THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY has passed a resolution establishing August 22 as the “International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.” Poland was the main sponsor of the resolution, which gained the support of 88 nations, including the United States, Canada, Brazil, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Aid to the Church in Need, which has been helping the suffering and persecuted Christians for more than 70 years, welcomes this resolution—which passed on May 28, 2019—as a first step towards drawing greater attention to religious persecution, particularly violence committed against Christians who suffer the brunt of persecution for religious beliefs. Mark Riedemann, Aid to the Church in Need’s Director of Public Affairs and Religious Freedom, discusses the significance of the resolution.
How can this resolution promote religious freedom and prevent religion-based violence?
So far, the international community’s response to religion-based violence and persecution in general, can be categorized as too little too late. This resolution sends a clear message every August 22—that acts of religion-based violence cannot and will not be tolerated by the UN.
By implication, the protection of those suffering religion-based violence is also a recognition of religious freedom: this is an acceptance of the sociological reality of religion in society; the positive role of religion in guaranteeing plurality and furthering economic development; and, as Pope Benedict XVI has stated, the fundamental right of every individual to seek truth, to seek the transcendent, to seek God.
What are the next steps?
It is up to the governments and civil society to ensure that this symbolic action is turned into a meaningful one. The ultimate aim is to prevent acts of religious persecution in the future. This will not happen overnight as the necessary infrastructure is currently lacking. An important consideration is the establishment of a dedicated UN platform to which, for example, representatives of the persecuted groups or NGOs working with them, could provide first-hand information about the situation on the ground. These case studies would serve as a basis for recognizing persecution trends and help identify the perpetrators of such atrocities—to learn how they operate, how they are funded, and in so doing help develop a tailored action plan to prevent such acts in the future or prevent them from escalating to the level of mass atrocities like genocide.
A further measure to be taken is to address the present impunity for those responsible for religious persecution. For example, the unrecognized victims of the ISIS genocide, should be given comprehensive legal recourse to justice. The UN needs to work towards establishing an international tribunal addressing the issue of impunity for acts of religion-based violence by groups ranging from Boko Haram to Al-Shabaab to ISIS.