UN chief urges world to stamp out religious persecution
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the world on the first international day to remember the victims of religious persecution to "step up to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, the persecution of Christians and other religious groups."
The U.N. chief on Thursday cited a rise in attacks against individuals and groups around the world, saying: "Jews have been murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalised; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched."
Guterres said the first International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion and Belief was an opportunity to show support by doing "all in our power to prevent such attacks and demanding that those responsible are held accountable."
Fifteen U.N. human rights experts marked the day with a call on all countries to ensure that religions and beliefs are not used to violate human rights - and to combat religious extremism.
The independent experts appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council said in a joint statement that "the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief is misunderstood as protecting religions and belief instead of the people with the beliefs and those without."
The flight of Rohingya: Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh
Seeking refuge: a series of co-ordinated attacks by Rohingya insurgents on Myanmar security forces in the north of Myanmar's Rakhine State triggered a crackdown by Myanmar forces that has sent a stream of Rohingya villagers fleeing to Bangladesh. About 400 people have been killed in the clashes in Buddist-majority Myanmar
Mass evacuation: a Rohingya man passes a child though a barbed wire border fence on the border with Bangladesh. Myanmar accused the Rohingya insurgents of torching seven villages, one outpost, and two parts of Maungdaw town
Buddhist refugees on their way south: the crackdown by Myanmar forces also sparked a mass evacuation of thousands of Buddhist residents of the area. Tension has long been high between the Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists, leading to bloody rioting in 2012. Rakhine Buddhists, feeling unsafe after the upsurge in fighting, are moving south to the state's capital, Sittwe, where Buddhists are a majority and have greater security
No entry: Bangladeshi border guards block people from crossing. Thousands of Rohingyas have sought to flee the fighting to Bangladesh, with nearly 30,000 crossing over. Bangladesh, which is already host to more than 400,000 Rohingya said it will not accept any more refugees, despite an appeal by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for Dhaka to allow Rohingya to seek safety
Humanitarian crisis: an aid worker with an international agency in Bangladesh reports: "what we're seeing is that many Rohingya people are sick. This is because they got stuck in the border before they could enter. It's mostly women and children." The Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots there that go back centuries
Not welcome in Bangladesh: a group of Rohingya refugees takes shelter at the Kutuupalang makeshift refugee camp in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Bangladesh's unwillingness to host more refugees became apparent in the government's plan to relocate Rohingyas to a remote island that is mostly flooded during the monsoon season
Stranded in no man's land: Rohingya children make their way through water as they try to come to the Bangladesh side from no man's land. Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees are believed to be stuck at the border to Bangladesh. By Nadine Berghausen
The experts, on issues ranging from freedom of religion to minorities to violence against women, emphasised the words of the General Assembly resolution sponsored by Poland and adopted in June that established the international day on 22 August. It said that "terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group."
At an informal U.N. Security Council meeting marking the day, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said by video from Geneva that "despite much progress, I am deeply alarmed by the worldwide rise of xenophobia, racism, religious intolerance that is menacing to our lives" as well as to democracy, social instability and peace.
"If we can't accept diversity ... there shall be no peace in the world," she said.
Bachelet said a key to trying to combat religious persecution is to look for "early warning signs" like discrimination and words of intolerance and take early action.
Samuel Brownback, the U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom, told the council that according to the Pew Forum, "83% of the global community live in countries with high or very high restrictions on the free practice of faith - and it's getting worse, not better."
China's Uighur heartland turns into security state
China says it faces a serious threat from Islamist extremists in its Xinjiang region. Beijing accuses separatists among the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of stirring up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority. By Nadine Berghausen
Economy or security? China routinely denies pursuing repressive policies in Xinjiang and points to the vast sums it spends on economic development in the resource-rich region. James Leibold, an expert on Chinese ethnic policy says the focus on security runs counter to Beijing's goal of using the OBOR initiative to boost Xinjiang's economy, because it would disrupt the flow of people and ideas
China's far western Xinjiang region ramps up security: three times a day, alarms ring out through the streets of China's ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar and shopkeepers rush out of their stores swinging government-issued wooden clubs. In mandatory anti-terror drills conducted under police supervision, they fight off imaginary knife-wielding assailants
One Belt, One Road Initiative: an ethnic Uighur man walks down the path leading to the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamakan Desert. A historic trading post, the city of Kashgar is central to China's "One Belt, One Road Initiative", which is President Xi Jinping's signature foreign and economic policy involving massive infrastructure spending linking China to Asia, the Middle East and beyond
China fears disruption of "One Belt, One Road" summit: a man herds sheep in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. China's worst fears are that a large-scale attack would blight this year's diplomatic set piece, an OBOR summit attended by world leaders planned for Beijing. Since ethnic riots in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009, Xinjiang has been plagued by bouts of deadly violence
Ethnic minority in China: a woman prays at a grave near the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamankan Desert. Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking distinct and mostly Sunni Muslim community and one of the 55 recognised ethnic minorities in China. Although Uighurs have traditionally practiced a moderate version of Islam, experts believe that some of them have been joining Islamic militias in the Middle East
Communist Party vows to continue war on terror: Chinese state media say the threat remains high, so the Communist Party has vowed to continue its "war on terror" against Islamist extremism. For example, Chinese authorities have passed measures banning many typically Muslim customs. The initiative makes it illegal to "reject or refuse" state propaganda, although it was not immediately clear how the authorities would enforce this regulation
CCTV cameras are being installed: many residents say the anti-terror drills are just part of an oppressive security operation that has been ramped up in Kashgar and other cities in Xinjiang's Uighur heartland in recent months. For many Uighurs it is not about security, but mass surveillance. "We have no privacy. They want to see what you're up to," says a shop owner in Kashgar
Ban on many typically Muslim customs: the most visible change is likely to come from the ban on "abnormal growing of beards," and the restriction on wearing veils. Specifically, workers in public spaces, including stations and airports, will be required to "dissuade" people with veils on their faces from entering and report them to the police
Security personnel keep watch: authorities offer rewards for those who report "youth with long beards or other popular religious customs that have been radicalised", as part of a wider incentive system that rewards actionable intelligence on imminent attacks. Human rights activists have been critical of the tactics used by the government in combatting the alleged extremists, accusing it of human rights abuses
He pointed to "the horrific actions of violence and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims" in Myanmar, persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan "either at the hands of non-state actors or through discriminatory laws and policies," Boko Haram's attacks on mosques and churches in Nigeria and the Islamic State extremist group's targeting of Iraq's Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Turkmen "for atrocity crimes."
Brownback said the United States is "deeply concerned" about China's "escalating, widespread and undue restrictions" on religious groups, including Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants and Falun Gong.
The United States also strongly opposes Iran's "severe violations and abuses of religious freedom", including the death penalty for blasphemy, apostasy from Islam and proselytising Muslims and discrimination and harassment of unrecognised minorities such as the Bahai'is and Christian converts.
British Minister of State Lord Tariq Ahmad, a special envoy on religious freedom, said religious minorities face challenges ranging from discrimination to armed conflicts, mass murders and violent assaults.
"The heinous attacks this year on places of worship from the Philippines to Burkino Faso, New Zealand to Sri Lanka, have reminded us all that the fundamental human right of freedom of religion or belief is increasingly under threat," he told the council. "As we commemorate the victims of such acts of violence, we demonstrate our commitment to supporting research to change people's lives and help build a world free of religious intolerance and hatred." (AP)