Governments’ measures for Freedom of Religion or Belief must be followed by action

The appointment of Lord Tariq Ahmad as UK Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief,  at the same time as the US launch a Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response programme reveals concerns about Global international freedom.  But what good will these roles actually do?  

Freedom of Religion and Belief is important everywhere and must be guarded and appreciated to be kept in trust for future generations. Only recently
leading experts on religious freedom converged at the EU Parliament in Brussels on June 5th to highlight concerns about the erosion of freedom of belief
for Christians in Europe (click here).
The need for a conference of this type in Europe is alarming as the west is often believed to be a safe haven.  However encroachments into our
religious freedom are often subtle and incremental rather like a frog in a kettle, which instead of jumping out of the heat adjusts to its change in
environment to its own detriment. This might be one reason why senior official position like Human Rights or Religious Freedom Envoys are so important.

Most nations and humanitarian organizations have them, these are individuals set apart to scrutinize human rights abuses, to report stats and make
swelling speeches that stir the conscience of politicians. Like watchdogs they are often the first to notice that something is wrong. However, a certain
sensitivity is necessary to address matters most countries, if given a choice, would keep in the dark.  Very often the envoys find themselves
needing to employ keenly honed soft skills to be given an opportunity to say anything.

The problem is that politicians, even those the human rights envoys are designated and mandated to inform, do not always listen. Leaders and politicians
rather like the idea that they care enough to give it some consideration, the process massages their egos and stimulates their moral conscience making
them feel like they are people of good will. However, it is not always a given that action will be forthcoming on any particular issue. When people
are suffering they do want to be heard, but they hope for something more than platitudes and warm wishes.

We shared an example with you; After the EU’s Human Rights Envoy’s ardent efforts to prioritize the plight of Asia Bibi were aborted due to the EU’s
overshadowing trade negotiations, Pakistan British Pakistani Christian Chairman Wilson Chowdhry said,

“Europe has been reluctant to follow through with measures to protect Christians even when they acknowledge them. They may acknowledge them with some bravado but there is not always a palpable will to see change despite the efforts and good will of those who are set up as watchdogs. The pragmatic disrespect for the human rights watchdog is one sign of tolerance for persecution … there is a desire to raise a standard but not a desire to deal with the issues of implementing it…”

It is hard for any special envoy to know when they are being effective when they are simply pressing to be heard. In April 2018 EU Envoy on Human Rights outside of the EU Jan Figel who is a man of goodwill and had hoped the EU would withdraw GPS+ Status (most favoured trade status) until blasphemy victim Asia Bibi was released, found himself disappointed by the EU’s lack of response. Mr Figel said:

“It’s time to move but at least on one last point on Pakistan. Yeah, I was there, twice refused then re-invited by Pakistani Authorities, so this was good signal that something is moving. I can say that I was and I am disappointed by non-decison, not only on Asia Bibi case but many others.

My message in December to many different representatives of political or religious, judicial non-governmental space was status quo is not enough for Pakistan, for better future of the country – people there and secondly Justice delayed is justice denied. There were 19 people expecting execution because of blasphemy the first lady, the first woman, Asia Bibi is famous is known in this country – in Europe -she is honorary citizen of Paris. So many people know and many people expect that justice will be delivered.

I would love to see European Union more principled because I think what we need to see is justice in the world. Justice is important for peace – p eace is fruit of justice in the Middle-East in South-East Asia – everywhere. If we care for then we are credible inside and outside. Beginning of justice is beginning of freedom everywhere…”

While EU Special Envoy Figel expressed disappointment at the EU’s inaction on the proposed sanctions he seemed pleased that they had at least considered
her case and that Pakistan had essentially threw him a bone by re-inviting him after being refused twice. He took this as a sign “something is moving”
but Pakistani Christians whose hopes had been raised and then dashed by inaction have seen this before. While it was initially heartening that Asia
Bibi was discussed at this level, it seems that Pakistan needs to only make slight political gestures without any effective follow-up to be praised.
(click here)

There needs to be more than expressed hopes to make a difference. There is ostensibly no desire to enforce economic penalties on Pakistan, a nuclear
power, or to forfeit cheap goods for the cause of justice. If special envoys are to be effective in improving human rights conditions for religious
minorities, they must be listened to at some point by the government appointing them. Though it may also be that a role as a religious freedom or human
rights “watchdog” will historically demonstrate that the nation appointing them neglected justice while knowing better.

A hopeful measure was enacted when the UK Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief was recently chosen from a community that is a persecuted
religious minority. Prime MInister Theresa May put  British-Pakistani Lord Ahmad who is Ahmadi Muslim on guard for Freedom of Religion or Belief in Great Britian. BPCA has reached out to congratulate Lord Amhad and we look forward to dialoguing with him to improve the plight of Pak-Christians, but also to work for better community harmony here in the UK. 
(click here). [Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbeldon has responded to our message and has agreed to meet and we are working towards a mutually convenient date.]

Upon announcement of the news Margaret Galy, Head of Freedom of Religion or Belief/ Post Holocaust, Human Rights and Democracy Department wrote:

“For us, this is exciting news, as this will enable us to take our work on FoRB to a new level…”


Though Great Britain has previously refused to admit the persecution of Christians in Pakistan in favour of their historical ties with the majority
populace when the facts of human rights abuses, perhaps this new appointment is an acknowledgement that Pakistan has discriminated against religious

Perhaps the UK’s past acquiescence to persecution fostered in past administrations will be stemmed by appointing a person like Lord Ahmad who understands
the pressure faced by minorities faiths in Pakistan.

Some comments on social media suggest that choosing a Muslim for this role is not sensible choice, but the fact is that the Ahmadi community, which
has largest and most robust religious minority presence in Pakistan face direct persecution for their faith, just as Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and
others deemed apostates such as those who have departed from Islam for humanism.

Ahmadi are the only group which is recognized by the UN and several foreign states as being particularly persecuted because of the lip service paid
to freedom of religion in Pakistan’s constitution, which outlaws the Ahmadi Faith. Ordinance XX including articles 298A-C were adopted in 1984 under
the regime of Zua Ul Haq a military dictator, forcing the exile of many Ahmadis and leading to several arrests of members of the Ahmadi community in
Pakistan (click here).

Though Pakistani politicians  try to hide the marginalization and authorized restrictions on other religious minorities, which
should entrenching the targeted groups’ status as persecuted communities, most countries chose to ignore this. A process of insousciance that is believed
to be a product of the desire for international trade and and a misguided belief that their dialogue with Pakistan will fashion change in the nation
– which itself is allegedly a partner in the war against terror.

Numerous Twitter posts heaping scorn on this appointment indicate that humanist and atheists expressing their views do not see the importance of this
appointment and exhibit some level of ignorance about what active and necessary efforts are being made to protect the liberty of those of their persuasion.
 On April 11th this year, BPCA was invited to contribute to the EU Seminar on “Discrimination and Persecution of Non-Believers around the World” (click here) ; showing that Prime Minister May’s decision to maintain such a watchdog position is important for people of all beliefs and not only those
from a recognized world religion.

One user however welcomed the appointment, scolding less enthusiastic users for ignoring the plight of the Yazidis who have suffered genocide under
Daesh who have endured ethnic cleansing practices such as sexual slavery, rape and mass murder. Other commentary suggested that religious intolerance
was a problem here in the UK and should be address in Great Britain before instructing other countries how to behave [bringing us back to the seminar
described in our first paragraph]. BPCA is committed to helping those suffering from religious persecution whether at home or abroad. We are aware
that incidents of Kaffirophobia (Infidel hatred as defined by followers of extremist Islam) are on the rise in the UK, but we approach these by seeking
the aid of the authorities, relocating those who are endangered and reaching out to the wider community for a unified response against intolerance
and hatred.         

Meanwhile in America, the United States State Department took a leading role with a brand new venture and hosted ‘Ministerial to Advance Religious
Freedom’ from July 24 to July 26 in a three-day conference attended by delegates from over 80 countries including some where there are restrictions
on religious freedom.

In anticipation for the ministerial, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised that the event would be more than just talk” and that actionable steps would be taken on religious persecution. (click here)

US Vice-President Pence told the world in his keynote address about the initiation of a new Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program, saying:

 “America is proud to launch and support this program and we’re earnest in our appeal to all the nations gathered here and around the world that you might join us in this fund. Together, we will champion the cause of liberty as never before.”

Of the six statements of concern the first one listed was a Statement on Blasphemy/Apostacy laws and the last mentioned (click here) and the last was a Statement on Religious Freedom Repression by Non-State Actors, including Terrorist
Groups (click here), a parenthesis
that encompasses many of the abuses Christians in Pakistan are facing.

Wilson Chowdhry said:

“Initiatives against religious persecution and human rights watchdogs act in goodwill but what must happen if government appointments are to be truly meaningful, is for the leaders appointing them to listen to the feedback they offer and affect appropriate policy to procure the change needed to elevate basic human rights.

“It is heartening that Prime Minister May has appointed Lord Tariq Ahmad w
ho as an Ahmadi has a personal understanding of religious persecution. This could mean that the marginalization of Pakistani-Christians will be taken more seriously by UK parliamentarians.

“In tandem the new initiative sponsored by the US State Department demonstrates an astute assessment with regards to their recognition of the profound concerns of persecuted minority faiths.

“Finally it seems the world governments are taking much needed steps to restore worldwide tolerance and to promote peace.  This timing could not be more apt, as many of us believe social polarity is reaching the dangerous levels that were a prelude to the horrendous world wars.”