LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Britain marked the one-year anniversary of the publication of groundbreaking report on the persecution of Christians by announcing the first wave of designations under the UK’s new sanctions regime for those involved in religious persecution.
The UK Foreign Office commissioned an independent inquiry into the persecution of Christians led by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen. The report was published in July 2019, and recorded the widespread persecution Christians face worldwide, and notes that Christianity is by far the most persecuted religion on the planet.
The review also made 22 recommendations to improve the lives of persecuted members of all faiths, beliefs, and those of no belief.
These include seeking a UN Security Council Resolution urging all governments in the Middle East and North Africa to protect Christians, and other persecuted minorities, and allow UN observers to monitor the necessary security measures; considering imposing sanctions on perpetrators of serious human rights abuses against religious minorities, including Christians; giving funds dedicated to helping persecuted Christians; mandatory training on religious literacy to all Foreign Office staff, at home and abroad; and requesting all British embassies in relevant countries to deliver tailored responses to any violations of freedom of religion or belief.
The government claims half of those recommendations have already been implemented and is committed to enacting the others.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced on Monday that the designations under the UK’s new Global Human Rights sanctions regime – which was a recommendation of the Truro Report – include two Myanmar generals, Min Aung Hlaing and Soe Win, who are accused of overseeing human rights abuses against the Muslim Rohingya minority.
“Everyone, no matter their faith or belief, deserves to be able to live a free and safe life, wherever they are in the world,” Raab said. “Our new global human rights regime will allow the UK to protect people of all religions, faiths and no belief against serious human rights violations and abuses, and ensure the perpetrators are sent a clear message that the UK will not tolerate their atrocious actions.”
Lord David Alton called the Truro Report “a wake-up call” during an online conference marking the document’s anniversary, but added that “many who hold power, direct aid, are entrusted to act on behalf of the countries with leverage are still slumbering and asleep at their posts.”
“The Truro Report unashamedly shines a light on the plight of Christians, but it reminds us that when one group is persecuted, others quickly follow in their wake,” he said.
The British government has stepped up its engagement on the issue of religious liberty, and 2018 saw the appointment of the prime minister’s first Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief. In comparison, the United States legislated for an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom in 1998, a position currently held by former Kansas governor and senator Sam Brownback.
Rehman Chishti, the current Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, said the UK government “aspires to be the global champion for freedom of religion or belief for all.”
“I want every citizen around the world to enjoy this basic right. The freedom to practice faith or belief without discrimination is one of the foundations of a free society,” Chishti said.
“During my time in office, I have taken forward 11 of the 22 Truro review recommendations, including overseeing the UK joining the International Religious Freedom Alliance, which allows like-minded member states to work together to promote freedom of religion or belief internationally, reinforcing the UK’s commitment to be a global leader in championing freedom of religion or belief,” he continued.
The International Religious Freedom Alliance was launched by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, D.C., on February 5, and involves 27 countries.
Marking the anniversary Chishti predecessor, Lord Tariq Ahmad – now Minister of State for Human Rights – said there “is a critical intersection of religious rights with broader security issues like gender-based violence, including trafficking and forced marriage.”
“We know that free societies are more stable, more prosperous and more resilient against violent extremism, and our work on freedom of religion or belief, alongside our ongoing human rights work, is key to improving the livelihoods of millions across the world,” Ahmad said.
However, Alton warned that notwithstanding the commitment of some UK officials, “it is no secret that some senior civil servants in the Foreign Office do not share the Prime Minister’s commitment to implementing the Truro Recommendations,” and said it is “vitally important to ensure that the Truro Report remains a defining document and doesn’t simply gather dust.”
“Many will want to bury it,” he said. “But not the 11 Christians who, on average, lose their lives every day.”
Alton noted that the report ‘s title asks if the persecution of Christians is “an unfolding genocide?”
“These beleaguered people and countless others are the reasons why we mustn’t let others bury or ignore the Truro Report – why fashionable and politically correct causes mustn’t become a pretext for ignoring this phenomenal global suffering,” he said.
He commended the government’s new Global Human Rights sanctions regime for “those responsible for egregious violations of human rights.”
“Many perpetrators buy property in the UK, keep their money in our banks, educate their children here and enjoy the benefits of an open and free society which respects diversity and pluralism and promotes respectful co-existence. Yet, in their own countries, those who have enjoyed the benefits of the rule of law and human rights, discriminate, persecute, torture, and kill. No longer. And that is truly welcome,” Alton said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome