International affairs, peace
and human security
HUMAN RIGHTS AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM:
Item 11 (a) of the provisional agenda
The Commission of Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches has from the very beginning had religious liberty as its central concern. Defence and promotion of religious liberty continues to be an integral part of the mandate of the Council. Over the years, the progressive evolution in the ecumenical understanding of religious liberty has been augmented and refined by the variety of concrete experiences of its member churches around the globe. While religious liberty is considered as the main component of human rights for which the World Council of Churches has special responsibility, it is nevertheless, clearly recognised that it cannot be divorced from other aspects of human rights. Aware of this position, the Vth WCC Assembly in Nairobi 1975 in its Report on Human Rights made the following observations under the Section: “The Right to Religious Freedom”:
“The right to religious freedom has been and continues to be a major concern of member churches and the WCC. However, this right should never be seen as belonging exclusively to the Church. The exercise of religious freedom has not always reflected the great diversity of convictions that exist in the world. No religious community should plead for is own religious liberty without active respect and reverence for the faith and basic human rights of others.
Religious liberty should never be used to claim privileges. For the church, this right is essential so that it can fulfil its responsibilities which arise out of the Christian faith. Central to these responsibilities is the obligation to serve the whole community.”
It is clear from the above that the Council believes being a Christian also means to belong to a world wide “multi-national” confessing community. The unity of the church is meant to serve all human beings and to become a sign for a full unity for justice and love of all men and women.
The World Council of Churches is deeply disturbed by regular reports it receives from its member churches about increase in incidences of religious intolerance that result in innumerable deaths and destruction of property. Individuals as well as groups are subjected to persecution, discrimination and indiscriminate killings on grounds of religion, ethnicity and nationalism. In the post Cold War period, in intra-state conflicts, religion has come to play an increasingly negative role in the regions. The WCC has identified the following ways in which religion plays a role in conflicts.
- Religion as a component of nationalism
Also, the global projection of religious fundamentalism and political power from major Western countries in consonance with economic imperialism has exacerbated inter-communal and inter-religious tensions internationally and within societies as they attempt to resist cultural incursions and economic exploitation. Religious fundamentalism is now a common response to foreign domination, social marginalisation and sudden disappearance of an imposed state ideology which leaves social groups exposed to overwhelming foreign influence. Ethnic and civil conflicts are also a constant challenge to inter-religious tolerance.
On basis of the reports received, the Commission of Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches submits to this Commission its concern at the growing environment of religious intolerance and violence amongst others in Pakistan and Indonesia. This development is undermining the multicultural, multi-religious and pluralistic base of societies in these countries. The violence often unleashed against religious minorities in these countries have left them virtually defenceless. The challenge that governments and civil societies face in these countries is how to ensure the fair and effective application of legal standards to protect and promote the rights of religious minorities.
In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks in New York and the consequence of U.S. led war in Afghanistan that did not go down well with Islamic parties and militant groups in the country, there were a series of attacks on Christian churches, hospitals, schools and other Christian institutions that left scores of people dead and many others wounded. On 25th September 2002, terrorists attacked the office of Idara-e-Aman-o Insaf (Committee for Justice and Peace) that was set up in 1974 by the Diocese of Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Pakistan in Karachi. The organisation served the people irrespective of caste, colour or creed. Seven young Christian staff of the Idara were brutally gunned down at point blank range allegedly by Islamic militants. Till date neither the perpetrators of this gruesome attack nor of the other attacks have been arrested and brought before a Court of Law for their heinous crimes. Despite the call by the National Council of Churches of Pakistan to the Government of Pakistan to hold a judicial inquiry into these incidents and to bring to justice the culprits responsible no headway has been made in the investigations. The lack of adequate oversight of law enforcement agencies and the judicial institutions have rendered them unaccountable and beyond the reach of the government action. As a result the culture of impunity has now become all pervasive in the Pakistan society.
With the rise of religious intolerance the life of Christians in Pakistan has become increasingly difficult. Christians with other religious minorities like Ahmedis suffer violence and persecution because of their faith. According to the Report released by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan 2001: “Christians continued to face social discrimination and violence in various forms. Like many other minority groups, their situation in fact appeared to have worsened in recent years.” Despite Constitutional guarantees of equality, Christians in Pakistan continue to face social discrimination. As a result they have difficulty in finding jobs and are often subjected to indignity and inhuman treatment on basis of their faith. The government while paying lip service about its concern for the religious minority has done little to promote an environment of tolerance, understanding and pluralism in Pakistan society. It has failed to take any steps to control the projection of hate speech in the media, school curriculum and from religious platform. This has resulted in attacks and killing of Christians, particularly in the rural areas. Forcible conversion of Christians particularly young girls is also on the rise. According to the Human Rights Monitor, 2002-2003 published by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, there were cases of 125 and 73 forcible conversions in 2001 and 2002 respectively.
The dreaded blasphemy laws continues to hang over the heads of Christians as the sword of Damocles. Members of the Christian community particularly in the rural areas live in fear of case being registered against them by the police on the complaint of an unfriendly neighbour or the Imam of the neighbourhood mosque. Number of Christians continue to languish in jail in the provinces of Punjab and Sind having been charged with blasphemy since in most cases Courts refuse to allow bail. The government of Pakistan despite appeals by Christians and human rights organisations has failed, neglected and/or avoided to repeal and/or amend the procedural part of the law to prevent its abuse.
Indonesia is a country where Muslims and Christians have lived side by side in peace for centuries. However, since the downfall of Suharto government in May 1998, and the general breakdown of the law and order, the country has witnessed a rise in religious extremism. Differences and disputes between Muslims and Christians in the Malukus and Central Sulewesi have resulted in violence and killings. The situation has escalated as result of the involvement of Lashkar Jihad. Christian communities through out the region have been devastated and in some places entire communities and villages have been wiped out.
The Commission of Churches on International Affairs is particularly concerned by the recent developments in Poso. On 16th November 2003, the Treasurer of Central Sulawesi Christian Church, Mr Oranje Tadjodja and his nephew were attacked and killed. The same day Dennis and Bowo of GKST Church from Wawopada and Ranoncu villages were stopped by a Muslim mob in front of Poso Central Market and killed. According to the reports received by the Commission of Churches on International Affairs, during the last few months the region has witnessed an escalation in violence and systematic attacks, shooting and killings of Christians. The Indonesian Central government officials have blamed outsiders for these disturbances and have acknowledged failure on part of local authorities to maintain law and order. The failure of the security forces to safeguard the lives and property of the people has created an air of fear and despondency in the Christian community.
In the Malukus region which witnessed unprecedented violence during the last three years, there is presently an uneasy, calm, fear, insecurity and uncertainty. Muslims and Christians remain largely segregated in their respective areas with little or no possibilities of interaction. The pain, suffering and hurt caused as a result of intermittent communal violence have left deep scars on both sides that will take a long time to heal. The government has failed and/or neglected to help create an environment of security where the two communities could live together in peace and harmony. The longer this religious divide is allowed to continue the more problematic and permanent it is likely to become.
The unchecked influx of Lashkar Jihad in Sorong, Fak Fak, Biak and Jayapura has further compounded an already complex situation in the province of Papua. Young men from Java have been recruited for the militia ‘Satgar Merah Putih’ that operates hand in glove with the military and Lashkar Jihad to intimidate the Papuan people engaged in struggle for social, economic, cultural and political rights. The military by encouraging and supporting the induction of Lashkar Jihad in the region is using religion to create a ‘horizontal conflict’ to deflect attention from the demands of the Papuan people for justice and human rights.
The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches therefore calls on the Commission to: