How much aid did the UK government give to countries where Christians are persecuted in 2013?

Persecution of Christians smallToday the widely respected Open Doors 2014 World Watch List is published. It is the only annual global survey of Christian religious freedom and since its inception in 2002 it has ranked the 50 countries most hostile to Christian believers during the previous 12-month period. As you would probably expect, fragile or failed states where militant Islamic movements flourish are some of the hardest places for Christians to live.

Pressure on Christians intensified in a number of countries in 2013.  The situation deteriorated most rapidly across northern Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf, in countries where sectarian violence has advanced unchecked by impotent central governments.

Among the top 10 on the list are six countries where the government has little or no control:  Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

Syria is number three, up from number 11 a year ago. The continuing civil war has afflicted all segments of society, but Christians have paid an especially high price, often at the hands of imported jihadists. In October, Islamist militias killed 46 Christians in Sadad.

At number eight, Pakistan has a huge number of extremists, because the national government does little to control local politicians who provide room for anti-Christian pressure to grow. In October two suicide bombers killed 96 Christians at a church in Peshawar, believed to be the worst single act of anti-Christian violence since Pakistan was created in 1947.

The Central African Republic joined the list for the first time at number 16, having spiralled into anarchy since the March overthrow of the government by an Islamist-dominated rebel coalition. In the months since, rebel attacks on Christian villages have killed thousands and driven up to a million people from their homes. The UN peacekeeping force has since struggled to prevent escalation of violence.

North Korea, where exposed Christians face long prison terms or execution sits at the top of the list as it has done since 2002. However, all 9 of the other top 10 countries on the list are majority Muslim. Continuing a 15-year trend, militant Islam is a growing source of pressure on Christians, and has become the primary driver of persecution in 36 of the 50 countries on the list.

The result is especially violent in sub-Saharan Africa. Four sub-Saharan countries rank among the 10 most-violent countries for Christians in 2013: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Eritrea, and Sudan.

Somalia, at number two, is the first sub-Saharan nation to rank at the top of the World Watch List. It is largely governed by militia-backed clans, not a central government, and prominent Islamic leaders regularly proclaim there is no place for Christians in the country.

“In this country, a Christian cannot trust anyone,” said a Somali Christian. “One false confidence and you literally lose your head.”

If there is any good news relating to this, it is that over the last year, politicians in the UK finally began to publicly acknowledge that the persecution of many Christian communities cannot continue to be ignored. Baroness Warsi, the first Minister for Faith, despite being a Muslim has spoken up in defence of persecuted Christians around the world. The Democratic Unionist Party led a debate in the House of Commons on the persecution of Christians. And before Christmas, Douglas Alexander MP brought up the subject, telling his fellow Labour colleagues and others that any sense of political correctness, or embarrassment that avoids ‘doing God’ is badly misplaced and that ‘People of all faiths and none should be horrified by this persecution.’ Prince Charles too has urged Christians, Muslims and Jews to unite in ‘outrage’.

“It cannot be right that amidst such widespread and ongoing persecution of Christians, many of the international community simply look away,” says Lisa Pearce of Open Doors UK and Ireland. “This shocking research demonstrates how important it is that church and government do more to protect religious liberty, a fundamental human right.”

The question is what more could and should be done?

It is vitally important that Governments in free societies do what they can to promote freedom of religion for believers of all faiths and none as a fundamental human right as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It is also important to understand and recognise that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world and that much of this comes through oppression in the name of Islam. You can’t talk with any authority on the subject of religious freedom without addressing this fact.

Having a government making the right noises is essential for progress, but alongside these words there needs to be action and one such channel is the potential carrot and stick leverage that foreign aid gives to influence official policy abroad. Over the last two years I have provided the figures on the amount of international aid given by the UK government to the 50 countries on the World Watch list. Below is the new 2014 list. The number in brackets is the amount of bilateral aid (rounded to the nearest £m) given directly by the UK through the Department for International Development’s aid programme taken from their 2013 report:

  1. North Korea (<1)
  2. Somalia  (90)
  3. Syria (40)
  4. Iraq (7)
  5. Afghanistan (274)
  6. Saudi Arabia (0)
  7. Maldives (<1)
  8. Pakistan (189)
  9. Iran (<1)
  10. Yemen (40)
  11. Sudan (52)
  12. Eritrea (3)
  13. Libya (10)
  14. Nigeria (197)
  15. Uzbekistan (2)
  16. Central African Republic (<1)
  17. Ethiopia (266)
  18. Vietnam (52)
  19. Qatar (0)
  20. Turkmenistan (<1)
  21. Laos (<1)
  22. Egypt (9)
  23. Myanmar (30)
  24. Brunei (0)
  25. Colombia (25)
  26. Jordan (5)
  27. Oman (0)
  28. India (292)
  29. Sri Lanka (5)
  30. Tunisia (7)
  31. Bhutan (<1)
  32. Algeria (2)
  33. Mali (<1)
  34. Palestinian Territories (43)
  35. United Arab Emirates (0)
  36. Mauritania (<1)
  37. China (27)
  38. Kuwait (0)
  39. Kazakhstan (3)
  40. Malaysia (6)
  41. Bahrain (0)
  42. Comoros (0)
  43. Kenya (102)
  44. Morocco (5)
  45. Tajikstan (9)
  46. Djibouti (<1)
  47. Indonesia (6)
  48. Bangladesh (196)
  49. Tanzania(158)
  50. Niger (<1)

The total figure for these countries is £2.16 billion, which equates to 58 per cent of the £3.75 billion given directly to individual countries. This is not an insignificant amount of money and it’s a hard fact of life that funding buys you a place at the negotiating table. There is a limit though to how much aid can be used to deal with the complexities of religious belief and attitude and if there is a lack of governmental stability it will make little difference. But in a few places it does offer some options. The important thing is for avenues to be explored and for the resources available to be used effectively.

There has been a noticeable shift over the last year in political attitudes here towards the horrendous treatment of many Christians abroad, but it feels like the wheels are only just beginning to turn with any great purpose. Christians are of no greater importance than others, but neither are they of less worth. When any group of people suffer for no good reason, pretending it isn’t happening is never the right or acceptable reaction. The need for political action is not going to go away, but will more of our politicians be brave enough to acknowledge the truth openly and respond accordingly over the year ahead?

Categories: Government, Human rights, Persecution

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4 replies

  1. The qeustion to ask the islamists in the countries involved is ‘why this persecutions on christians’ or ‘what is causing it’?

  2. Although this article raises some good points, I think it misdiagnoses what is happening and suggests inappropriate solutions. Although you say that “Christians are of no greater importance than others”, that’s not the impression that I get from the rest of the article. There is a lot of persecution – of varying types and intensity – all over the world, but I don’t think it helps for any group to make out that they’re the worst affected.

    One of the problems I think is that this list includes places where persecution of Christians – although a genuine and terrible problem – is a part of something more fundamental. The anarchy in the CAR isn’t reflective of ‘Muslim persecution of Christians’ so much as a reflection of a total breakdown of the state and militias full of child soldiers battling over what’s left of society. Religion and ethnicity are often just used as markers to identify an ‘other’ to rally people against. That’s no help for the people being persecuted to know, certainly, but if we read what as happening as being at root part of some global plot against Christians, we’re both wrong and won’t support the right solutions.

    I take issue with the claim that Syrian Christians have “paid an especially high price”. Syrian Christians are certainly stuck now between a rock and a hard place: a psychopathic regime bent on staying in power at all costs and an increasingly extreme opposition. But that’s the point. Christian opponents of the regime have been treated most savagely by the regime, which has spent the last three years pretending and then creating in reality a sectarian strife. But there are rebel towns where Christians are protected by and work with Muslim rebels. Alawites are actually in a similar situation to the Christians. And the ‘community’ most obviously worst affected by the fighting in Syria appear to me to be Muslims. The sectarian agendas of Iran and Saudi Arabia are more concerned with a Sunni/Shia conflict than either are with Christians. And it’s the majority Sunni population of Syria that has borne the brunt of most of the fighting, the artillery bombardments, the barrel bombs, the massacres, the mass-imprisonment and the chemical weapon attacks. I’m not actually trying to argue that ‘Sunnis are really worse off than Christians’. I’m arguing that this is fundamentally a war (now) about power and control. Yes, it is becoming ever more sectarian in nature, but it doesn’t help to adopt the regime’s propaganda framework that this is all about ‘Muslims hating non-Muslims’.

    Finally, the suggestion to cut aid. Surely we should aim to give aid to those most in need and where we most genuinely think it can make a difference. I’m not opposed to attaching strings requiring recipients to respect human rights. But far better, less controversial and less divisive to make the conditions based on human rights – which should be enjoyed by everyone (and will therefore benefit Christians), rather than tie aid more or less explicitly to the treatment of Christians. Self-interest should actually encourage us to do this. My understanding is that the single most harmful thing for Christian communities facing persecution in most of the places listed is the perception of being ‘disloyal’ or acting against the interests of the rest of the population. Often this is unfair and totally false. Sometimes there is good reason for the perception to exist. And sometimes it is – or has been – at least partially true. e.g. Colonial powers empowered and favoured local Christian allies wherever they went – a long-term disaster for indigenous Christian populations. The last thing Christians in many of these places need now is outside powers proving that suspicions of Christians are well-founded, and that they receive special treatment as a result of their religious identity. Christians – like everyone else – need human rights, not favouratism.

  3. This article is a good starting point, but surely discussion is needed about what kind of aid if it is to have any nuance. ‘Assistance’ comes in many forms:

    – encouraging African countries to dismantle their food safety laws to facilitate American food export entry strategy at the expense of receiving country resilience

    – sending discredited ex-civil servants to persuade Russian bureaucrats to follow the example of our corporate-exemption prioritising HMRC tax structure

    – secretly supporting gene-tampering experiments using patented material with fish in far-off countries with lax regulatory regimes

    – most perniciously perhaps, informally linking aid provision to British arms export contracts

    I write as a former aid worker who has seen the good and bad of British aid at first hand.
    Rev Paul Cawthorne

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