Fiona Bruce: Let’s Make Free Belief For Life – Not Just For Christmas
Fiona Bruce MP is the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, and is Member of Parliament for Congleton.
I’ve been the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) for a year now – so many reports of FoRB violations have reached me. Stories of people losing their homes, jobs, livelihoods, freedom, and even their lives, simply because of their beliefs. So you would think I might be used to stories of suffering.
However, I can say without hesitation that last month’s Aid to the Church in Need report, Hear her screams, moved me more than anything I have read.
After I finished reading it, I sat down and cried, reading stories from brave women about their kidnapping, forced conversion, sexual victimization and unimaginable suffering.
Like little Farah, only 12 years old, a Christian girl from Faisalabad, who was kidnapped by men who broke into her grandfather’s house and took her away.
During five months of sexual slavery, she was shackled and forced to work long hours cleaning up animal feces in her captor’s yard.
Farah said: “I was in chains most of the time… It was terrible. They put ankle chains on me and tied me up with a rope. I tried to cut the rope and remove the chains but I couldn’t. I prayed every night saying, “God, please help me. “
Her ankles were injured where she was chained. The court declared the marriage illegal, but no action was taken against Farah’s kidnapper. However, this report must do more than make us cry: it must push us to action.
As Liz Truss put it recently, announcing a major ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief to be hosted by the UK next year in London: “There are still too many places in the world where practicing your religion, or having no religion, can cost you your freedom or even your life. The challenges to these freedoms continue to grow in different forms across the world. We must therefore act.
We must act to strive for change so that the hundreds, if not thousands, of women and girls who have suffered and continue to suffer in this way have hope for change.
We need to ensure that there is much more aid in terms of humanitarian assistance for these women, and more in-depth training in specialist trauma counseling. We must call on the authorities of countries to turn a blind eye or, tragically, even at times to tolerate such actions when the legal system is failing them. We must ensure that action is taken against the perpetrators to hold them to account. We must learn better to identify the warning signs to avoid atrocities and work with other members of the international community to do so better together. We need to better understand the dual criminality of women belonging to religious minorities – often also among the poorest and most vulnerable in their societies.
Many will have seen on the news the terrible fate of the Afghans, now at the mercy of the Taliban, who are trying to escape. I have spoken directly to members of several religious communities, including Christians, Sikhs, Muslims and Hazaras, as well as to the non-governmental organizations that support them.
Those who do not submit to the beliefs of the Taliban often risk losing their lives, and some have lost their lives. We heard of a few thousand Hazaras who had been driven from their homes and roamed the countryside, with a dozen or so found by other beheaded by the wayside.
As I told the Prime Minister in the penultimate PQP before Christmas, there are individuals who have goals on their minds simply because of their beliefs who are now waiting for the UK and other countries Give them the promised gift of refuge before the end of Christmas.
One of my Christmas wishes is that the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Program (ACRS) project includes some people from these minority religious groups. The UK can be proud of its efforts to evacuate 18,000 people from Afghanistan to the UK since August 15. More recently, specific vulnerable groups such as women judges, footballers and LGBT members have received protection.
However, as efforts shift to advancing ACRS, it is important that a portion of the first tranche include religious minorities due to their acute vulnerability.
As we approach Christmas this year with concerns about restrictions on our ability to see family, see family and friends, have a thought or a prayer for those in countries like Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. who wake up on Christmas Day every year worrying about their own survival because of their religion or belief.
It matters to all of us. As the Prime Minister said at the same time a year ago, “We all know that wherever freedom of belief is under attack, other human rights are also under attack”.
We must all work together – government, parliament and civil society – and we must ensure that this basic human right is respected for generations to come.
This is why I launched a national campaign with my newly appointed Deputy Special Envoy, David Burrowes, to ‘EndPersecution“with a particular focus on young people, by creating young ambassadors for FoRB so that they can continue to defend this cause. Let us therefore be resolved in 2022 to make freedom of religion or belief for life, not just for Christmas .