Prayers For North Korea

Thursday night I attended a dinner held by the North Korean Freedom Coalition, to which Jubilee Campaign serves on the board.

During this meeting, one of the defectors explained to us what freedom meant to her in North Korea versus what it means to her now. The passion in her eyes glittered as she took pride in the fact that she was now truly free. She had endured such suffering and saw so much pain in North Korea she could only dream of what freedom could mean. It had been an intangible foreign idea that could not be fully grasped or felt but she somehow knew it was an important right she deserved.

She also described the balloon drops facilitated by South Koreans and North Korea defectors. At first, she said, she had not understood their importance and was upset because there were crackdowns and retaliations upon the North Korean people after each balloon drop. She explained they were punished for the balloon drops they didn’t request or control. Later, she realized the significance of those balloons was information about and hope from the outside world. For years the North Korean people did not get outside information and the party had control over all news. These balloons were and still are one of the few ways news was and is smuggled in. The Party’s crackdowns only show their lessening stranglehold over North Korean knowledge of the outside world. This crackdown is a scared reaction to the inevitable reality that they are losing control of information. As she concluded, she said, those balloons have become a symbol of hope for a free North Korea.

Listening to her story made me think of my absurd frustration over the traffic heavy drive to the dinner. I have so many first world problems that I complain about daily and take for granted the basic rights I enjoy daily that many people simply don’t have.

As I sat in the room listening to her story I thought of the grace the Lord has given me. I thanked Him for my first world struggles and for His love and grace. I know I was born here in this free nation so I could have a voice, a voice to be used for God’s kingdom. I was born with this free voice so I could speak for those without a voice and without freedom to openly worship Him.

Thank you Lord for the people of North Korea. Please put your healing hand over this nation. Thank you for the power of this voice you gave me. Thank you for the freedom I have to use it. Thank you for the passion you have put behind this voice. Thank you for your love and your promise.


UN recognizes decline in International Religious Freedom, Deadlocked on Solutions

By Ann Buwalda

During the United Nations Human Rights Council which is in session this month, more than 40 countries addressed the interactive dialogue segment with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, expressing widespread support of his reports and activities as well as an extension of his mandate.  A number of countries referred to growing violence, indicating a trend and coming very close to consensus.  The United States acknowledged, “religious freedom is sliding backward.”  The European Union stated it “condemns recent attacks.”  Austria pointed out growing discrimination and rising attacks in various parts of the world against minorities; and Italy condemned extremist and radical groups resorting to violent purposes. When it came to finding solutions for this growing problem, consensus was notably absent.

Several countries in the Middle East decried rising discrimination and intolerance towards Muslims living in Western countries.  Bahrain pointed to the harassment against Muslim women which it said has caused “appalling consequences which offends the conscience of Muslim people.”  To counter this, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia highlighted their efforts in hosting conferences to encourage interfaith dialogues.  Several Muslim majority countries endorsed the Resolution known as “Resolution 16/18” which refers to the U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution initiated by the Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC) and passed in early 2011 on “Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping and Stigmatization of, and Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence Against, Persons Based on Religion or Belief.”  Many believe that Resolution 16/18 curtails the freedom of expression.  Pakistan, speaking for the OIC, stated that there will be a breakdown of consensus if countries back away from the plan of action set forth in Resolution 16/18, which the United States explicitly also endorsed.  Although Turkey was pleased that Resolution 16/18 was referenced by the Special Rapporteur, it expressed disappointment that the Special Rapporteur made no reference in his report to Islamaphobia.  Turkey stated that manifestations of Islamaphobia give rise to alienation of the Islamic community.  Bangladesh also blamed increased violence on the increase in defaming of religion which creates vulnerable situations.

Switzerland declared that states should rescind all criminal provisions of apostasy and blasphemy.  France also explicitly called for the abolishment of all criminalizing blasphemy laws.  Italy referred to extremist and radical groups resorting to violence, and endorsed the “Rabat plan of action” on prevention of genocide to establish an early warning system.  More information is given about this below.

The Special Rapporteur’s report (A/HRC/22/51, December 24, 2012) to the Human Rights Council focused on describing the legal framework for “the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities” to exercise their religious freedom of belief and this includes practice.  This use of “rights of persons” which Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt refers to is undergirded by prior international human rights instruments which call for the protection of the religious freedom right as an individual right.  He stated in the preamble to his report, “the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities cannot be confined to members of certain predefined groups.  Instead, they should be open to all persons who live de facto in the situation of a minority and are in need of special protection to facilitate a free and non-discriminatory development of their individual and communitarian identities.”  After outlining the conceptual framework to protect religious freedom of all persons, he describes patterns of typical violations by states and by non-state actors.

Prof. Bielefeldt explained that he chose this theme because anti-minority discrimination or persecution is all too prevalent around the world.  Numerous patterns of persecution were described and illustrated within his comprehensive report.  He called for the non-discrimination within state institutions such as “the accessibility of public positions in administration, public services, police forces, the military and public health to everyone regardless of their religious or belief orientations.”

Some countries disingenuously responded by pointing out how their Constitution and other laws do not discriminate, including China, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Kuwait; each of which referred to articles purporting equality in their constitutions.  Germany noted its federal government strives to support churches and religious communities and recognizes that every citizen has the right to freely profess or join or not to or to leave or change religion.  Cuba claims it maintains good relations with over 400 religious institutions.  Algeria, India, and Malaysia refer to the freedoms within their laws or ethos, thereby affording freedom and protection to minorities to manage their own affairs.  Sierra Leone detailed its extensive experience with religious tolerance within and between its Muslim and Christian religious communities, offering others to come and learn from its religious harmony.

In reality, Christians and other religious minorities, particularly in Egypt and in Pakistan, experience a hierarchy of rights, which are explicitly recognized in law and expounded upon in court cases, particularly those relating to the religion category on identification cards. The Special Rapporteur refers to this issue in Paragraph 70 of his report.  As an example of this derogation of rights, Egyptian officials and courts have consistently refused to change the religious notation of those who are initially categorized as Muslims. This has occurred both when an individual exercised his Article 18 right under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to change his faith as well as when the individual has always been Christian and was never a Muslim.  Without naming a particular country the Special Rapporeur noted the pattern of infringement of the right of religious minorities to educate their children in their chosen religion.  The effect in Egypt of preventing a convert who left Islam from changing his or her religion on the national identity card is that the children are required to take Islamic religion classes in school.  In addition, religious minorities such as the Bahai in Egypt are unable to reflect their true religious identity on the national ID cards at all; a predicament which Ahmadis in Pakistan face when applying for a passport.

The Special Rapportuer correctly identified the plight of migrant workers who are denied the legitimacy of their religious practice and persecuted for attempting to worship.  In her oral statement, Ann Buwalda of Jubilee Campaign stated that a “recent example of this is the arrest of 53 Ethiopian Christians in Saudi Arabia in February of 2013 for holding a meeting in a private home, many of whom remain detained. Another example is the dozens of Coptic Christians in Libya who were arrested in late February 2013. While some of them have been released, others remain in prison and some had acid poured on their wrists to remove the Coptic cross tattoo. While in both cases allegations of proselytization were made, both of these groups appear to be largely made up of migrant workers who were peacefully and quietly practicing their own faith.”  During the interactive dialogue, Costa Rica explicitly decried the “deporting of religious minorities” which may have been a reference to the above situations although no incident or country was directly named.

Resolution 16/18, which the OIC bloc repeatedly mentioned, was negotiated between Egypt and the United States in 2010 and was intended to end the virulent division over the Defamation of Religions Resolution, which advocated restricting speech in what amounted to a global blasphemy law. In a meeting with non-governmental organizations on March 7, the Special Rapporteur noted that Resolution 16/18 could be read within a framework of human rights, protecting human beings rather than ideas, and represented a move away from the defamation language. However, Professor Bielefeldt preferred to focus on the Rabat Plan of Action, which was produced by a process of the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights workshops on incitement. The first workshops actually predate Resolution 16/18 and Professor Bielefeldt was careful to stress that there was no direct relationship between the two documents.

Jubilee Campaign’s Side Event “Respecting Religious Freedom: Legally Safeguarding a Threatened Right” recognized that the greatest causes of violations of religious freedom are institutional injustices, laws which deny the full exercise of religious freedom. We echoed the calls of Switzerland and France for the abolition of blasphemy and apostasy laws, which are in open violation of human rights. Our event also focused on India’s anti-conversion laws and on Europe’s hate-speech and incitement laws, which seriously threaten religious freedom in those countries and are often overlooked at the Human Rights Council. In order to enjoy the full exercise of religious freedom, which is protected by Article 18 of the ICCPR these laws should be repealed.

Although consensus has not yet been reached on the process to reverse the serious deterioration of religious freedom and growing religious violence, the fact that most states agree that the violence requires a solution will hopefully lead to efforts to achieve a reduction in religious based violence.  The Special Rapporteur is committed to the Rabat Plan of Action, and the various countries endorsing this plan should quickly pursue a rapid response to the early warnings mechanisms of identifying dealing with potentially violent and tense situations.

Heart Rending Accounts of Korean Abductees

Reblogged from David Alton’s Blog

Testimonies Given At Westminster

The human consequences of the Korean War still reverberate – sixty years after the armistice was agreed. This week I encountered some of those consequences when I met with two of the families of Korean War abductees and the pain of separation was still quite evident – even after the passage of so much time. A separate group came to describe a further abduction which occurred in 1969 and a son decsribed how he has been separated from his father ever since. They were at Westminster to give their heart rending testimonies.

Lee Mi-il’s father, Lee Seong-hwan was one of an estimated 100,000 people who were abducted by the North Koreans during the course of hostilities and never allowed to return to their families.

Mr. Lee and his family had been trapped in their apartment after the North Koreans captured Seoul and blew up the Han River bridge.

On September 4th 1950 a North Korean major came for Mr.Lee, accused him of giving money to those fighting the Communists, and took him away. His wife, who was heavily pregnant with their second child, and is now in her nineties, has never seen him again or heard any news about his fate.

She has spent a lifetime waiting for him to return.

Her daughter says: “My mother says she has given up hope of seeing him before she dies, but I know she still has hope in her heart.” His daughter adds “I have promised that I will not stop my journey to find him until the end of time.”

Mr. Lee’s story, and that of his wife and daughter, is one of several testimonies contained in a short book with the well-chosen title “Ongoing Tragedy”.

The day after I met Lee Mi-I, I met Hwang In-cheol, the son of another abductee – Hwang Won. His father was abducted sixteen years after the Korean War, in December 1969. His father worked as a programme director at Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and was travelling on an internal domestic Korean Airlines flight from Gangneung to Seoul. North Korean hijacked the plane and 39 of the passengers were repatriated 66 days later. Another 11 were never returned, including Hwang’s father.

The International Red Cross tried to open lines of contact but North Korea simply said it was impossible to say whether the abductees were alive or not. Then in 2011 Pyongyang claimed that the abductees were there through their own free will. An escapee has confirmed that he has seen Hwang’s father alive. Hwang has tried to get his own Government in Seoul to raise his father’s case but says they have failed to do so – and although he has written to the North Korean authorities on three occasions he has had no reply. The last time he saw his father he was just two years of age.

Cases like Hwang’s and Lee’s graphically illustrate that walls have not only been built which separate a nation but walls have been erected within families and communities separating kith and kin; leaving a bitter legacy which both sides should address by documenting the stories of abductees, establishing as much information as can be ascertained, and enabling those who have experienced the visceral pain of separation to find some solace and some closure. If North Korea wanted to send a signal that it understands the pain of human separation it would respond to Mr. Hwang’s requests and allow Mrs. Lee to end her days knowing what happened to her husband.

Continued Inaction, Continued Killings: The Cost of Lies and Impunity

On Sunday October 28, 2012 a church in Nigeria was bombed. At least ten Christians died and over a hundred were injured. Given the time difference, right about the time that we in America were getting up and going to church, the Christians in Kaduna were counting their wounded and burying their dead.

Since 2010, when the Boko Haram re-emerged with Al Qaeda tactics and training, there have been over 275 discrete attacks against the Christian community in Nigeria. These attacks were thought out, requiring planning, moving men and materiel into position and execution. At the current rate, we will most likely break the 300 mark before the end of 2012. That means that for the last three years Christians have been attacked on average once every four days. At last count there have been at least 25 attacks on churches in 2012. That is an attack on a church at least every other week this year. Please keep in mind that these number do not include the anti-Christian mob violence in April 2011 which destroyed over 700 churches and thousands of Christian homes and businesses.

This most recent attack was against St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Kaduna and the story is heartrendingly familiar to Jubilee Campaign and all who have been following the attacks in Nigeria this year. Once again, a vehicle was packed with explosives and rammed into a church before the suicide bomber detonated, killing 10 and wounding many more. This story is virtually identical to nearly every other church bombing we have reported on this year, and there is no end in sight.

Now think about that for a moment. It has been almost two years since the first massive church attacks took place in Nigeria in Christmas of 2010. There have been at least 25 attacks on churches this year, and there is no end in sight. How can this be?

Several months ago, the US State Department publicly declared that Boko Haram did not deserve the label of terrorist. They decided that attacking innocent civilians, bombing churches, and calling for jihad against the West was not a big enough deal to disturb the narrative the administration was busy fabricating for US domestic consumption, which is that terrorism was something of the past. That lie allowed Boko Haram to keep on killing Christians and has made the US complicit in the air of impunity that rules Nigeria.

What makes this all so horrifically pointless is that with the recent deaths of four Americans including a US Ambassador, that narrative has been shown to be utterly false. As an American I feel the outrage that the current Administration allowed 4 men to die in order to prop up a political agenda. But as a Christian my grief, and my outrage grows to encompass the thousands of Christians in Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan, and throughout the Muslim world, whose deaths have been ignored, downplayed or outright denied. Make no mistake, these hundreds of our brothers and sisters in Christ have been sacrificed to this same political agenda. The fact that this agenda has just failed in rather spectacular fashion is cold comfort to those who have buried fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and children.

The truth is out now. Terrorism is alive and well, and Islamic extremist groups continue to claim thousands of victims a year. Some of those victims are Americans, but we cannot forget the many, many more victims who are not. Regardless of what happens in the election, America needs to wake up and realize that the enemies of freedom are alive and well, and the Church needs to cry out for those of her members who on the front lines of this conflict.

As this Sunday, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church draws nearer, we urge you to keep Nigeria in your prayers.

Lord Save Your People!

Jubilee Campaign Engages the International Criminal Court at The Hague

In May 2012, Jubilee Campaign undertook an advocacy visit to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands. This trip was a follow up to the first visit in 2011 as well as Jubilee’s participation in the ICC’s meetings at the United Nations in December 2011.

Jubilee Campaign’s delegation met with the ICC to present our objections to five troubling mischaracterizations contained within the Nigeria Section of the Office of the Prosecutor’s Preliminary Examination Report to the Assembly of States Parties.  The misplaced emphasis of the ICC Preliminary Examination Report had dismayed victims of violence, especially in Plateau State and those forced to flee violence-prone Northern States.

The delegation included Executive Director Ann Buwalda (US); lawyers Emmanuel Ogebe (US), Gregory Lar (Nigeria); and Netherlands directors Peter Bronsveld and Deborah Voordewind. Jubilee made it clear to the preliminary examinations officers that the ICC Prosecutor’s report failed to accurately portray incidents and causes.  Instead, the report alarmed victims who had high expectations in the ICC’s first publicly released report regarding its lengthy preliminary investigation into Nigerian violence.

Jubilee Campaign pointed out that the illustrations contained within the ICC Report did not accurately reflect the nature or the causes of the violence which the ICC has been examining since 2004.  The delegation told the ICC, “By singling out ‘the Middle-Belt states’ and ‘the Plateau State specifically’ as experiencing ‘recurrent clashes,’ the impression is to downplay if not utterly disregard the violence occurring within any of the northern states.  The office of the prosecutor had failed to mention even one northern state or specific incident despite the overwhelming statistics of incidents occurring in 12 states in the north of the country in 2012 that took hundreds of lives.”

The term “clash” used by the prosecutor’s report is also problematic in that it implies a moral equivalence between sides, and Jubilee objected to this description in light of the numerous documented attacks at night while victims were asleep or otherwise utterly defenseless. “Clash” does not accurately describe the cold-blooded massacre of 2- and 3-year old children as has occurred in Plateau state.

Providing evidence from its interviews and other reliable sources, Jubilee also told the ICC that “The report conceals the source of the violence by implying that the primary reason violent ‘clashes’ have occurred in Nigeria is due to divisions between ‘indigene’ and ‘settler’ communities and ethnic differences, rather than any other causes such as the religious motivated attacks of Boko Haram.”  Nigeria’s federal constitution makes this distinction between indigenous citizens and those who have settled into areas, and the Plateau State in particular has not only given equal parliamentary representation but in certain areas even greater representation to communities viewed as “settler.”  The implication that the cause of the violence is due to this distinction as a policy of the state ignores the Constitution of Nigeria and the reality within Plateau State.

The omissions and distortions contained within the ICC preliminary report may result from its restrictive interpretation that the preliminary examinations office cannot directly meet with state government officials.  During Jubilee Campaign’s July 2011 meeting with the ICC in The Hague, their policy not to meet with state government stakeholders was highlighted.  The subsequent December 2011 prosecutor’s report illustrates how an inquiry limited to only the federal government’s information about the violence under review distorts the facts.

At the UN in December 2011, Jubilee co-signed a letter to the Chief Prosecutor on this issue and said, “We are US- based groups focused on global human rights issues especially in Africa. Recently, we learned that while non-governmental organizations such as ours have access to share information with the Office of the Prosecutor, local officials in cities where there is conflict cannot do so without going through federal or central authorities.  We find this situation absurd and unfair if inquiries are to be properly conducted. This situation is best illustrated by the recent crisis in Libya. If a commander of a Libyan platoon had wanted to share information on crimes against humanity with the OTP, it would be counterintuitive for him to be required to first obtain permission from the indicted President Qaddafi before meeting with the court. The second concern is, of course, that for any legal system to be fair and just must by definition treat all parties equally. This is the essence of the administration of justice. Accordingly, we feel that it is manifestly unjust for any party to have limited access or denied access to the Prosecutor who is investigating matters that occur within their purview. We urge you to review your internal processes and procedures to allow equal access. State officials have not been engaged, consulted or invited to provide information for the preliminary investigation.”

While local officials confirmed to us before our May visit that they have still not been consulted by anyone from the ICC, Jubilee hopes that with the impending change in leadership at the ICC in June, these inequities can be redressed.

Jubilee Campaign’s analysis concluded, “Therefore, in view of the stated objections, we implore the Office of the Prosecutor to reword its interim report so that violence in the twelve northern most states is properly acknowledged; that the primal cause of the on-going violence in the northern states of Nigeria is acknowledged as being religiously-motivated, not ethnic tensions; that the Boko Haram be mentioned as an actor in the on-going violence across the northern states; that the post-election violence be better represented as occurring in the northern states, not the south; and that the issue of federal and state court jurisdiction in Nigeria be addressed and an acknowledgement of the efforts of both the federal and the Plateau State governments in prosecutions be made.” Any future report from the ICC prosecutor’s office must reflect the reality from all stakeholders, including victims and the state governments where the crimes occurred.

Jubilee is appreciative of the ICC’s attentiveness and kind reception and looks forward to further future engagement on issues of mutual interest and concern.