“We cannot close our eyes to this reality,” states ACN International Executive President Thomas Heine-Geldern
Following an unprecedented increase of violence against religious communities and people belonging to religious minorities, the UN General Assembly proclaimed August 22 as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Violence Based on Religion or Belief in 2019.
But according to the international foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), on the eve of this one-year anniversary, the situation has only deteriorated. The charity warns against international religious-based terrorism and an alarming trend towards attacking religious buildings and symbols to draw attention to other legitimate social rights and injustices.
The African continent under attack: Where is the international community?
“Ever present news about religiously motivated acts of violence and harassment in countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria or India continue to give ACN great cause for concern. Although social and ethnic motives are often behind such violence, we cannot close our eyes to this reality,” states Thomas Heine-Geldern, ACN Executive President.
Heine-Geldern draws particular attention to the imminent dangers facing the African continent with the rapid spread of Islamist militant groups, calling for a better coordinated and faster response by international organizations: “How can it be that there is no global response to the warnings issued by Islamic State terror cells operating in Mozambique, most recently resulting in the August 12 ISIS seizure of the Mocimboa da Praia port in the northern part of the country? We recognize in their methods the same intention to eliminate the cultural and religious plurality of the country, as they have done in other countries like Iraq. To date, more than 200,000 people have had to flee. What are we waiting for?” asks the ACN Executive President.
“The effects of international religious-based terrorism are devastating, preventing the victims from exercising their fundamental human rights, and affecting their stability and security for generations, long after the immediate danger seems to have passed. We need only look at the Christian and Yazidi minorities in Iraq, which have suffered horrendous persecution in recent years and whose existence continues to be threatened. Persecution of Iraqi Christians alone has decimated the pre-2003 population of 1.2 million to less than 100,000 today.”
Inter-religious dialogue: of vital importance
But it is not just about denunciation; August 22 is also about remembering and honouring those victims of religious persecution, who had names and who have been forgotten. “This year among others, we remember the seminarian Michael Nnadi, assassinated on February 1 in Nigeria; we remember Philippe Yarga, a catechist from Pansi in Burkina Faso, killed on February 16 along with 24 others, and we remember Joseph Nadeem, a Pakistani Christian who died on June 29, assassinated by a neighbour, purely out of religious and social hate. But we also remember the victims of religious persecution who are still alive, especially those who have been kidnapped, like Sister Gloria Narvaez in Mali, or the young girl Leah Sharibu in Nigeria,” said Heine-Geldern.
“Regrettably we see a new and alarming trend in many countries, where religious buildings and symbols are attacked and destroyed to draw attention to other legitimate social rights and injustices” states Heine-Geldern. As examples, he highlighted the cases of Chile, where during the social and political upheavals at the end of 2019 more than 57 Christian churches and places of worship were attacked and burned, and of the United States, where up until July 16, more than 60 attacks against Catholic churches due to protests against racial discrimination had been recorded. “It is not justice to draw attention to valid social, racial or economic injustices by attacking the faith and beliefs of others. Unchecked hatred against religious groups engenders violence and destruction and should be publicly repudiated. Violence is never a solution and governments have an obligation to protect the victims and prosecute those who commit acts of violence.”
The ACN Executive President also insists on the vital importance of interreligious dialogue to prevent religious fanaticism. “Religious leaders must play a crucial role in nation-building, oriented toward peace and justice. We must put an end to social prejudices and, through dialogue, put an end to the fear of these, which is different. As a charity we are working on several international programs in this regard, while at the same time we seek to remind international institutions and organisations that it is their duty to guarantee the fundamental right of religious freedom.”
“The International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief is an important step in the right direction, but we must acknowledge that the situation worldwide is not improving. We encourage the UN to take further steps to combat hate crimes and acts of religious violence. We would be happy if, next year, we had fewer victims to remember.”