A version of this story was first published at Religion Unplugged
THE resignation of the British foreign secretary who more than any of his predecessors seemed to have ‘got religion’ – Jeremy Hunt – resigned last week when in-coming Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to keep him in office.
Jeremy Hunt stood up against the pugnacious pro-Brexit premier – and lost. Johnson wanted to move him from the Foreign Office, but Hunt refused to accept an alternative offer, and quit.
His untimely departure has stoked fears for the survival of his new policy on Christian persecution which would see an international overhaul of an approach to asylum requests in particular, launched to great publicity on Jan. 16 at an event by Open Doors, a Christian persecution watch organization.
Hunt’s replacement Dominic Raab is on record as being against the so-called “values agenda” – code for human rights – and has almost always voted against any development of anti-prejudice and discrimination laws. Boris himself however has spoken out consistently against negative aspects of Islam.
Now Lord Ahmad, the PM’s special envoy for religion and belief, has written in The Times of London of Boris’ commitment to the Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB) agenda.
“He was instrumental in getting No. 10 to create the role of the prime minister’s special envoy on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) — a role that I am proud to hold today — to stand up for millions across the world persecuted for their faith,” Ahmad wrote.
Crucially, he continued: “I saw Boris as foreign secretary working to ensure that our diplomats in our priority countries understood the issues and the need to stand up against Christian persecution and religious discrimination, of all kinds.”
An independent report commissioned by Jeremy Hunt and written by the former head of the [Anglican] Church Mission Society, Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen, was launched at Church House on July 8. Its 22 recommendations to the Foreign Office were accepted in full. (See below for full details.)
The report marks a total departure from the previous laissez faire attitude to Christians around the globe, whom, the harrowing report says, amount to more than 80 per cent of the total of those persecuted for their faith.
Jeremy Hunt noted that many in the Foreign Office had ignored Christians out of political correctness.
“What I want to do is to remove any nervousness or sense of political correctness that might have said that Britain shouldn’t be championing the rights of Christians around the world for whatever reasons,” he said, “reasons of history and Empire and all that sort of thing which may have been an issue that we have been a bit shy about in the past and we mustn’t be.”
“And I think it’s also very important to remember that although we are a Western country and a very wealthy country and a Christian country, the vast majority of people we’re talking about are Christians in much much poorer countries, and they are entitled to our thoughts and prayers and action just as any persecuted minority are anywhere in the world and I think that must be part of our mission.”
Mounstephen’s full report includes an investigation of how the Foreign Office handle in-country requests from Christians for asylum on grounds of persecution for their faith.
The language is muted, but the conclusions are grim: Christians have been treated differently from all others, despite their poverty and suffering caused by oppression. While Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have been recognized, “Christophobia” has not.
With a set of far-reaching recommendations, this should all change. A strong section on religious literacy training includes five key ideas including:
“Ensure that both general and contextual training in religious literacy and belief dynamics, including the FCO FoRB (Freedom of Religion and Belief) Tool Kit, is undertaken in all roles where this understanding is important (i.e. with other key FoRB players and contexts where FoRB is under threat), and to be undertaken before or at the start of each such deployment. Subject to cost and value for money considerations, roll out to all staff mandatory religious diversity and literacy e-training.”
Said Lord Ahmad, himself a member of the persecuted Ahmadi minority from Pakistan: “There are many useful recommendations in the report and I know that Boris will tackle this challenge as a key priority if he wins.”
The TRURO REPORT Recommendations to the Foreign Secretary
Strategy and Structures: Make Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) central to the FCO’s culture, policies and international operations
1. Ensure FoRB, based on UDHR Article 18, and Article 18 of ICCPR and Article 27 of ICCPR where applicable, alongside other human rights and values, is central to FCO operation and culture by developing a clear framework of core values that will underlie its operations, to include a specific commitment to the upholding of rights of members of minorities. Investigate the feasibility of establishing a Diplomatic Code to reflect these values and enshrine them in strategic and operational guidelines.
2. Articulate an aspiration to be the global leader in championing FoRB, ensuring it is given due priority in the UK’s engagement in multilateral institutions, focusing particularly on those most likely to have impact on religious persecution such as the UN Human Rights Council, OSCE and the Council of Europe. Engagement to include inter alia
a. An emphasis on FoRB based on Article 18 and 27 (UDHR, ICCPR), advocating this in the HRC Universal Periodic Review process as appropriate.
b. Advocate that member states introduce a Special Envoy position for FoRB with a particular emphasis on members of religious minorities.
3. Name the phenomenon of Christian discrimination and persecution and undertake work to identify its particular character alongside similar definitions for other religions, to better inform and develop tailored FCO policies to address these.
4. Encourage the development of appropriate mechanisms, with international partners, using external sources as required, to gather reliable information and data on FoRB to better inform the development of international policy.
5. Bolster research into the critical intersection of FoRB and minority rights with both broader human rights issues (such as people trafficking, gender equality, gender based violence especially kidnapping, forced conversion and forced marriage) and other critical concerns for FCO such as security, economic activity, etc. recognising the potential for religious identity to be a key marker of vulnerability. Use such research to articulate FoRB-focussed policies to address these issues.
6. Establish suitable instruments / roles to monitor and implement such an approach, taking into consideration other international approaches, and specifically establishing permanently, and in perpetuity, the role of Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief with appropriate resources and authority to work across FCO departments supported by a Director General-level champion for FoRB.
7. Ensure that there are mechanisms in place to facilitate an immediate response to atrocity crimes, including genocide through activities such as setting up early warning mechanisms to identify countries at risk of atrocities, diplomacy to help de-escalate tensions and resolve disputes, and developing support to help with upstream prevention work. Recognising that the ultimate determination of genocide must be legal not political and respecting the UK’s long held policy in this area, the FCO should nonetheless determine its policy in accordance with the legal framework and should be willing to make public statements condemning such atrocities.
8. Be prepared to impose sanctions against perpetrators of FoRB abuses.
9. Establish a ‘John Bunyan’ FoRB stream within the FCO Magna Carta Fund716
10. The Foreign Secretary to write to FCO funded ‘arm’s length’ bodies to encourage them to consider developing an appropriate approach to FoRB.
Education and Engagement: Develop a religiously-literate local operational approach
11. Ensure that both general and contextual training in religious literacy and belief dynamics, including the FCO FoRB Tool Kit, is undertaken in all roles where this understanding is important (i.e. with other key FoRB players and contexts where FoRB is under threat), and to be undertaken before or at the start of each such deployment. Subject to cost and value for money considerations, roll out to all staff mandatory religious diversity and literacy e-training.
12. Establish a clear framework for reporting by Posts to include engagement with majority and minority religious leaders, local civil society and NGOs, plus engagement where appropriate with representatives of such diaspora communities in the UK with the articulation of consequent recommendations for action to be taken to support FoRB and counter abuses.
13. Develop and deliver tailored responses to FoRB violations at Post level717, in discussion with host governments as appropriate, in the broader context of developing strategies for democratisation, development, and peace building, to include inter alia718:
a. Advocacy for religious protection
b. Promotion of inclusive high quality education for all, including members of religious minorities
c. Addressing of socio-economic issues
d. Encouraging high-level acts of unity
e. Preserving Christian and other cultural heritage in Armed Conflict (Hague Convention)
f. Fostering social cohesion
g. Ensure that such approaches are collaborative and locally owned by members of religious majorities and minorities and leaders of civil society so as inter alia to avoid ‘othering’ and unintentional victimisation.
h. Invest in local FoRB capacity building to that end (cf. FoRB role in Columbo).
14. Ensure FCO human rights reporting includes Christian persecution, where this is relevant. This will include the FCO Human Rights and Democracy Annual Report, and reporting from posts on human rights taking due account of evidence from civil society.
15. Continue to ensure diversity and inclusion principles are part of all in-country recruitment campaigns including for members of minorities. In countries where there is a need to recruit local staff to undertake face-to-face work with survivors of conflict, hiring managers should duly consider how to manage or reduce sensitivities of this work during the recruitment process.
Consistency and Co-ordination: Strengthen joined up thinking
16. The FCO to establish a Board chaired by the Director General champion for FoRB and supported by the FoRB team to advise cross-governmentally – in line with the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on FoRB’s existing cross-governmental responsibilities – on the state of FoRB and rights for members of religious minorities globally and offer advice to other government departments as to how best to respond to the challenges presented.
17. The FCO to convene a working group for government departments and civil society actors to engage on the issue.
18. The Foreign Secretary, in close co-operation with the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on FoRB, to convene ministers across government to agree a consistent international approach to FoRB ultimately to establish a standard FoRB Scale of Persecution (to include discrimination through to extreme violence) for use across government departments.
19. The FCO to lead on, and invite, cross-government action in support of the UN International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief annually on the 22nd August and initiatives such as Red Wednesday in support of Persecuted Christians.
20. The FCO to use the United Kingdom’s position, as a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council, to seek a Security Council Resolution to call on all governments in the MENA Region to:
a. ensure the protection and security of Christians, and other faith minorities, in their respective countries;
b. facilitate the establishment of security and protection arrangements for Christians, and other faith minorities, within the legal and governance structure of their respective countries;
c. permit United Nations observers to monitor the protection and security arrangements for Christians and other faith minorities in their respective countries.
FCO also to consider taking a similar approach for other regions as appropriate.
21. Noting the wording of the Terms of Reference of the Independent Review that, ‘other public authorities may wish to take note of the points of learning’, the Foreign Secretary should write to ministerial counterparts in those authorities to encourage them to take note of the following areas. The Foreign Secretary should request a FoRB-focussed discussion at a future full Cabinet meeting to consider, inter alia, the following:
a. Where UK actions are delegated to international institutions/agencies (such as UNHCR) minority visibility among beneficiaries should be a priority. Humanitarian law mandating no ‘adverse distinction’ must not be used as a cover for making no distinctions at all and letting the majority community benefit disproportionately. The FCO, in its international engagement must resist any temptation to ‘outsource’ its obligations in this regard.
b. FCO to champion the prosecution of ISIS perpetrators of sex crimes against Yazidi and Christian women, not only as terrorists.
c. FCO to lead a cross-departmental evaluation and discussion of regional policy (for departments with an international focus) to recognise religious affiliation as a key vulnerability marker for members of religious minorities. In the light of the international observations identified in the course of this Independent Review regarding the negative consequences of the mantra of ‘need not creed’, active and urgent cross-governmental consideration must be given to rejecting this approach. The Foreign Secretary should reject the mantra in FCO foreign policy contexts entirely.
d. Encourage government departments (with an international focus) to self evaluate their policies on FoRB to ensure that they are continually advancing it.
e. Explore how social media strategies can promote FoRB and counter religious hate.
f. Request both the World Service and the British Council to consider developing clear editorial / policy lines on this issue.
22. All of these foreign policy recommendations to the Foreign Secretary should be reviewed independently in three years’ time.
Photo: Incoming Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab with American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on August 7, 2019. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]