With the danger of further Genocide in north east Syria my Genocide Determination Private Member’s Bill will receive its First Reading in Parliament Today

Rehman Chisti.jpg

With Rehman Chistsi MP, the Prim Minister’s Special envoy on freedom of Religion or Belief, discussing the new Genocide Determination Bill.

 

Today – Monday, October 21st – my Genocide Determination (Private Member’s) Bill will receive its First Reading.

This Bill will provide for the High Court of England and Wales to make a preliminary finding on cases of alleged genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes; and for the subsequent referral of such findings to the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal.

The Bill will be launched at an event in Parliament on Monday November 4th organised by the Coalition for Genocide Response.

It will be published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office on Tuesday. Its text is as follows:

Genocide etc. Determination Bill

A

BILL

TO

Provide for the High Court of England and Wales to make a preliminary finding on cases of alleged genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes; and for the subsequent referral of such findings to the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal.

BE IT ENACTED by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

1. Determination of cases of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes

(1) A person or group of persons belonging to a national, ethnic, racial or religious
group, or an organisation representing such a group, may bring a case to the
High Court of England and Wales for it to make a preliminary finding on the available evidence as to whether genocide has been committed against that person or group.

(2) Where a finding of genocide under subsection (1) cannot be made, the court shall consider whether the acts complained of fall within the definition of crimes against humanity or war crimes as set out in section 3.

(3) Where the Court considers that evidence is not sufficient to allow it to make a determination under section 1(1) or 1(2), the Court may request the Secretary of State to fulfil the conditions take any of the actions identified in subsection (4).

(4) The Secretary of State may, in accordance with a request from the Court under subsection (3), seek to establish an investigative or other appropriate measure to collect relevant evidence with —
(a) the United Nations General Assembly or Security Council;
(b) relevant intergovernmental organisations;
(c) relevant national Governments; and
(d) any other persons the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

(5) Rules may be made in accordance with section 1 of the Civil Procedure Act
1997 (civil procedure rules) governing the practice and procedure to be followed by the High Court of England and Wales in considering cases under this Act.

2. Referrals to the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal

(1) Where the High Court of England and Wales has made a preliminary finding that genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes have been committed against a group of persons, the Secretary of State must refer the finding—

(a) to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, pursuant to Article 14 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, or
(b) to the United Nations Security Council, with a view to tabling a resolution for the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court pursuant to Article 13(b) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, or
(c) to the United Nations Security Council, with a view to the Security Council establishing a special tribunal pursuant to Chapter V, Article 29 of the United Nations Charter, or
(d) to any other United Nations mechanism with a mandate to investigate the situation.

(2) The Secretary of State shall make whichever of the referrals in subsection (1) the Secretary of State deems most expedient.

3. Interpretation

In this Act—

(a) “genocide” has the meaning given in Article II of the Convention
on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court;
(b) “crimes against humanity” has the meaning given in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court;
(c) “war crimes” has the meaning given in Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

4. Extent, commencement and short title

(1) This Act extends to England and Wales only.
(2) Sections 1 to 3 come into force at the end of the period of six months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.
(3) This section comes into force on the day on which this Act is passed.
(4) This Act may be cited as the Genocide Determination Act 2019.

On 23 July 2014, I warned in an opinion piece in the Times that religious minorities in Iraq were facing annihilation. Since then I have criticised the failure of the UK Government to declare that a genocide was underway. “The last Christian has 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’ … This follows the uncompromising ultimatum by the jihadists of Isis to convert or die”. I wrote that, “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”.

By 2016 a full scale genocide was underway – recognised as such by the House of Commons and the US Congress. But the UK Government failed to act and in 2019, as the same minorities face a similar fate in north east Syria, we still will not name this crime for what it is.

The 1948 Convention on Genocide lays duties on signatories such as the UK, to prevent, protect, and punish. Governments don’t declare genocides so that they can avoid doing any of these things. That is why the decision must be taken out of their hands and placed in the hands of judges, who will be able to make a preliminary declaration on the basis of available evidence. That is what my Bill seeks to do.

The blood of the innocent in Northern Ireland will cry out. Read what Nuala O’Loan has to say to Westminster and Belfast politicians

 

Their Blood Will Cry Out

Heartbreak, and the ending of countless innocent lives, is about to come about in Northern Ireland. The numbers of deaths will dwarf those of the worst days of The Troubles. This is what (Baroness) Nuala O’Loan, Northern Ireland’s foremost parliamentarian, has to say about this terrible tragedy – initiated at Westminster and about to be fulfilled in Belfast….

“It took 17 minutes on 18 July for the House of Commons to receive and agree the proposed change to NI’s abortion law. Just 17 minutes. Those who passed the law did not represent us and they did not take time to work out the consequences of what they were doing.

If the Executive is not reformed on Monday, then this is what will happen until new law is introduced:

Nobody will be investigated or face criminal prosecution for carrying out an abortion with the consent of the mother, up to 28 weeks of gestation, or earlier if the child is capable of being born alive.

There will be no abortion specific laws regulating the conduct of individuals or institutions that provide abortion services in Northern Ireland between 22 October and 31March 2020, (unlike England and Wales) or earlier if new Regulations are passed before that date.

Government has said that it anticipates that access to abortion services will not be routinely available in Northern Ireland during this period.

However:

Independent clinics will be able to carry out abortions if they wish to do so provided they are registered with the RQIA. Any clinic where services are provided by a medical practitioner who works for the NHS is not in law an independent clinic so is not required to be registered as such.

There will be no abortion specific standards for abortion clinics to comply with (unlike England and Wales).

There will be no abortion specific inspection (in England and Wales abortion clinics have had their services suspended for failing to meet the standards).

There will be no regulation of the activity of abortion (unlike England and Wales). There will be no regulation of the procedure – no requirement for two doctors to agree to the abortion, no requirement for counselling before the abortion, no requirement for any Registration of the fact of the abortion (unlike England and Wales).

There will be no regulatory framework to prevent anyone carrying out an abortion outside a registered clinic provided the woman gives consent and no prescription only medicines are used. (unlike in England and Wales).

A person will be able to carry out abortions in any location even though they have no medical or nursing qualifications (unlike in England and Wales)

There will be confusion about access to medication for early abortions. Government has said that there is no expectation that GPs will prescribe medication for early medical abortion. There is no law to say that patients could not ask for such medication. In England and Wales GPs do not provide abortion services.

Such medication should not be taken after nine weeks and six days of pregnancy because of the risks attaching to it. There will be no provision for its administration.

There will be no specific provision for conscientious objection to involvement in abortion by doctors, nurses of pharmacists despite the fact that 800 doctors wrote to the Secretary of State saying, “our consciences demand that we not be silent”. “We wish to make known our opposition to the imminent introduction of abortion in Northern Ireland”, and that “Our concern throughout is for pregnant mothers and their unborn children.”

This is why I and the nearly 29,000 people who have signed my Petition have asked our MLAs to go back into the Assembly and to get back to work. This is no political stunt. Tens of thousands of other people have marched, protested and demanded that the Assembly return. We need the Assembly to deal with what will happen to us during Brexit, to take the decisions necessary to allow our country to function again, to make our health, education and other services function properly again and most of all to stop this most radical abortion law being imposed on Northern Ireland.

Only our MLAs working in the Assembly can stop this appalling situation.”

Baroness Nuala O’Loan
20 October 2019

House of Lords Debate on The Queens Speech  – 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. War Crimes and Human Rights Violations in North East Syria. The Use of White Phosphorous Against Children and Civilians. 70 Years of Chinese Communism – and the fears of the people of Hong Kong – and a new Genocide Bill to be considered by Parliament.

Friday, October 18, 2019 3:32:24 PM  – the use of white phosphorous against children and civilians

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that 13-year old Mohammed Hamid Mohammed, admitted to Tal Tamir Hospital following the bombing by Turkey, of Ras-al Ain, is a victim of white phosphorus; and what prosecutions they will seek for violations of the Geneva Convention and Chemical Weapons Convention?

 

————————

Letter Oct 18 to Government Ministers, Lord Ahmad and Earl Howe:

 

In advance of answering my question to you about war crimes in North East Syria, I would like to draw your attention to the following report published today:

 

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/syria-damning-evidence-of-war-crimes-and-other-violations-by-turkish-forces-and-their-allies/

———————

Oral Question October 18

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

 

My Lords, a few moments ago the Minister said that a principal reason for our involvement in north-east Syria has been the defeat of Daesh. Vast numbers of people have been released from camps in north-east Syria. Some of those whose names I gave to the Minister and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, over the weekend, have been directly associated with Daesh and are now on their way to the streets of Europe. What is the Minister doing to ensure that these people are apprehended as soon as possible, and, more importantly, brought to justice by creating internationally recognised mechanisms under the convention on the crime of genocide? 

 

 Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

 

The noble Lord expresses a concern, shared by us all, about exacerbating the situation of not just those Daesh fighters but the families who were held. I assure him that I am in receipt of his email, which he referred to, and that we are looking at each case very closely. Where people are identified as due for prosecution—for example, if they arrive back in the UK—it will be for the Crown Prosecution Service to look at each matter individually, and appropriate action will be taken against those who committed these crimes.

 

Questions  for Written Answer

 

Tabled on 15 October and due for answer by 29 October.

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made as to whether the execution of Hevrin Khalaf, the secretary-general of the Future Syria Party, constitutes a war crime. HL18049

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have about the claim by the Syrian Democratic Forces that nine executions of civilians have been carried out since the invasion of Syria by Turkey. HL18050

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have discussed with the government of the United States their condemnation of the executions of Syrian civilians by Turkish- allied Syria groups; and what plans they have to seek a referral of Turkey to the International Criminal Court. HL18051

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will publish the names of combatants fighting alongside Turkish forces in north-east Syria who are known to have affiliations with ISIS or other terrorist organisations. HL18052

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have received about the plight of religious or political minorities at risk from genocidaires in north-east Syria; and what action they are taking in accordance with the requirements of the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide to protect them and to bring the perpetrators to justice. HL18053

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they are making in establishing international judicial mechanisms to bring those responsible for genocide in Syria and Iraq to justice.HL18054

 

———————–

4.37 pm Tuesday October 16th. The House of Lords Debate on The Queens Speech  

Also see:

https://davidalton.net/2019/10/12/our-duty-to-stop-the-bombing-of-the-kurds-letter-to-the-times/

 

 

 Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

 

2019 Washington Religious Freedom Ministerial 9I have three relevant interests to declare: I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, am vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uighurs and am a patron of Hong Kong Watch. 

 

I want to speak about north-east Syria and China.

 

How bitterly ironic it is that next week, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the universally applicable Geneva conventions. 

 

Along with the genocide convention, they represent two of the emasculated pillars of a rules-based international order, both of which are being compromised by Turkey’s invasion of Syria. 

 

Both conventions attempt to protect the most vulnerable: civilians, wounded combatants, humanitarian workers, prisoners of war and journalists. The Geneva conventions insist that even wars have limits and that where those limits are violated, it can constitute a war crime.

 

Consider, then, what has happened in north-east Syria, where 450,000 people live within three miles of the border with Turkey. 

 

Following President Erdoğan’s tweet announcing the invasion, and heavy bombardment of the Kurdish-held areas using NATO-standard army hardware, an estimated 150,000 civilians have been displaced and many killed, including children.

 

Scores of Kurdish members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the West’s foremost ally in the fight against Daesh’s genocide, have been killed, along with members of religious minorities whom they had been protecting.

 

Some American servicemen have rightly described the betrayal of the Kurds as a,“stain on the national conscience”.

 

Little wonder that betrayed Kurds have been repeating their belief that their only true friends are the mountains. 

 

How will history judge our dismal response to the long-standing Kurdish desire for a homeland? Consider that a female Kurdish politician, Hevrin Khalaf, secretary-general of the Future Syria Party, has been executed with others. Does the Minister regard these acts as war crimes? Who will be held to account and how?

 

Consider also our failure to stop the escape of hundreds of ISIS prisoners, prepare for the defeat of ISIS, establish arrangements to bring to justice those responsible for genocide or deal with thousands of foreign fighters and their children. 

 

Has the Minister been able to verify the evidence I sent to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, last weekend and which I referred to during the Urgent Question repeat yesterday, providing names of ISIS sympathisers now fighting alongside Turkish combatants and details of the camps from which ISIS genocidaires have escaped? 

 

How does the Minister respond to a report in today’s Daily Telegraph that a source at the United Nations says that there is now,“no chance for a regional court, it was minimal before this, and is impossible now”?

 

Holding people to account in this region does not have a good track record. 

 

Turkey should be particularly mindful of its own history in this region, not least in the mass killings of minorities, including Kurds, Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians. The Ottoman Empire used the Syrian desert of Deir ez-Zor as the main killing fields for the Armenians. Our generation has a duty to contest any offensive which targets people because of their nationality, ethnicity, religion, race or orientation. 

 

I am pleased that my genocide determination Bill came sixth in the ballot yesterday.

 

 I hope the Government will consider supporting it and remedy our utter failure to prosecute those responsible for mass murder.

 

It gives me no pleasure to predict that what Turkey has done will result in ethnic cleansing and, potentially, genocide and war crimes. Inevitably, it will add to the unprecedented 70.8 million people currently displaced worldwide—a staggering 37,000 people forced to flee their homes every single day. Erdoğan has already threatened to push a further 3.7 million Syrian refugees into Europe if we dare to criticise him. 

 

He says that Turkish-controlled territory will be a “safe zone”. Recall that Srebrenica was in a United Nations “safe zone” in 1995. Would you want to stay in an Erdoğan safe zone? Would the Yazidis or Christians, who have experienced one genocide, want to stay there? 

 

Pre-ISIS Christians numbered 130,000 people; now they number around 40,000. Will this be the final blow to Christianity in its cradle?

 

In the context of the wider regional challenges, we need to question everything from our sale of arms to the implication for countries that look to us or the United States to guarantee their safety and security. 

 

Today’s Times is right to remind us of Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum to,“speak softly and carry a big stick”.In a polar opposite approach, the White House has done neither and left a dangerous power vacuum. 

 

As America lies diminished, Russia, Iran and ISIS are the beneficiaries. To at least partly correct this terrible blunder, we should get behind the bipartisan proposals of US Senators to sanction Turkey and target President Erdoğan’s overseas assets.

 

I will also say something about China. 

 

We have just observed another 70th anniversary, of the Chinese Communists ending a long-running civil war with the Kuomintang and beginning 70 years of one-party rule. 

 

I have secured a full debate on Hong Kong for next Thursday but, for now, let me reflect that 30 years ago, after the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese military murdered 10,000 people, mainly students wanting democratic reform.Deng Xiaoping’s welcome decision to place China on the road to reform has now been superseded by President Xi Jinping’s decision to return to the omnipotent days of leaders for life. 

 

He may not have a Little Red Book, but in religious buildings he has replaced the Ten Commandments with his own list of Communist principles, and in China, a war has been declared on religious, faith and dissenting groups.

 

Noble Lords may have read this week’s reports that at least 45 burial grounds of Uighurs have been destroyed. A million Uighurs are in detention centres in Xinjiang, and with tombs now being opened and human remains scattered, it is part of a campaign to destroy their identity. There is no escape from persecution, even in death. 

 

How can we be indifferent to the immolation of Tibetan Buddhist monks, the bulldozing of Protestant churches and allegations of the forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners and others, referred to earlier by my noble friend Lady Finlay?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDLtMYazlmc

 

In China, a social credit system has been established that buys favours in return for blind allegiance, with reports of the Supreme People’s Court having a blacklist of 13 million people who can be punished if they fail to comply. The state intrudes into every aspect of life, including the taking of DNA, face recognition technology and vast surveillance. 

 

Simultaneously, aggressive propaganda campaigns are promoted overseas, and poor countries are forced into compliance as the price for economic aid through the belt and road initiative. 

 

This has been accompanied by the takeover of United Nations departments and agencies, and the rights of non-compliant Chinese citizens are trampled underfoot.I have tabled parliamentary questions this week and written to the Foreign Secretary about the cases of two people—Lam Wing-kee and Lee Ming-che—that I recently heard about first-hand in Taiwan. 

 

I met one of them, and the wife of the other. 

 

I hope that when the Minister responds, he will give me an assurance that his noble friends at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will take these cases seriously and give us a full explanation of what we can say and do to help them. 

 

Cases like theirs help to explain why Hong Kong has seen up to 2 million of its people on its streets demanding that the international treaty lodged at the United Nations guaranteeing “two systems, one country” is honoured. 

 

In reality, few people believe it will be honoured, which is why over 170 parliamentarians—including 119 from your Lordships’ House—have signed a letter urging the Foreign Secretary to lead an international campaign, especially through the Commonwealth, to provide second citizenship and a second place of abode to all Hong Kong people who wish it, if the Communist Party of China disrespects the promises and commitments it has made.

 

 I pay great tribute to Luke de Pulford of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and Ben Rogers of Hong Kong Watch for the role they have played in leading that initiative.

 

I am, however, disappointed by the Foreign Office response, from anonymous officials, which barely referred to the proposals in the original letter. Although the Foreign Secretary has said that this was “an administrative error”, I hope that his department will now seriously engage with an idea which might offer hope to the people of Hong Kong, quell the ferocity of the protests and challenge China’s increasing hostility to the rule of law, democracy and human rights. 

 

Like the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, I hope that we will use Magnitsky powers, including sanctions against officials in China and Hong Kong who undermine the city’s autonomy. 

 

I hope the Minister will tell us that we will be doing so.I have mentioned the anniversaries of great international declarations and the anniversary of one-party rule and Tiananmen Square. 

 

Let me end on a more hopeful note, with the anniversary, on 9 November, of the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

 

For 28 years, families were torn apart and a city cruelly divided, with young people shot dead when they attempted to scale the wall or to escape to freedom. 

 

Is it too much to hope, as we commemorate the breaking of that wall, that human rights, democracy and the rule of law will come to the beleaguered people of the Middle East and the Far East?

 

Attacks On journalists – defending Article 19 of the UNDHR

 

Foreign Office Minister Promises To Maintain Pressures Until The Murderer of Maltese Journalist Daphne Caruana GaliziaIs  And Slovak Journalist án Kuciak Are Found

 

In answer to Lord Alton, who raised the cases, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said

 

“Other countries were mentioned, including Malta, as was the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. I assure the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Collins, that we continue to raise her case regularly with the Maltese Government, including at ministerial level, and our high commissioner continues to raise this issue regularly

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also mentioned Slovakia and Ján Kuciak. The UK has offered National Crime Agency assistance in this regard. The offer was appreciated but, regrettably, it was not taken up. We will seek other opportunities to press Slovakia to address corruption and promote media freedom.”

 

Lord Alton’s full speech follows

 

Attacks on Journalists

 

14 May 2019 Volume 797

Question for Short Debate

 

 

 5.40 pm

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

 

My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for the way in which he has introduced today’s debate with his customary expertise and skill.

 

Central to any debate looking at press freedom and the harassment of journalists is Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

 

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

 

These last three words “regardless of frontiers” remind us that this is a transnational obligation which all states are duty-bound to uphold. 

 

This obligation is given even sharper definition in the internet age, as journalists face ever more danger—intimidation, imprisonment, violent attacks and even murder—in reprisal for their work. 

 

Only yesterday, in the Times there was a report on the death of an Afghan journalist, Mena Mangal, who was shot dead in Kabul. Fifteen other reporters and media workers were killed in Afghanistan last year.

 

Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, is to be commended for marking World Press Freedom Day, launching a global campaign to protect journalists doing their job, and promoting the benefits of a free media and especially for hosting in July the world’s first ministerial summit on media freedom.

 

The urgent need for this initiative was underlined at the Legatum Institute’s Courage in Journalism award which I recently attended. It was given posthumously in recognition of amazing bravery. 

 

Poignantly, the ceremony was being held a few days after Lyra McKee’s funeral in Northern Ireland. 

 

One of the judges, the award-winning journalist, Christina Lamb, recalled the death of her colleague, Marie Colvin, killed in Homs. Reflecting on her own 32 years as a journalist, she said that the job much more dangerous. The judges highlighted 70 deaths during the past year. Christina Lamb said:

 

“From Afghanistan to Mexico, from Palestine to Somalia, and from Brazil to India, journalists on assignment were shot in the back, blown up by car bombs or died in suicide attacks”.

 

In 2018, according to the Foreign Office, 99 journalists were killed, 348 detained and 60 taken hostage by non-state groups. Although there are conflicting figures, all agree that 2018 was the deadliest year ever for journalists.

 

All of us here are only too well aware of the lethal dangers in countries such as North Korea and Pakistan. I declare an interest as co-chair of two relevant All-Party Parliamentary Groups. 

 

However, this is an issue in Europe as well. 

 

In October 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s best-known investigative journalist, was killed when a car bomb exploded after she had reported on government corruption, nepotism, money laundering and organised crime.​

 

The 2019 Legatum award was given in memory of a brave young man, Ján Kuciak from Slovakia. He was just 27 when he was murdered, along with his fiancée, following an investigation in which he linked the Italian mafia to the City of London and Slovakian senior government advisors. His reporting led to the fall of the Slovakian Government and rallied many in the nation to get behind press freedom.

 

Reporters Without Borders, reflecting on its index of 180 countries, says that the line separating physical from verbal violence is dissolving. 

 

By way of example, its index states that, in the Philippines—ranked 133rd—President Rodrigo Duterte, “constantly insults reporters”, outrageously warning that they are “not exempted from assassination”.

 

Even in democratic societies, the use of intemperate vituperative insults and dog whistles creates a climate of rancid hatred, and politicians especially need to think more carefully about their use of language.

 

When the Minister replies, I would like him to comment on these examples from Afghanistan, Malta, Slovakia and the Philippines, and the situations in Papua, Iran and China. Last week, here at Westminster, representatives of West Papua meeting the noble Lord, Lord Collins, me and others described,

 

“appalling restrictions on foreign journalists from visiting Papua and surveillance and controls on Indonesian journalists”.

 

On 3 February last year, three BBC workers were deported from West Papua after commenting on the humanitarian health crisis in Asmat, during which around 100 children died. 

 

My noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries, who chaired the meeting last week, will no doubt say more about this in due course. 

 

The BBC also faces restrictions in Iran—we heard about them from the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey—which has been systematically targeting BBC Persian journalists, based mainly in London.

 

What of China, let alone North Korea, which boasts of its complete information blockade? Reporters Without Borders says that under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China exported,

 

“its tightly controlled news and information model in Asia”,

 

enabling other countries near the bottom of its index, including Vietnam, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, to continue their suppression of criticism and dissent. 

 

RWF says that its index has never previously had to classify so many countries as very bad. 

 

That is reinforced by Freedom House, which says that only 13% of the world’s population lives in a country with a genuinely free press, while 45% of the population lives in a media environment that is not free and that global press freedom has declined to its lowest point in 13 years.

 

All of this illustrates why the Government’s initiative, like this debate, is to be welcomed, why we must be more energetic in upholding Article 19, and why we must safeguard a freedom that is a cornerstone of open, free and democratic societies.

 

 

5.46 pm

Our Duty To Stop The Bombing of The Kurds – letter to The Times Questions in Parliament about War Crimes and potential  Genocide against minorities in North East Syria  – October 15th.

Kurds 2

Letter to The Times Saturday October 12th 2019

How bitterly ironic it is as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office holds a Symposium to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, ratified on October 24th, 1949 that we see the bombing of civilian Kurds by NATO member, Turkey.

 The Geneva Conventions and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide represent two of the emasculated pillars of a rules based international order and both are being compromised by Turkey by its invasion of Syria.

All States have ratified the Geneva Conventions and they are universally applicable. They are supposed to represent the international community’s determination to take a stand against the atrocities of war. At the heart of international humanitarian law they seek to regulate and limit the effects of armed conflict.

 

The Conventions attempt to protect the most vulnerable – civilians, wounded combatants, humanitarian workers, prisoners of war  and people, like journalists, whose jobs take them into such dangerous situations, like journalists. The Geneva Conventions insist that even wars have limits and that where those limits are violated the perpetrator’s actions can constitute a war crime.

 

Consider then, what has happened in north east Syria – where 450,000 people live within three miles of the border with Turkey.

While President Erdogan used a tweet to announce the invasion, and then the heavy bombardment of the Kurdish-held areas, using NATO-standard army hardware, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that at least 60,000 civilians have been displaced    Innocent civilians and their families are at grave risk as they flee for safety. Mortars killed a 12-year-old boy and ripped off a young girl’s leg.

There have been reports of civilian fatalities, including those of minorities who had been protected by the Syrian Democratic Forces – the West’s foremost ally in the fight against Daesh’s genocide.

Turkey should be particularly mindful of its own history in this region, not least in the mass killings of minorities – including Kurds, Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians. 

The Ottoman Empire used the Syrian desert of Deir ez-Zor as the main killing fields of Armenians.

In our generation we have a duty to contest any offensive which targets people because of their nationality, ethnicity, religion, race, or orientation.

What Turkey has done will result in ethnic cleansing and potentially genocide; it will constitute war crimes; it will lead add to the unprecedented 70.8 million people who are currently displaced worldwide, and  to the staggering 37,000 people forced to flee their homes every day due to conflict or persecution. But it is also another blow to rules based international order; a blow to NATO, defence and security; a blow to the Assyrian Christian and Yazidi minorities who are now acutely at risk; and a blow to  the fight against extremism – as it may breathe oxygen into ISIS. The Christian minority in the north east numbered 130,000 pre-ISIS. It now numbers around 40,000.  Some have already been killed.

Our dismal failure to prepare for the defeat of ISIS; our failure to establish judicial arrangements to try those responsible for barbaric crimes and genocide; our failure to deal with the issue of 2000 foreign fighters – such as the UK’s Shamima Begum – and the 90,000 captives affiliated to ISIS and who have been held by Kurdish led forces; and our failure to respond to the long-standing Kurdish desire to a homeland, means that not only Turkey  has blood on its hands, although these are sins of omission rather than commission.

I strongly support Norway’s decision to end all arms exports to Turkey. Will the UK Government be doing the same?

But I also support  the bipartisan proposals of US Senators to sanction Turkey and to target President Erdogan’s US assets – although the US Administration must accept responsibility for abandoning the Syrian Defence Force in its hour of need.

How does the UK Government intend to honour both the Geneva  Conventions and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – which places on us a duty to prevent, protect and punish- and which has been found wanting from Iraq and Syria to Sudan and North Korea..

If these internationally ratified Conventions – promulgated seven decades ago – are to be worth the paper on which they are written surely the UK Government is now obliged to act, in words and deeds, to stop the bombing of the Kurdish populations in Syria?

 

===================

Questions in Parliament about War Crimes and potential  Genocide against minorities in North East Syria 

Oral Question October 18

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

 

My Lords, a few moments ago the Minister said that a principal reason for our involvement in north-east Syria has been the defeat of Daesh. Vast numbers of people have been released from camps in north-east Syria. Some of those whose names I gave to the Minister and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, over the weekend, have been directly associated with Daesh and are now on their way to the streets of Europe. What is the Minister doing to ensure that these people are apprehended as soon as possible, and, more importantly, brought to justice by creating internationally recognised mechanisms under the convention on the crime of genocide? 

 

 Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

 

The noble Lord expresses a concern, shared by us all, about exacerbating the situation of not just those Daesh fighters but the families who were held. I assure him that I am in receipt of his email, which he referred to, and that we are looking at each case very closely. Where people are identified as due for prosecution—for example, if they arrive back in the UK—it will be for the Crown Prosecution Service to look at each matter individually, and appropriate action will be taken against those who committed these crimes.

 

Questions  for Written Answer October 16th 

 

Tabled on 15 October and due for answer by 29 October.

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made as to whether the execution of Hevrin Khalaf, the secretary-general of the Future Syria Party, constitutes a war crime. HL18049

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have about the claim by the Syrian Democratic Forces that nine executions of civilians have been carried out since the invasion of Syria by Turkey. HL18050

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have discussed with the government of the United States their condemnation of the executions of Syrian civilians by Turkish- allied Syria groups; and what plans they have to seek a referral of Turkey to the International Criminal Court. HL18051

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will publish the names of combatants fighting alongside Turkish forces in north-east Syria who are known to have affiliations with ISIS or other terrorist organisations. HL18052

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have received about the plight of religious or political minorities at risk from genocidaires in north-east Syria; and what action they are taking in accordance with the requirements of the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide to protect them and to bring the perpetrators to justice. HL18053

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they are making in establishing international judicial mechanisms to bring those responsible for genocide in Syria and Iraq to justice.HL18054

 

St.John Henry Newman – “A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault” “Fear not that your life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning” “The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men.” “I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons” “Heart Speaks To Heart…”

Newman 6Newman.jpgNewman 2Newman3

 

 

Heart Speaks To Heart.

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Lead Kindly Light: 

https://www.cjmmusic.com/songs/lead-kindly-light-stanley-song/

https://www.cjmmusic.com/podcast/podcast-007-heart-speaks-unto-heart-celebrating-the-life-and-witness-of-cardinal-john-henry-newman/

Human Dignity and Religious Freedom – Speech at Brigham Young University, Salt Lake City, Utah

2019 Salt Lake City Religious Freedom Conference 4

 

Extracts from a Lecture: Human Dignity and Religious Freedom: Preventing and Responding to Religious Persecution

2019 Salt Lake City Religious Freedom Conference 13

Brigham Young University, Utah.  October 2019.

2019 Salt Lake City Religious Freedom Conference 3

David Alton

The Punta del Este Declaration, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts human dignity at the heart of the fight to end religious persecution.

 

It recalls that Article 1 of the UDHR proclaims that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

 

Yet, somewhere on the way, human dignity and human rights have not been held in equilibrium – and it’s high time we rectified that.

 

BYU Law School’s initiatives and Symposium,  devoted to Human Dignity and Freedom of Religion or Belief: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70  have acted as a clarion call, insisting that when we look through the lens of human dignity everything is given a better perspective – with a more nuanced understanding of dignity providing opportunities which competing rights claims do not always enable or facilitate….

 

In 1987 in a message to world leaders John Paul II said that “Religious freedom, an essential requirement of the dignity of every person, is a cornerstone of the structure of human rights and for this reason, an irreplaceable factor in the good of individuals and of the whole of society as well as of the personal fulfilment of each individual.”

The belief that freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are key stones of human rights and provide the foundations for truly free societies is something in which he passionately believed.

Shaped by both the horrors of Nazism and Communism, no-one better understood what happens when those corner-stones of human rights, religious freedom and freedom of conscience are systematically subverted by the State.

But he also knew that there was another leg on the stool: human dignity.

In a world in which 250 million Christians are persecuted and for which, according to Open Doors, an average of 11 Christians lose their lives every single day, it is urgent for us to explore how human dignity might play into the struggle for religious freedom.

My starting point is that religious freedom is not a “nice to have” but fundamental to the existence and dignity of every human being. Its denial is also a point of reference for all the other claimed rights and it is clear t me that when you deny religious freedom, the denial of all the other rights is never far behind.

In 1965, in a series of interventions during the writing of Dignitatis Humanae, adopted by the Second Vatican Council, Karol Wojtyla – later John Paul II – insisted that it wasn’t enough for the Catholic Church to have a defence against the charge that it had persecuted and was still intolerant.

In words that were shaped by great personal  suffering, and devoid of references to the Enlightenment, liberalism, politics, or a narrow rights agenda,  the American Cardinal, Avery Dulles,  says Wojtyla  ensured that the document proclaimed that the “very principle of religious freedom was grounded in revelation, which affirms the dignity of the human person as a responsible subject made to the image and likeness of God and destined to enjoy eternal life in union with Christ the Redeemer.”

The resulting declaration, Dignitatis Humanae called for the formation of people who “will be lovers of true freedom – men who will come to decisions through their own judgement and who…will govern their activities with a sense of responsibility…Religious freedom ought to have this further purpose and aim, namely that men may come to act with greater responsibility in fulfilling their duties in community life.”

The Second Vatican Council concluded:

“The Council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.”

The thinking behind that document owed a great deal to the French Thomist philosopher, Jacques Maritain….

He said civilisation could be saved from self-destruction  that “Today, human dignity is trampled underfoot far and wide. Even worse, it collapses from the inside, for guided by the pure perspective of science and technology we are at a loss when it comes to discovering the rational foundations of the dignity of the person, and to believing in these.”

 

 In 1930, in England, having published his prophetic “Eugenics and Other Evils”, G.K. Chesterton observed much the same thing and wrote that “When people begin to ignore human dignity, it will not be long before they begin to ignore human rights.”

 

And in 1936, in his Autobiography he described his discovery of the relationship between liberty and human dignity:

“I did not really understand what I meant by Liberty, until I heard it called by the new name of Human Dignity. It was a new name to me; though it was part of a creed nearly two thousand years old…

 Influenced by these great figures, I have always believed that human dignity must inform the way we shape our political priorities; that no life is so futile or worthless that it does not command the right to be defended with determination and vigour. 

 Regardless of gestational age or political status, colour or creed, orientation or gender, class or origin, all men and women, at every stage of their lives, deserve the protection of those who hold political office, make laws, and determine events.

A country which accepts infanticide or the killing of a little girl or a little boy because of their gender; accepts the killing of a baby because of a disability; accepts the killing of a child because it is inconvenient, the wrong shape, or the wrong colour, and destroys God’s image every time it discounts or ends a life as worthless – and then removes the right of those who hold religious beliefs to be complicit in such deeds,  forfeits its right to call itself tolerant or civilized.

 We have seen crucifixes removed from classrooms; Christian midwives lose their jobs because they refuse to abort a child; universities deny free speech to Christian speakers; political leaders forced from office because they are told their beliefs are incompatible with ascendant angry atheism – like a secular illiberal mirror image of Sharia law.

 Such treatment makes mock of the claim to believe in freedom. It is an affront.

 Paradoxically, much of it is now done under the banner of rights, autonomy and choice: a flaccid language when it is robed of reference to human life and human dignity.

 Although this may be a harbinger of worse to come – the canary in the mine – it is like nothing in comparison with the truly horrific experiences of millions of religious believers around the world. And from the superannuated human rights organisations where are the protests?

 It is as much an outrage for me when a gay man, because of his sexuality, is thrown by ISIS off the roof of a building in Iraq as it is when a Christian is executed or enslaved. Why can’t those who remain silent about the latter not see that the human dignity and life of the one is as sacred as the other?

 So, my own belief in religious freedom is as much influenced by the pursuit of human dignity as the pursuit of human rights.

 I strongly hold that we must be free from all coercion in these matters and that the right not to believe is as important as my right to hold religious beliefs; that external coercion against people of faith – which we see all over the world – prejudices the development and fundamental well-being of society; that the worship of God is not something to moderated by the State; that families and individuals have the right to hand on their beliefs without the State’s undue interference; that States, while rightly protecting society from violence, terror, abuse or a misuse of power, committed in the name of religion, must be guardians of the fundamental human dignity and human rights that underpin religious freedom.    

 The 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are crucially important to me, but, of themselves, are not enough. They literally tell only half the story: and even that story and that document owe a great deal to Judaeo-Christian values and experiences.

The Declaration was written with secular authorities in mind and, despite a nod in Article 1 in the direction of human dignity, it is rooted in the language of rights rather than dignity. Yet, as we have witnessed, again and again, secular ideologies care more about the instrumentalization of the human being for the purposes of the State: an instrumentalization often accompanied by attacks on religious belief and its adherents.

Too easily we forget that more than 80% of the world has a religious belief.

No believer can worship the Creator unless it is a free decision and entered into in the belief that their decision has been led by truth. Faith and free acceptance must march hand in hand.

Salvation is freely sought and freely given – it is not codified in the UDHR.

Religious belief is about the transcendent, not merely the temporal here-and-now. Our religious freedom enables us to shape our identity and our actions: it is integral to a person’s human dignity and relationship with God.

 This was something which Dag Hammarskjold, a Christian, who served Secretary General of the United Nations from 1953-1961 clearly understood:

 God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason”…

Immersed as we are in Declarations of Rights, and the importance of judicial and legal mechanisms, we all too quickly forget that, regardless of the individual circumstances, the intrinsic worth of every human being – from conception to natural death – is immutable.

James Madison wrote compellingly about religious rights, but he understood that they could not be disconnected from the transcendent, stating that religious freedom is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him.”

Like human dignity this principle of duty is also too easily overlooked: and probably deserving of another conference and another speech.

For people of faith, a duty to God and our belief in human dignity is a non-negotiable to be defended with courage and vigour.

John Paul insisted  that true peace must be built on justice and founded on “ the incomparable dignity of the human being” and that “every human being is endowed with a dignity that must never be lessened, impaired or destroyed but must instead be respected and safeguarded,” explicitly stating to a US audience that “the reason America exists, the condition of her survival, yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person.”

Robert Kennedy put it well when he said: “Religious freedom is one of the foundational cornerstones of the American experiment with self- governance.”

 One hundred years earlier, in observing American democracy, De Tocqueville saw how religious freedom had been the making of America  “[the] Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other”

 This was often born from the experiences of Christians and Jews persecuted in Europe and it wasn’t universally true as you, in Salt Lake  City, know only too well from America’s last wave of religious persecution – and  recalling how the Missouri Governor, Lilburn Boggs called for Mormons to “be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State.”

 By contrast, a transcendent belief in the Imago Dei (Genesis 1:26-28) is an amazingly liberating doctrine – imagine what such a radical insistence on their  human dignity means to the unprecedented 70.8 million people forcibly displaced worldwide; to the 37,000 people forced to flee their homes every day due to conflict or persecution; or the 40 million people – including 8 million children – in modern day slavery with the International Labour Organisation estimating that in 2018 $150bn in profits were generated from forced labour; or to the 250 million Christians persecuted globally; or to the 250 million Dalits who are told that they are “untouchables.”

Every single day in India, every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit; every day three Dalit women are raped; two Dalits are murdered; two Dalit houses are burned; 11 Dalits are beaten; many are impoverished; some half of Dalit children are under-nourished; 12% die before their fifth birthday; vast numbers are uneducated or illiterate; and 45% cannot read or write. They are part of a caste system in India and Pakistan which I have seen with my own eyes. For those who are Christians there is an additional reason for persecuting and them.  Their human dignity counts for nothing.

 Think of children from Pakistan’s Christian minorities forced to work in brick kilns, workshops, and factories or as domestic servants; children like Iqbal Masih, an incredibly brave 12-year-old Christian boy, shot dead for rebelling against enslavement; or the girls from minorities now being sold in faith-led trafficking to Chinese gangs; and those minorities who are ghettoised into squalid colonies and forced to clean latrines and sweep streets.

 I have visited countries like Pakistan, North Korea, and Sudan – and am in no doubt that basket case economies, and the inability to prosper, are directly linked to the level of religious freedom enjoyed in countries such as the United States.

 And look at the disproportionate contribution which is made to the prosperity of countries by religious minorities – from the Jews to the Parsees, from the Ahmadis to Armenians. The reality is that when we respect one another’s human dignity we create communities in which everyone can fulfil their potential.

 Notwithstanding all the challenging issues which face the privileged western democratic nations, can anyone truly fail to see how these same countries look like paradise  in comparison with those which systematically and often cruelly deny their people the right to flourish? 

 Whether driven by a radical Islamist ideology, or Marxist totalitarianism, the crushing of the human spirit, the denial of the yearnings which spring up in our hearts, subverts our dignity and our deepest human needs.  

 Fifty years ago, Dignitatis Humanae correctly observed that a society which promotes religious freedom will be enlivened and enriched and one that does not will decay.

 As an aside, this is not simply true in terms of our damaged humanity, public policy makers and economists should carefully study the work of scholars such as Professor Brian Grim – who points to the economic superiority of those countries which promote freedom of religion or belief, and those which do not. In 2014 Professor Grim examined economic growth in 173 countries and considered 24 different factors that could impact economic growth.

 He found that,

 religious freedom contributes to better economic and business outcomes and that advances in religious freedom”, contribute to,successful and sustainable enterprises that benefit societies and individuals.”

  Look too at the way in which religious persecution can so easily become a key driver for migration and the mass movements of refugees. 1 in 5 of all countries have suffered religiously provoked attacks since 2014 and consequently many of the 68 million refugees worldwide have been forced to flee their homes– with all the attendant loss of human dignity which that number conceals.

 All this happens when we fail to uphold the dignity of religious freedom and the dignity of difference.

 Recall the violence last year in the US that led to the deaths of 11 worshippers in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Reflect that on March 15th nearly 50 Muslims were massacred as they gathered for Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand; remember the 75 Christians murdered in Lahore as they celebrated Easter; mourn the deaths, day after day, in Northern Nigeria which follows the genocide of Christians and Yazidis and other minorities in Iraq and Syria: all tragedies to which hatred of difference can lead.

 In an editorial entitled “Spectators at the Carnage”, The Times said, “Christianity is by most calculations the most persecuted religion of modern times.”  The Spectator magazine says, “The global war on Christians remains the greatest story never told of the early 21st century”.

 In a recent independent report to the British Foreign Secretary, the Bishop of Truro estimated that 250 million Christians are persecuted worldwide; that Christians are on the receiving end of 80% of religiously motivated discrimination – in breach of Article 18 of the UDHR and Articles 18 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Archbishop Bashar Warda (Archbishop of Irbil) recently remarked:

“The world should understand that on our path to extinction we will not go quietly any longer. From this point onward, we will speak the truth, and live out the truth, in full embrace of our Christian witness and mission, so that, if some day we are gone, no one will be able to ask: how did this happen?”

 

In 1914, Christians made up a quarter of the Middle East’s population. Now they are less than 5%.

 A slow burn genocide began in 1915 and it hasn’t ended yet. In 1915 1.5 million Armenians were murdered in a genocide still unrecognized as such by the UK, let alone by Turkey.

 In 1933, the Jewish writer,Franz Werfel published, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a novel about  the Armenian genocide.

 Werfel’s books were burnt by the Nazis, no doubt to give substance to Hitler’s famous remark:

 Who now remembers the Armenians?

 There is a fatal chain of events that stretch from the Armenian genocide to Hitler’s concentration camps and the depredations of Stalin’s gulags; from the pestilential nature of persecution, demonization, scapegoating, and hateful prejudice, to the recent genocides against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria.

 And so often we fail to remember what has gone before; to stand in solidarity with those who suffer so grievously; or to use our voices or many opportunities to speak out and act on their behalf. 

  I vividly recall a Yazidi woman, a former Iraqi Member of Parliament, telling us in the UK Parliament:


“The Yazidi people are going through mass murder. The objective is their annihilation. 3000 Yazidi girls are still in Da’esh 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”.

 But where have been our voices been?

 Syria’s Christian population has declined from 1.7 million in 2011 to below 450,000 ; in Iraq ethnic cleansing and genocide has reduced the ancient Christian population from 1.5 million (2003) to below 120,000 . In Palestine Christians now number less than 1.5%;

 Our former Chef Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks calls it “one of the crimes against humanity of our times.”

In India, Pakistan and  Sudan there are endless examples of Christian persecution and in Nigeria a new genocide is underway at the hands of Boko Haram and the Fulani militia. In just one incident in Nigeria last year 19 people were killed while attending Mass – including two priests.

 On August 12th,  2019, Open Doors reported that some 8,000 children have now been abducted by Boko Haram, who openly say their interim goal is “to eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country.“

 Think of the plight of a 15-year-old, girl named Leah Sharibu, seized over a year ago by Boko Haram. They refused to release Leah because she rejected their demand that she renounces her faith and convert to Islam.

 Boko Haram and the Fulani have been supported with funds and weapons from outside Nigeria.

 In just one weekend Fulani militia killed more than 200 people, mostly women and children, in sustained attacks on 50 villages.

 Last year, I led a parliamentary debate in which I described events over just three days: 140 people were killed in carnage in Benue State.

 The local chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria say that since 2011 herdsmen have destroyed over 500 churches in Benue state alone.

 A spokesman said:It is purely a religious jihad in disguise”; another that it is a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing.

 As in Darfur, where I saw the attacks by Janjaweed militias, right  across the Sahel, there have often disputes between nomadic herders and farming communities over land, grazing and scarce resources and occasionally there have been retaliatory violence – but the stark asymmetry and escalation of attacks, by well-armed Fulani herders upon predominately Christian farming communities, is fueled by radical Islamist ideology.

 In March, the Revd. Joseph Bature Fidelis, of the Diocese of Maiduguri, in north-east Nigeria said:

 Nigeria today has the highest levels of Islamist terrorist activity in the world…Our country is, so to speak, the future hope of Islamist fundamentalists.”

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, capital of Plateau State says Fulani gunmen exhibit a new audacity” and the Archbishop of Abuja has warned of “territorial conquest’”and “ethnic cleansing” and said: “The very survival of our nation is at stake.”

 In a statement to President Buhari issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, they said:

  If the President cannot keep our country safe, then he automatically loses the trust of the citizens. He should no longer continue to preside over the killing fields and mass graveyard that our country has become.”

 The respected former army chief of staff and Defence Minister, Lieutenant General Theophilus Y. Danjuma, says the armed forces have not been,neutral; they collude” in the,ethnic cleansing in … riverine states”.

He says, “The ethnic cleansing must stop … in all the states of Nigeria; otherwise Somalia will be a child’s play.”

 With increasing numbers of deaths, with 1.8 million displaced persons, 5,000 widows, 15,000 orphans, and more than 200 desecrated churches and chapels, it is unsurprising that the Nigerian House of Representatives last July described the herdsmen’s sustained attacks asGenocide.”

 But the UK and other governments remain in denial about this.

 Elsewhere in Africa, in Eritrea Church run clinics and hospitals have been closed and confiscated in and Aid to the Church in Need reports that 3000 Christians are imprisoned.

In China churches have been demolished; pastors and bishops from the underground churches are in jail, along with lawyers who spoke up for them; while an underlying theme of the Hong Kong demonstrations is the fear that their religious freedom will be emasculated.

 In Western China as many as 1 million Uighur Muslims are held in Soviet-style re-education centres.

 Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang, who died at 94 years of age, spent half his life in prison; since the beginning of 2016, Chinese Protestants have seen 49 of their churches defaced or destroyed, crosses removed, and a pastor’s wife crushed to death in the rubble as she pleaded with the authorities to desist.

 I have visited North Korea on four occasions and published a book in which I detail some of the affronts to human dignity experienced by North Korea’s believers. 200,000- 3,000 people are incarcerated in North Korea’s Concentration Camps. One who escaped, Jean Young-Ok, told the parliamentary committee which I chair, 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 them”

 Another escapee, a woman called Hae Woo, told us “The guards told us that we are not human beings, we are just prisoners…the dignity of human life counted for nothing.”

 A United Nations Commission of Inquiry concluded:  “There is almost a complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; Severe punishments are inflicted on people caught practising Christianity;

“the State considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat.”

The Commission concluded that North Korea’s human rights violations make it a “state without parallel.”  Its presiding Judge, Mr. Justice Michael Kirby said evidence adduced by the inquiry “was very similar to the testimony one sees on visiting a Holocaust Museum by those who were the victims of Nazi oppression in the last century” and that the “witnesses told their stories in a low-key way, without exaggeration“.

 I have already referred to Pakistan where its Christian population of 2.6 million (less than 3%) are trapped in caste system, dire, poverty – women like Asia Bibi are sentenced to death on trumped up charges (with another 70 on death row for alleged blasphemy) and her cell now occupied by Shagufta Kauser, another illiterate Christian woman sentenced to death; 1000 Christian and Hindu girls are sold into forced marriages and slavery in China; many forcibly converted; two Christian children forced to watch as a lynch mob of 1,200 bunt alive their parents.

 Impunity in Pakistan means that  no-one is brought to justice for murdering the Christian Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti.
Shabaz Bhatti  was assassinated for challenging persecution of minorities and challenging the Blasphemy Laws.
Bhatti 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”

 If a country cannot bring to justice the killer of a Government Minister what chance does anyone else have?

 In Pakistan I heard testimonies of abduction, rape, the forced marriage of a nine-year-old, forced conversion, death sentences for so-called blasphemy.

 I recently raised the case of a 13-year-old, excluded from a classroom because he had touched the water supply in that classroom? He was beaten, and his mother was told he had no place in that school because he was only fit for menial and degrading jobs.

 Such prejudice is reinforced by school text books funded by Saudi Arabia, and compulsory Quranic teachings in Punjab which demean and stigmatise minorities.

 In Pakistan’s colonies” – ghettos- on the periphery of cities like Islamabad, I saw Christians live in festering and foul conditions without running water or basic amenities.

 Think of South Africa’s apartheid shanty towns – but without the attendant mass movement protests by the Left.

 Dirt floors in shacks without running water or electricity. Little education or health provision. Squalid and primitive conditions which are completely off the radar of western aid programs. Little wonder that thousands flee for their lives.

Fleeing, persecuted Pakistani Christians end up in South East Asia, kept like caged animals in detention centres which I have visited. Meanwhile, not a penny of the UK’s £2.6 billion aid programme to Pakistan – over £300,000 every day – goes to specifically help this beleaguered minority. 

 Where here, in our diplomacy, our aid programmes, our refugee programmes, is any concern for human dignity?

 And where were our voices during the  burning or bombing of more than 50 of Egypt’s churches in Egypt’s Kristallnacht; and what of the dignity – and very lives – of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians decapitated in 2015 by ISIS for refusing to renounce their faith and who  “in the moment of their barbaric execution”, were repeating the words “Lord, Jesus Christ,” ?

 Or, think of Iran – where there were almost 1000 executions last year, including the execution of Bahai’s. A  flagrant disrespect religious freedom  led to the imprisonment of  Saeed Abedini, imprisoned for 10 years for “undermining national security” by hosting Christian gatherings in his home. 

 Recall the arrest and detention of 114 Iranians in a single week for suspected proselytism.  It’s illegal to preach or to convert and converts can spend a decade in prisons like Evin, known as the black hole of evil”, where torture and abuse are commonplace.

 The Iranian Constitution permits worship, but not for converts.

 In November last, ITN News, reported on the handfuls of Iranians trying to make it to England in small boats, said that most they spoke to were Christian, some recently converted from Islam.

 But such is the prejudice against Christians that none of these shocking events have roused the conscience of nations and their governments or re-ordered their political priorities.  And it isn’t only about Christians.

 And who among us expected, 120 years after the Dreyfus case and 70 years after the Holocaust, to hear again the cry of “Death to the Jews” ?

 Stefan Zweig’s magnificent The World of Yesterday – Memoirs of a European” published in 1942 has been republished.

 The masterful autobiography of this Jewish writer charts the rise of visceral hatred; how scapegoating and xenophobia, cultivated by populist leaders, can rapidly morph into the hecatombs of the concentration camps.

 Anti-Semitism, homophobia, overt racism and hatred of religious difference, are all based on absurd theories of blood, race and difference – which readily and effortlessly morph into violence.

  In 1942, in a presentiment of what lay ahead Zweig remarked:

 We are none of us very proud of our political blindness at that time and we are horrified to see where it has brought us.”

 He saw how, in the face of indifference and the desire for a quiet life, the thin veneer that separates civilised values from mob rule very quickly cracked; describing how university professors were forced to scrub streets with their bare hands; devout Jews humiliated in their synagogues; apartments broken into and jewels torn out of the ears of trembling women – calling it Hitler’s most diabolical triumph.”  

  Zweig said:

 The greatest curse brought down on us by technology is that it prevents us from escaping the present even for a brief time. Previous generations could retreat into solitude and seclusion when disaster struck; it was our fate to be aware of everything catastrophic happening anywhere in the world at the hour and the second when it happened.”

 And that was the 1940s.

 Now it is live streamed and in every living room and on every mobile device within seconds – including pre- arranged broadcast of mass shootings: St. Bartholomew’s Eve Massacres courtesy of Facebook and Google.

 ISIS has used social media to express its genocidal intent and, in its recruitment, and propaganda newsletters and videos. 

 The crucifixion and death of one young man – crucified for wearing a cross – was boastfully posted on the internet.

From the same town, local girls were taken as sex slaves. ISIS returned their body parts to the front door of their parents’ homes with a videotape of them being raped.

 The internet is a new tool in the hands of dictatorships and non-state ideologues, intensifying the persecution of minorities.

 In China, the State uses digital technology to promote its atheistic opposition to religion but also to collect data against the observant religious adherent whom they see as a threat to their hegemony.

 In Russia, subversion of the internet is used to manipulate opinion and to traduce opposition.

 And there is a direct correlation between freedom of religion or belief and censorship: Articles 18 and 19 of the UDHR.

 There are 44 countries worldwide that control and censor the internet – and the five worst offenders are Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Yemen and Qatar – while North Korea completely bans the internet.

 But the Devil doesn’t have to have all the good tunes and just as the Gutenberg revolution of the printed word opened the pages of the Bible the web can also be a place where Faith is shared, and human dignity and rights promoted.

 For good or bad it reaches every corner of the Globe and makes ever more urgent the challenge for religious leaders to use it to promote respect for difference and to better understand how their Scriptures and teachings can be rapidly disseminated and distorted to sow division and hatred.

  Today, persecuted faith-led communities should be natural allies of secularists in combatting neo-Nazis, but deeply intolerant liberal” voices so despise religion that that they seek to eliminate it from political discourse and the public square. They both need to defend plurality and difference of religion and belief.

 With the loss of 100 million lives, hellish ideologies made the twentieth century the bloodiest century in human history. It produced the four great murderers of the 20th century—Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot— all united by their hatred of religious faith and liberal democracy.

 Now, in the twenty-first century new forms of ideology – some claiming a religious legitimacy – have unleashed new forms of slaughter; and although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has acquired a normative character within general international law, there has never been universal approbation of Article 18 of the UDHR and the right of freedom of religion or belief remains a contested principle.

 Article 18 proclaimed the right to believe, not to believe, to manifest belief, or to change belief:

 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 1948 Declaration’s stated objective was to realise:

 a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations…without distinction to race, sex, language or religion”.

 Eleanor Roosevelt, the formidable chairman of the drafting committee, argued that freedom of religion was one of the four essential freedoms of mankind, asserting that freedom of religion was an

 international Magna Carta for all mankind.”

 Article 18 is proclaimed as a key human right and yet is under attack in almost every corner of the world.

 84% of the world population has faith; a third are Christian. But, according to Pew Research Centre 74% of the world’s population live in the countries where there are violations of Article 18 at the hands of Islamists or Marxists

 Although Christians are persecuted in every country where there are violations of Article 18, Muslims, and others, suffer too, not least in the Sunni-Shia religious wars so reminiscent of 17th-century Europe.

 In Burma, where Buddhists have turned on Muslims, I visited a mosque burnt down the night before, with Muslim villagers driven out of a place where, for generations, they had lived alongside their Buddhist neighbours.

 In Rakhine State the Rohingyas have been subjected to appalling brutality along with the Christian Kachin. Now Burma proposes to restrict interfaith marriage and religious conversions.

 Article 18 is also about the right not to believe – such as Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian atheist and blogger sentenced to 1,000 public lashes for publicly expressing his atheism, described by the UN as a form of cruel and inhuman punishment”; or Alexander Aan, imprisoned in Indonesia for two years after saying he did not believe in God.

 This is about their human dignity too and about our common humanity.

 Jonathan (Lord) Sacks insists that “Religious freedom is about our common humanity, and we must fight for it if we are not to lose it.” In the face of “one of the crimes against humanity of our time” he is “appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked.”

 In the face of all of this we must recast the priority we give to religious persecution and make it the defining issue of our times.  In doing this we must make much more of the language of human dignity and, in making our case,  we must strike a better balance with the reliance we place on rights and law. Above all we must speak and act with greater clarity, conviction and passion.

    Let me conclude with two Christians who died at the hands of the Nazis both spoke about the danger of indifference and the luxury of silence.

 St. Maximilian Kolbe, murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz, once remarked that “The deadliest poison of our times is indifference” and he was right. 

In a similar vein, the Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of his countrymen

“We have been the silent witnesses of evil deeds. What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.” 

He insisted that “Not to speak is to speak; not to act to act”

As we reflect on Human Dignity and Religious Freedom: Preventing and Responding to Religious Persecution, may those powerful words stir us into action.

 

2019 Salt Lake City Religious Freedom Conference 13

2019 Salt Lake City Religious Freedom Conference 3

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Native American Dancers bringing the BYU Conference to life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are all Hong Kongers Now 🇹🇼 🇭🇰

We are all Hong Kongers and Taiwanese Now 🇹🇼 🇭🇰
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In the heart of Taiwan’s capital city, at the offices of Taiwan’s Foundation for Democracy, there is a piece of stone that should give encouragement to the beleaguered people of Hong Kong and the anxious people of Taiwan.
It is part of the Berlin Wall – a wall erected by an authoritarian Communist regime intent on imprisoning it own people and keeping out democracy, the rule of law, free speech and religious and political freedom.
In June 1963 President John F. Kennedy famously declared his solidarity with Berliners when he said “Ich bin ein Berliner”.
Today we must show the same international solidarity with Hong Kong and Taiwan – whose freedoms are under systematic attack.
These brave people- and those who oppress them – should recall that what seemed like a never ending Cold War dramatically ended as a result of defiant courage. For 28 years families were torn apart and a city cruelly divided – with young people shot dead when they attempted to scale the wall or to escape to freedom.
The wall divided an entire nation for a generation but its fall came unexpectedly and far more rapidly than any of us had dared hope. Today Berlin is a whole city again – diverse, democratic, plural.
When, on 9th of November we remember the day that wall fell, we should mark it by personal, community, and Government actions that underline our unflinching belief in democratic values and our determination to stand with those in the Far East seeking democracy and reform
We are all Hong Kongers and Taiwanese Now 🇹🇼 🇭🇰
We are all Hong Kongers Now

 

Speech from the Rathaus Schöneberg by John F. Kennedy, June 26, 1963. Duration 9:01; “Ich bin ein Berliner” first appears at 1:57, then again at 8:43.
Also see the comparison between Hong Kong’s struggle and Gandhi’s Salt March…

As China tells Hong Kong to force its citizens to expose their faces to facial recognition surveillance here are two stories that should make us face up to the nature of Tiananmen-style authoritarianism

As China tells Hong Kong to force its citizens to expose their faces to facial recognition surveillance here are two stories that should make us face up to the nature of Tiananmen-style authoritarianism…
Tonight (Friday) following orders from Beijing, the Hong Kong Government said citizens may not wear masks so that pro democracy protestors can be identified.
No doubt this will enable German and British made surveillance equipment to be put to its intended use of facial recognition.
So the mask has slipped and the true face of Chinese authoritarian Communism, now dominant in Hong Kong, has been revealed to the watching world.
If you have any doubts about the nature of this authoritarian regime, now intent on bending free Hong Kong to its will, consider these two stories.
The first is the story of a Hong Kong bookseller.
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Mr.Wing-kee Lam, the former manager of Causeway Bay Books, in Hong Kong, spent 8 months detained in 2015 in Chinese detention centres which he says “are worse than any prison you can imagine.”
Mr.Lam ran a successful book shop for twenty years. Among his customers were highly placed Communist Party officials from the mainland who used visits to Hong Kong to buy literature banned in China.
He says his best sellers included George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984.
MrLee might recall that in Animal Farm
‘No animal shall wear clothes.’ In Hong Kong they may no longer wear masks.
But another best seller was Fydor Dostoyevsky’s The House of the Dead. – a semi-autobiographical novel Dostoevsky, portrays the life of convicts in a Siberian prison camp.
Dostoyevsky and, in Stalin’s Times, Solzhenitsyn, tell the story of how prisoners are degraded and slowly driven mad by forcing them to do the same things over and over. Nineteenth century and twentieth century brutality and the coercion of fragile human beings persists into our own times.
Mr.Lam told me that he was driven to despair – denied any contact with his family- and that he wanted to commit suicide.
After release, he returned to Hong Kong but as he saw the increasing attempts to deny human rights, rule of law and democracy, and he fled to Taiwan. But, he warns “Hong Kong today, Taiwan tomorrow.”
And he says that “the U.K. needs to act urgently and immediately to ensure Hong Kong people have somewhere else to settle if the assertive empire that is now China continues to destroy an international treaty which it has signed.”
Hard to disagree
The second story concerns a brave Taiwanese who believes in democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Ming-Che Lee, a Taiwanese citizen, has served half of a five year prison sentence in China in Chishan prison, Hunan Province, for expressing views on the Internet calling for democratic change in China. He shares a cell with three life sentence prisoners. Given no rest periods he has lost a great deal of weight.
His brave wife Ching-yu Lee has had visits to her husband refused and says that the “prisoners receive a daily diet of rotten food” she also told me that his request for books to read has been refused. Ironically, among the books that he has been told he isn’t allowed to read is Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.”
Mrs Lee is urging people to send books to her husband at Chishan and to write to President Xi Jinping calling for the release of her husband.
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In this picture she is holding the refusal of the prison governor to allow her husband to read books.

Countdown To Barbarism in Northern Ireland – as health care providers join the mass protests against a barbaric law being imposed by Westminster.

 

 

https://catholicherald.co.uk/magazine/countdown-to-barbarism-time-is-running-out-to-save-a-pro-life-oasis/

 

CH NI 1

CH NI 2

CH NI 3

See:

https://davidalton.net/2019/09/06/northern-ireland-stands-united-tonight-in-defiance-of-westminsters-new-law-to-impose-abortion-up-to-28-weeks-gestation-huge-crowds-gather-peacefully-at-stormont-to-make-their-voices-heard/

In addition to tens of thousands of Northern Irish people saying no to this barbaric law, two healthcare professional letters have been released today. The letter by Dr Andrew Cupples which was picked up by the BBC can be found in full here. There are over 800 names on there. The second letter is one signed by over 100 midwives- you can find it on Facebook here.

Northern Ireland abortion statistics

The unborn child at 18 weeks gestation. 600 babies are aborted daily in the UK - some, up to and even during birth, with the full force of British law. 7 million have been aborted since abortion was made legal and some have had up to 8 legal abortions.