The Bishop of Truro has published his Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO support for Persecuted Christians. He stresses that
“this is not about special pleading for Christians, but making up a significant deficit. There is a sense that for a number of reasons we have been blind to this issue – and those reasons would certainly include post-colonial guilt: a sense that we have interfered uninvited in certain contexts in the past so we should not do so again. But this is not about special pleading for Christians: rather it’s about ensuring that Christians in the global south have a fair deal, and a fair share of the UK’s attention and concern.”
Some of the headline recommendations are as follows:
- the Foreign Secretary should make Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) central to the FCO’s culture, policies and international operations, based on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and on Article 18 and, where applicable Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
- the FCO should develop a religiously-literate local operational approach to education and engagement and “Subject to cost and value for money considerations, roll out to all staff mandatory religious diversity and literacy e-training”;
- the Foreign Secretary should promote consistency, coordination and joined-up thinking, with an FCO Board chaired by the Director General champion for FoRB and supported by the FoRB team to advise across government, and an FCO-convened working group for government departments and civil society actors to engage on the issue;
- the FCO should use the United Kingdom’s position as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council to seek a Security Council Resolution calling on all governments in the Middle East and North Africa Region (and other regions, as appropriate) to ensure the protection and security of Christians and other faith minorities and to facilitate the establishment of security and protection arrangements for Christians and other faith minorities within the legal and governance structure of their respective countries, and to permit UN observers to monitor the protection and security arrangements for Christians and other faith minorities in their respective countries.
Interestingly, he is critical of what he describes as the “need, not creed” approach to overseas aid, quoting with approval Lord (David) Alton’s assertion that “A policy of ‘religion-blind’ aid has meant that the UK is unwilling to rebuild a Christian town, or a Yazidi village, unable to grasp that the Nineveh Plains were always a patchwork of settlements belonging to different religious groups – who lived in harmony with their near neighbours of another creed”. Bishop Mountstephen suggests that
“even where formal international aid assistance is offered to Christian efforts to rebuild it can be less than wholehearted. In these circumstances there must be a strong case for the British Government to review the channelling of so much of its international aid assistance through UN and other agencies which seem to have developed a ‘religion-blind’ policy: a policy which fails to ensure that those whose need has been specifically generated by their creed, through the suffering of persecution, receive their fair share of aid.”
He also stressed, however, that persecution was not one-way:
“those who profess Christian faith have also, historically, been the persecutors of others. One thinks with shame of the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Pogroms. But this is not simply a historical phenomenon. Some of the violence in the Central African Republic has very likely been initiated by Christian militia. And responsibility for the dreadful massacre of 8,373 Bosniaks in Srebrenica in July 1995 must be laid squarely at the feet of those who professed Christian faith.”
The BBC reported the Foreign Secretary as saying in response that there needed to be a “sea-change” in how the UK treats worldwide anti-Christian persecution and that the Government’s answer to discrimination had not always matched the scale of the problem: “We need to recognise that there is a specific Christian-related issue that goes beyond the championing of freedom of religious belief”.
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