World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

You are here: Home / Resources / Documents / WCC commissions and working groups / Commission of the Churches on International Affairs / Human rights and Impunity / Question of Religious Intolerance: Pakistan, Indonesia

Question of Religious Intolerance: Pakistan, Indonesia

23 April 2004

Written statement at the UN Commission on Human Rights' 60th Session, Item 11e:Civil and Political Rights, 15 March-23 April, 2004

The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Councilof Churches has from the very beginning had religious liberty as its central concern.Defence and promotion of religious liberty continues to be an integral partof the mandate of the Council. Over the years, the progressive evolution in theecumenical understanding of religious liberty has been augmented and refinedby the variety of concrete experiences of its member churches around the globe.While religious liberty is considered as the main component of human rights forwhich the World Council of Churches has special responsibility, it is neverthelessclearly recognized that it cannot be divorced from other aspects of humanrights. Aware of this position, the 5th WCC Assembly in Nairobi 1975 in itsReport on Human Rights made the following observations under the Section"The Right to Religious Freedom":

"The right to religious freedom has been and continues to be a major concern
of member churches and the WCC. However, this right should never be seen
as belonging exclusively to the church. The exercise of religious freedom has
not always reflected the great diversity of convictions that exist in the world.
No religious community should plead for is own religious liberty without
active respect and reverence for the faith and basic human rights of others.

Religious liberty should never be used to claim privileges. For the church,
this right is essential so that it can fulfill its responsibilities which arise out
of the Christian faith. Central to these responsibilities is the obligation to
serve the whole community."

It is clear from the above that the Council believes being a Christian also meansto belong to a world wide "multi-national" confessing community. The unity ofthe church is meant to serve all human beings and to become a sign for a fullunity for justice and love of all men and women.The World Council of Churches is deeply disturbed by regular reports it receivesfrom its member churches about increases in incidences of religious intolerancethat result in innumerable deaths and destruction of property. Individuals as wellas groups are subjected to persecution, discrimination and indiscriminate killingson grounds of religion, ethnicity and nationalism. In the post-Cold War period,in intra-state conflicts, religion has come to play an increasingly negative role inthe regions. The WCC has identified the following ways in which religion playsa role in conflicts.

Religion as a component of nationalism.

Religious factors exacerbating tensions or conflicts whose root causes are sociopolitical
and economic.

Religious factors and sentiments being deliberately used to heighten tension.

Religious notions of state transforming political institutions and leading to conflicts.

Religious fanaticism or fundamentalism influencing state policies.

Also, the global projection of religious fundamentalism and political power from
major Western countries in consonance with economic imperialism has exacerbated
inter-communal and inter-religious tensions internationally and within
societies as they attempt to resist cultural incursions and economic exploitation.
Religious fundamentalism is now a common response to foreign domination,
social marginalization and sudden disappearance of an imposed state ideology
which leaves social groups exposed to overwhelming foreign influence. Ethnic
and civil conflicts are also a constant challenge to inter-religious tolerance.

On the basis of the reports received, the Commission of the Churches on International
Affairs of the World Council of Churches submits to this Commission its concern
at the growing environment of religious intolerance and violence, amongst
others, in Pakistan and Indonesia. This development is undermining the multicultural,
multi-religious and pluralistic base of societies in these countries. The
violence often unleashed against religious minorities in these countries has left
them virtually defenceless. The challenge that governments and civil societies
face in these countries is how to ensure the fair and effective application of legal
standards to protect and promote the rights of religious minorities.

a. Pakistan

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks in New York and the consequence
of the US-led war in Afghanistan that did not go down well with Islamic parties
and militant groups in the country, there was a series of attacks on Christian
churches, hospitals, schools and other Christian institutions that left scores of
people dead and many others wounded. On 25th September, 2002, terrorists
attacked the office of Idara-e-Aman-o Insaf (Committee for Justice and Peace)
that was set up in 1974 by the Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church and the
Church of Pakistan in Karachi. The organization served the people irrespective
of caste, colour or creed. Seven young Christian staff members of the Idara were
brutally gunned down at point-blank range, allegedly by Islamic militants. To
date neither the perpetrators of this gruesome attack, nor of the other attacks,
have been arrested and brought before a court of law for their heinous crimes.
Despite the call by the National Council of Churches of Pakistan to the Government
of Pakistan to hold a judicial inquiry into these incidents and to bring to justice
the culprits responsible no headway has been made in the investigations. The lack
of adequate oversight of law enforcement agencies and the judicial institutions
have rendered them unaccountable and beyond the reach of government action.
As a result, the culture of impunity has now become all-pervasive in the Pakistan
society.

With the rise of religious intolerance the life of Christians in Pakistan has become
increasingly difficult. Christians, with other religious minorities like Ahmedis,
suffer violence and persecution because of their faith. According to the Report
released by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in 2001: "Christians continued
to face social discrimination and violence in various forms. Like many other
minority groups, their situation in fact appeared to have worsened in recent years."
Despite constitutional guarantees of equality, Christians in Pakistan continue to
face social discrimination. As a result they have difficulty in finding jobs and are
often subjected to indignity and inhuman treatment on the basis of their faith.
The government, while paying lip service about its concern for the religious minority,
has done little to promote an environment of tolerance, understanding and
pluralism in Pakistan society. It has failed to take any steps to control the projection
of hate speech in the media, school curriculum and from the religious platform.
This has resulted in attacks and killing of Christians, particularly in the
rural areas. Forcible conversion of Christians, particularly of young girls, is also
on the rise. According to the Human Rights Monitor 2002-2003, published by
the National Commission for Justice and Peace, there were cases of 125 and 73
forcible conversions in 2001 and 2002 respectively.

The dreaded blasphemy laws continue to hang over the heads of Christians as the
sword of Damocles. Members of the Christian community, particularly in the
rural areas, live in fear of cases being registered against them by the police on the
complaint of an unfriendly neighbour or the Imam of the neighbourhood mosque.
A number of Christians continue to languish in jail in the provinces of Punjab
and Sind, having been charged with blasphemy, since in most cases courts refuse
to allow bail. The government of Pakistan, despite appeals by Christians and
human rights organizations, has failed, neglected and/or avoided to repeal and/or
amend the procedural part of the law to prevent its abuse.

b. Indonesia

Indonesia is a country where Muslims and Christians have lived side by side in
peace for centuries. However, since the downfall of the Suharto government in
May 1998, and the general breakdown of law and order, the country has witnessed
a rise in religious extremism. Differences and disputes between Muslims and
Christians in the Malukus and Central Sulawesi have resulted in violence and
killings. The situation has escalated as result of the involvement of Lashkar Jihad.
Christian communities throughout the region have been devastated and in some
places entire communities and villages have been wiped out.

The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs is particularly concerned
by the recent developments in Poso. On 16th November 2003, the Treasurer
of Central Sulawesi Christian Church, Mr Oranje Tadjodja and his nephew, were
attacked and killed. The same day, Dennis and Bowo of GKST Church from
Wawopada and Ranoncu villages were stopped by a Muslim mob in front of Poso
Central Market and killed. According to the reports received by the Commission
of the Churches on International Affairs, during the last few months the region
has witnessed an escalation in violence and systematic attacks, shooting and killings
of Christians. The Indonesian Central government officials have blamed outsiders
for these disturbances and have acknowledged failure on the part of local authorities
to maintain law and order. The failure of the security forces to safeguard the
lives and property of the people has created an air of fear and despondency in the
Christian community.

In the Malukus region which witnessed unprecedented violence during the last
three years, there is presently an uneasy calm, fear, insecurity and uncertainty.
Muslims and Christians remain largely segregated in their respective areas with
little or no possibilities of interaction. The pain, suffering and hurt caused as a
result of intermittent communal violence have left deep scars on both sides that
will take a long time to heal. The government has failed and/or neglected to help
create an environment of security where the two communities could live together
in peace and harmony. The longer this religious divide is allowed to continue
the more problematic and permanent it is likely to become.

The unchecked influx of Lashkar Jihad in Sorong, Fak Fak, Biak and Jayapura has
further compounded an already complex situation in the province of Papua. Young
men from Java have been recruited for the militia ‘Satgar Merah Putih' that operates
hand in glove with the military and Lashkar Jihad to intimidate the Papuan
people engaged in the struggle for social, economic, cultural and political rights.
The military, by encouraging and supporting the induction of Lashkar Jihad in
the region, is using religion to create a ‘horizontal conflict' to deflect attention
from the demands of the Papuan people for justice and human rights.

The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council
of Churches therefore calls on the Commission to:

A. Pakistan

• urge the government of Pakistan to set up a permanent independent Minorities
Commission that should inter-alia study the situation of religious minorities
and make necessary recommendations to the government. It should be mandated
to hear complaints of discrimination against religious minorities and recommend
actions to the government.

• Encourage the government of Pakistan to promote understanding and interreligious
tolerance in order to build a culture of peace, communal harmony and
non-violence in the country through its educational institutions and the national
media.

B. Indonesia

• Urge the government of Indonesia to defuse tension and conflicts in Poso,
Malukus and Papua and create an environment of security that can enable a
process of reconciliation and healing between the two communities.

Encourage the government of Indonesia to revive the National Dialogue in Papua.