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Question of Religious Intolerance: Indonesia, Pakistan, India

27 April 2003

Written statement at the UN Commission on Human Rights' 59th Session, Item 11e:Civil and Political Rights, including the Question of Religious Intolerance, 17 March-27 April, 2003

The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the WorldCouncil of Churches (WCC) submits that since its inception the WCC has expressedconcern for the rightful, wholesome growth of freedom of religions, for protectionof the life of the spirit from oppression and authoritarian abuse. The firstassembly of the WCC in its report, Church and the Disorder of Society, Amsterdam1948, noted:

"Man is created and called to be a free being, responsible to God and his neighbour.
Any tendencies in state and society depriving man of the possibility of
acting responsibly are denial of God's intentions for man and his work of salvation.
A responsible society is one where freedom is the freedom of man who
acknowledges responsibility to justice and public order and where those that
hold political authority or economic power are responsible for its exercise to
God and the people whose welfare is affected by it."

The WCC over the years through its member churches in the regions has continuedto work towards the fulfillment of the above goal. Despite extensive gainsfor religious liberty during the past century, recent intensification and ethno-centrismhave imperilled and in some cases crushed religious freedom and libertyformerly achieved. The reports received by WCC from its members speak ofincreasing incidents of religious intolerance and violence resulting in flagrant violationsof human rights. Individuals as well as groups have been subjected to persecution,discrimination and indiscriminate killings on grounds of religion, ethnicityand political conviction. The WCC has taken a firm and vigorous standagainst such actions and has endeavoured through local and international actionsto defuse tension, promote reconciliation and inter-religious harmony.The Asian region has been the dwelling for major religions of the world - Islam,Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. For centuries people practising these religionshave lived side by side in peace and harmony. That situation now seems tobe changing. In the last decade religion has emerged as a significant and sometimesdominant factor in intra-state conflicts. It has been manipulated to promotenarrow political and nationalist interests and objectives. Religious intolerancehas grown almost universally and Asian societies are no exception. In thissubmission we want to draw the attention of the Commission to the growingenvironment of religious intolerance and violence in Indonesia, India and Pakistanthat have claimed many lives. It is undercutting the multi-cultural, multi-religiousand pluralistic base of societies in these countries. Intolerance has encourageda new wave of ideologies that distort and seek to rewrite history and incitecommunal violence, creating walls of separation and hatred between communities.The upsurge of religious extremism and intolerance has left many minoritypopulations virtually defenceless.

a. Indonesia

The CCIA has monitored developments in Indonesia since the downfall of President
Suharto in May 1998. Of particular concern are the developments in West Papua,
Central and South Sulawesi and the Malukus. The religious violence in the Poso
region, Central Sulawesi, has intensified since May 2002, around the time the
deadline for withdrawal of the armed forces from the region was due to expire.
Ten Christian villages were bombed and razed to the ground, 30 people killed,
19 injured, and hundreds displaced and evacuated to safer places. Similar attacks
took place in July and on 15th August 2002 at Mayumba village where 68 Christian
houses were burnt and a number of people killed as a result of bomb explosions.
The attacks were carried out by Lashkar Jihad who entered the region from Java
on the pretext of helping their Muslim co-religionists. The security forces were
unable to arrest the perpetrators of these heinous crimes and bring them to justice
before courts of law. In the Malukus Islands the terror and violence unleashed
in 1999 continues and has severely divided and brutalized the local Christian and
Muslim communities. The conflict has its roots in local tensions, competing interests
and access to resources. However, with the passage of time, it has acquired
strong religious overtones. The involvement of Lashkar Jihad has led to an escalation
of violence. It has devastated Christian communities throughout the region.
In some places entire communities and villages have been wiped out. Horrific
crimes like rape, torture and murder have been committed in the name of religion.
The death toll is around 10,000 with over 300,000 people displaced. The
ongoing violence has created despondency and fear amongst the people, who no
longer have confidence in the ability of the Indonesian security forces to restore
law and order and to ensure their safety and security. In some cases the security
forces are actively involved in fanning the flames of violence in furtherance of
their political and economic interests.

b. Pakistan

There has been an increase of religious intolerance and violence in Pakistan during
the last year. The victims are religious minorities that include the Ahmadiyas,
Hindus and Christians. Most victims belong to poor rural areas where security
forces are unwilling and/or unable to take action against Islamic extremists groups
responsible for these atrocities. Christian places of worship, hospitals, schools and
other institutions have come under wanton attacks of violence and brutality that
have resulted in killings of innocent civilians. On 25th September, 2002, Islamic
extremists shot dead seven staff of the Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf (Committee for Justice
and Peace) of the Karachi Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church
of Pakistan. To date, none of the perpetrators of this heinous crimes have been
detained and brought before the courts of law for trial.

In view of these increasing attacks on the Christian minority, the World Council
of Churches decided to send a pastoral delegation on a visit to Pakistan on November
2002. The report of the delegation on which these submissions are based is available
on request.

The much abused blasphemy laws remain on the Statute Book. Many innocent
Christians charged under these laws continue to languish in jails pending trial.
Despite repeated efforts to draw the attention of the government to the plight of
victims charged under blasphemy laws no action has been taken to amend even
the procedural part of the law to prevent its abuse. According to the recent report
of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Christians are not the only target
of Islamic extremist groups but also Shiite Muslims, including a large number of
doctors who have lost their lives because of the growing religious violence and
hatred in the country.

The government of Pakistan has done little to counter the present trend towards
religious intolerance. On the contrary, it has continued to pursue policies and
practices that discriminate against religious minorities. This is evident from the
fact that very few members of the religious minorities have been able to obtain
jobs in government services. Even the few who are able to break through this wall
of discrimination are victimized. The attention of this Commission is drawn to
the case of Mr Mohan Lal Shahani, a Christian, who was appointed a judge of the
Sind High Court on 9th January 1997. Despite exemplary performance he was
not confirmed and his services were dispensed with as of 8th January 1998.

c. India

Till a few years ago India was known for its tolerance and secular polity however,
in recent times it has witnessed an increase of its own brand of Hindu extremism
represented by the Hindutva ideology. The practices and policies of the present
government have undermined the country's historical commitment to a
multi-religious, multi-cultural, plural society. The violence against Dalits is on
the increase. They are not only segregated in all spheres of social life: places of
worship, education, housing and land ownership, use of common wells and roads,
but also subjected to arbitrary executions. Religious violence has also increased
against Christians and Muslims. Despite statements by government officials that
attacks against Christians, their places of worship and clergy are isolated incidents,
it is clear that Hindu extremists are pursuing a clear agenda in the persecution
of Christians. Of particular concern is the ongoing campaign of hate and
discrimination promoted by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) against minorities
and Dalits. The Gujarat carnage left thousands of Muslims dead, brutally
killed at the hands of Hindu extremists; thousands more were made destitute and
rendered homeless. These inhuman acts and atrocities were carried out with full
impunity under the eyes of law enforcement agencies.

The World Council of Churches is deeply disturbed by these developments and
has expressed its concern in letters addressed to the governments of Indonesia,
Pakistan and India. It calls on this Commission to urge the governments of these
countries to seek means by which dialogue may be promoted between religious
communities and their governments as well as between religious communities
themselves.