Lord Alton of Liverpool is a Crossbench Peer and a member of the House of Lords Committee on International Relations and Defence.
On Boxing Day last year, Jeremy Hunt, then Foreign Secretary, announced that he had asked Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro, to establish an independent review into the global persecution of Christians.
On July 4th, during the Conservative leadership election, the Bishop published his findings – including the estimate that almost 250 million Christians live in countries where they are subjected to high levels of persecution.
Eighty four per cent of the world’s population has a faith; a third are Christian. But, according to Pew Research Centre, 74 per cent of the world’s population live in the countries where there are violations at the hands of Islamists or Marxists.
Every day, an average of eleven Christians lose their lives. Hunt and Boris Johnson welcomed the Truro Review’s 22 recommendations and committed themselves to implement them in their entirety.
This subsequently became a Tory manifesto commitment. The Prime Minister has declared:
“We will do everything possible to champion these freedoms…. We are determined to use the tools of British diplomacy in this cause, including our permanent seat on the UN Security Council.In light of mounting evidence that Christians suffer the most widespread persecution…we have accepted, and will implement, all of the review’s challenging recommendations. We will use the UK’s global reach and programme funding to improve the lives of persecuted people.”
The Truro Review’s recommendations go to the heart of Foreign Office and DFID culture – which is why it speaks directly to the Prime Minister’s decision to see how those departments and their priorities relate to one another.
For example, DFID can spend £2.6 billion over ten years in Pakistan, but effectively ignore the persecution which leads to a mob burning alive a Christian couple and forcing their children to watch.
In Pakistan, no one has been brought to justice for the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Christian Minister for Minorities; indifference greets the 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls forcibly married and converted; or the apartheid-style ghettoisation of minorities into squalid colonies.
Yet we refuse specifically to direct any of the aid we give to Pakistan for the alleviation of the suffering of these desperate minorities. Over Christmas, I wrote to Foreign Office Ministers about the case of an illiterate Pakistani Christian woman, Shagufta Kauser. She is in the prison cell in Multan previously occupied by Asia Bibi – freed after nine years on death row for alleged blasphemy.
Shagufta and her disabled husband, Shafqat Emmanuel, spent their fifth Christmas separated from their four children, aged between nine and 15 – sentenced to death. Held in separate prisons for nearly six years, both Shagufta and her husband are reported to be experiencing severe depression.
A doctor reports that Shafqat’s back is almost destroyed from bed sores, since he is confined to a prison bed from which he is unable to move. Although they cannot read or write, they were sentenced to death in 2014 for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages in English – a language that neither or them speak; nor do they have any knowledge of alphanumeric symbols.
At the time, Shafqat said that he had been tortured, forcing him to confess to something he did not do (and in the hope that his wife might then be freed). Prosecutors have been unable to produce any evidence linking the couple to the phone from which the alleged texts were sent.
Last May, in response to a parliamentary question, Ministers told me that the Government is monitoring the case. But is really “everything possible to champion these freedoms” or using our phenomenal aid programme to insist on the upholding of Article 18?
It is disturbing how unaddressed persecution rapidly morphs into crimes against humanity and genocide. In Recommendation Seven of the Truro’ Review, the Government is required to 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…the FCO should determine its policy in accordance with the legal framework and should be willing to make public statements condemning such atrocities.”
Recommendation 21(b) requires the Government to “champion the prosecution of ISIS perpetrators of sex crimes against Yazidi and Christian women, not only as terrorists”.
Yet, during a visit that I undertook to Northern Iraq and Kurdistan last month, I took first-hand accounts from survivors who told me that no one has even spoken to them about what befell them and their families – let alone the establishment of a Nuremburg-style Regional Tribunal to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The Government deserves credit for initiating the Investigative Team established by the UN Security Council Resolution 2379. But it has subsequently taken its eye off the ball: in suggesting that Iraqi Courts can competently deal with these matters, it has shown wanton indifference.
The Truro Review’s final recommendation is a ‘sunset clause’ which will lead to an assessment of how the report’s recommendations have been implemented. The Truro Review requires the Foreign Office to demonstrate that it has introduced new mechanisms identifying situations likely to escalate into mass atrocities like genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes – and how they have co-ordinated inter-departmental responses.
The Foreign Office is also required to review its long-standing and flawed policy of leaving the question of genocide determination to international judicial systems.
In responding to Recommendation 21(b), the Government will have to champion the ISIS fighters’ prosecutions domestically and internationally. A new Treason Act and Magnitsky powers will be perfect tools for prosecuting terror related offences, and also in ensuring prosecutions for murder, torture, rape and sexual violence and enslavement, as well as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
The Truro Review recommends a complete culture shift affecting “strategy and structures”, making “freedom of religion or belief central to the FCO’s culture, policies and international operations” Truro calls for “consistency and co-ordination: strengthening joined-up thinking: education and engagement” and the development of “a religiously-literate local operational approach” the training and equipping of local embassy staff with in-depth knowledge of religious history, religious persecution and religious culture of the country in which they work.
It is no secret that some senior civil servants in the Foreign Office do not share the Prime Minister’s commitment to implementing the Truro Recommendations.
On their watch, diplomats around the world (as Freedom of Information Requests have revealed) have not been asked for, or given, details of any action taken to “use the UK’s global reach and programme funding to improve the lives of persecuted people.”
But even if they disagree with the Prime Minister and the Truro Review, let them consider this: a 2014 report examined economic growth in 173 countries, and considered 24 different factors that could impact economic growth. It found that that “religious freedom contributes to better economic and business outcomes and that advances in religious freedom”, contribute to “successful and sustainable enterprises that benefit societies and individuals.”
And let reluctant officials look at the way religious persecution can so easily become a key driver for the mass movements of refugees. One in five of all countries have suffered religiously provoked attacks since 2014 and consequently many of the 68 million refugees worldwide have been forced to flee their homes– with all the attendant loss of human dignity which that number conceals. Persecution is not a marginal, or fringe concern.
The Truro Report has rightly put it centre stage.