The United Nations has rather a dubious reputation in conservative circles. Understandably so, as powerful regimes like China use their influence at the U.N. to limit the participation of human rights groups or countries gang up to disproportionately condemn the small country of Israel. Yet, it is exactly this environment that makes it even more important for good organizations to speak out.
Family Research Council added its voice to the mix last week by submitting comments to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, regarding his upcoming report on how religious minorities are uniquely impacted by situations of conflict and insecurity.
The plight of religious minorities in conflict is an unfortunately timely topic. Just weeks ago, radical Fulani militants killed 10 Christians, including children, and set 100 homes on fire. In its submission, FRC drew particular attention to dangerous preconditions in Nigeria that can endanger religious groups in times of insecurity:
"More than 11,000 Christians have been killed in the Federal Republic of Nigeria since June 2015, and close to 300 churches have been attacked or destroyed since January 2012...
The Nigerian government's inability to properly assess the nature of threats to religious groups is a precondition to violence against Christians and others. Unfortunately, the authorities either do not care about religious violence or lack the resources to properly deal with repeated terrorist attacks against Christians. Either possibility creates a volatile environment which endangers vulnerable Nigerian citizens, particularly those living in rural areas."
Due to Nigeria's status as a democracy, it can often be difficult to draw attention to its human rights situation. However, the Nigerian government's knowing toleration of egregious human rights abuses should not be ignored.
FRC's submission also drew attention to the distinct challenges women from religious minority groups face in situations of insecurity, particularly noting Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan and Uyghur Muslim women in China. Exposing just how tragic the impacts of religious persecution on women can be, FRC highlighted how forced marriage and conversion impacted one Pakistani girl:
"BBC News reported the story of a 12-year-old Christian girl named Farah who was forcefully abducted from her home and was made to convert to Islam and marry her abductor. Regarding her struggle, she stated, "I was chained most of the time and ordered to clean the abductor's home as well as take care of the animals in the yard outside. It was terrible. They'd put chains on my ankles, and tied me with a rope. I tried to cut the rope and get the chains off, but I couldn't manage it. I prayed every night, saying, 'God, please help me.'"
Stories like this bring to life the real-world pain and trauma that statistics alone cannot convey.
"Expert estimates suggest that between 1 and 3 million Uyghur and other ethnic minority Muslims in the Xinjiang region are currently detained in internment camps and subjected to "re-education." Survivors of the camps who managed to escape report instances of torture and abuse. Witness testimonies suggest sexual violence against women in the camps are widespread. Sayragul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh who spent time detained in an internment camp in Xinjiang, said the Chinese camp guards gathered one day and gang raped a female detainee, while other detainees who looked away or expressed sorrow or disgust were punished."
The Chinese government tries to suppress criticism of its human rights violations at the U.N., but few countries are more deserving of such criticism. All the situations mentioned in FRC's submission deserve far more attention and action from the United Nations. It is our hope that these comments offer insight into how international institutions might better serve persecuted groups around the world.
Human rights advocates around the world will tell you just how slow-moving and even frustrating their work can be. Yet, we shouldn't sit on the sidelines merely because the battle is difficult, or even unfair. It's critical that good organizations and individuals that value freedom and human dignity continue to make their voices heard. Our silence will not make anything better.
Click here to read FRC's full submission to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.