Should UK aid go to where Christians are persecuted?

January 26, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

United Kingdom, January 24, 2013: The UK government gives hundreds of millions of pounds in aid to countries where Christians are grossly and systematically persecuted. It says that the partner government’s commitment to respecting human rights is “robustly assessed” when the provision or withdrawal of financial aid is being considered. So how do countries such as Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar), Eritrea,Pakistan and Sudan qualify, and should the British government exert more pressure on those regimes to which it sends money?

In the last financial year (2011-12), the UK sent vast sums to some of the very worst countries in which to be a Christian:

Afghanistan £ 146,131,000
Burma (Myanmar) £ 36,150,000
Eritrea £ 3,686,000
Iraq £ 3,087,000
Nigeria £ 161,789,000
Pakistan £ 211,682,000
Somalia £ 101,483,000
Sudan £ 32,607,000
Vietnam £ 37,413,000

In some cases, such as Northern and central Nigeria, Iraq and Somalia, most Christian suffering is at the hands of Islamist militants, and while the governments of these nations could be accused of weakness in defending their vulnerable citizens, the persecution is not directly state-sponsored.

But the same cannot be said of some other regimes on the list. Eritrea is perhaps the very worst. The latest US State Department International Religious Freedom Report says ofEritrea:

The government demonstrated a trend toward deterioration in respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom. The government continued to harass and detain members of registered and unregistered religious groups, some of whom reportedly died as a result of torture and lack of medical treatment while in detention… Many places of worship had to close because of government intimidation and the mass conscription of religious workers and parishioners.

The wreckage of a demolished church and its medical clinic in Khartoum

The wreckage of a demolished church and its medical clinic in Khartoum

Thousands of Christians are believed to be imprisoned in Eritrea’s notoriously cruel detention system; they are held in metal shipping containers with extreme temperature changes and tortured in an effort to make them recant their faith.

The government of Sudan is another extreme persecutor of Christians, and since the secession of South Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir has made it clear that Christians are not welcome in the country. Reinforcing earlier pronouncements, he said in July 2012:

We want to present a constitution that serves as a template to those around us. And our template is clear, a 100 per cent Islamic constitution, without communism or secularism or Western [influences].

A number of churches and other Christian buildings have been destroyed. On Monday (21 January), Barnabas Fund received a report of a church and its medical clinic in Khartoum being flattened (pictured).

Afghanistan is similarly governed on the basis of sharia law, and, in accordance with its tenets, the government threatens to wield the death penalty against those who convert from Islam.

In Pakistan, the notorious “blasphemy laws” continue to cause grave problems for Christians and other non-Muslims. “Defiling the name of Muhammad” carries a mandatory death penalty, and though nobody has yet been executed for this offence, those accused can spend years languishing in prison while their cases grind through the Pakistani justice system at a painfully slow pace. Christians are particularly vulnerable to malicious, false accusation.

The funeral of three Kachin boys killed in a bombing by the Burmese military

The funeral of three Kachin boys killed in a bombing by the Burmese military

Another problem that besets the Christian community inPakistan is the abduction of Christian women by Muslim men; the women are forcibly converted to Islam and married against their will to their captors. In both cases of this kind and the aforementioned blasphemy accusations, the police and lower courts often do little to protect Christians or grant them justice.

The Burmese military’s violent campaign against the country’s ethnic minorities, the majority of whom are Christians, shows no signs of abating; the groups are targeted for both their ethnicity and their faith. The military launched an offensive in Kachin state in June 2011 and has been brutally attacking the predominantly Christian population ever since. On 15 January, three boys, aged 11, 12 and 13, were killed in a bombing; they were buried alive when the bunker in which they were sheltering collapsed on them.

GOVERNMENT “ROBUSTLY ASSESSES” HUMAN RIGHTS

The UK government gave over £4 billion in bilateral aid last yearThese are examples of just some of the gross human rights violations suffered by Christians in a number of the countries to which the UK government gives substantial aid.

Barnabas Fund asked the Department for International Development (DFID) whether the human rights record, particularly the treatment of Christians, of an individual country is a factor in determining the level of aid the country receives, and whether the UK government would consider withdrawing aid from certain countries where Christians are systematically persecuted.

In response, DFID said that it “robustly assesses” partner governments’ commitment to four key areas, one of which is “respecting human rights”, before providing or withdrawing financial aid. It said:

We only consider providing financial aid to a government when these criteria are met, based on evidence and analysis.

When we have specific concerns about a government’s failure to protect its citizens’ rights, we raise these either directly or in conjunction with international partners at the highest levels of government concerned. We may judge that specific human rights concerns are sufficiently serious to merit a suspension of our financial aid to that government. If financial aid is suspended, we make sure those funds are provided in alternative ways so that the poorest do not suffer as a result.

Barnabas Fund then questioned how some of the previously mentioned countries qualified for UK aid, given the substantial evidence of state-sponsored human rights violations in respect of religious freedom and other rights.

A DFID source explained that the UK does not provide direct budget support to the governments of certain countries, including Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan and Burma; bilateral programmes there are delivered via partners on the ground, such as the UN or NGOs. In the case of other countries such as Pakistan and Vietnam, however, the UK does provide “a small amount of budget support”, based on “progress that has been made against specific criteria and credible commitment to reform”.

The relationship between the payment of aid and human rights is certainly a complex one. The total withdrawal of UK aid from countries where Christians are persecuted may worsen the plight of the most disadvantaged and marginalised; yet propping up regimes that abuse their most vulnerable citizens hardly encourages change.

Barnabas Fund’s 2012 campaign, Proclaim Freedom, called upon governments to, among other things, promote freedom of religion for all, using diplomatic relations, bi-lateral ties, aid and agreed international obligations on core human rights. Over 53,000 people signed our petition.

While the UK government pays lip service to the importance of human rights, it is questionable whether it is truly putting its money where its mouth is in the payment of aid to countries that persecute Christians.

– barnabas edit

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