Today, 22nd August, marks the first United Nations International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.
But the international head of a Catholic charity has encouraged the international community to think of the milestone not as an end in itself but as a first step towards better protections for those who suffer for their beliefs.
The big picture
On May 28 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution – in response to a proposal from Poland with support from Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan and the United States – establishing a day of commemoration for victims of religious persecution around the world.
According to a recent report from US thinktank Pew Research Center, Christians in 143 countries around the world reported harassment in 2017, while Muslims and Jews in 140 and 87 nations respectively denounced the same treatment.
Driving the news
Thomas Heine-Geldern, international executive president of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), welcomed the establishment of Victims of Religious Violence Day.
“This new day commemorating the victims of religious violence is an important step towards ensuring that more attention is paid to persecuted Christians in the future”, Heine-Geldern said.
But he added that “it is important that 22nd August does not become an end in itself, but triggers a process that motivates the international community to implement a coordinated plan of action to end religious persecution and prevent it in the future”.
“It is the duty of the United Nations, governments and political actors to enforce the human right of freedom of religion. This symbolic day must be followed by action”, Heine-Geldern insisted.
“This has long been overdue”, the head of the ACN explained with respect to tomorrow’s milestone, as the genocide of minority religious groups from Christians to Muslim Rohingyas continues around the world in places like Iraq, Syria or Myanmar (Burma).
“All religious communities regularly fall victim to violence, but as international reports on religious freedom confirm time and again Christians are, unfortunately, the group that is most persecuted”, Heine-Geldern lamented.
He said the next step after the observance of Victims of Religious Violence day this Thursday is for the UN to set up a forum for dialogue with persecuted religious groups.
Heine-Geldern also called for the establishment of an international tribunal to prosecute groups currently carrying out religious violence such as Boko Haram (West Africa), Al-Shabaab (Somalia) and Daesh (Middle East).