some water, and drank—an act completely forbidden by the caste system. The Brahmins, or upper castes, responded by furiously pouring 108 pots of curd, milk, cow dung, and cow urine into the reservoir – a ritual act which they claimed would “purify” the water polluted and defiled by untouchables.

Ambedkar could so easily have taken the path of violent revolution, spurred on by bitter hatred or a need for revenge – but although others regarded his shadow as a sacrilege and his touch as a pollutant, he demonstrated why it is the caste system which deserves to be put beyond human touch not the men, women and children condemned by it.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question. Among untouchables themselves he awakened a sense of human dignity and self respect. He repudiated the helplessness of fate, the impotent, demoralised incapacity that insisted that everything is pre-ordained and irretrievable.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India's untouchables became a central political question.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question.

He began a war against a social order that allowed caste to condemn millions to a life of irreversible servitude and social ostracism. This was an existence he had shared. “You have no idea of my sufferings” he once said. Having personally experienced life below the starvation line, the effects of destitution and squalor, the humiliation of ejection, segregation, and rank discrimination, “having passed through crushing miseries and endless trouble” Ambedkar determined to challenge these evils by entering political life: becoming renowned as a scholar-politician, sadly, a combination so little in evidence today.

Ambedkar understood that the great nation of India would never achieve its potential if it remained disfigured and divided by caste. Without freedom to marry, who they would; to live with, who they would; to dine with, who they would; to embrace or touch, who they would; or to work with, who they would, the nation could – and can – never be fully united or able to fulfil its extraordinary potential.