An important step, but one that needs to be followed by action

“The new day to commemorate the victims of religious violence is an important step to ensuring that more attention is paid to persecuted Christians in the future,” explained Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern. The executive president of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is pleased that for the first time this year, 22 August can be celebrated as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. The respective resolution was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in May.

Following an international conference held by ACN in Rome in September 2017, the lawyer and author Ewelina Ochab took the initiative to draw attention to infringements of religious freedom and in particular to the persecution of Christians and to appeal to the international community to act. Since then, she has spoken at many conferences to build up a network of supporters. The proposed resolution was ultimately introduced to the United Nations General Assembly by Poland. The proposal was supported by the United States, Canada, Brazil, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria and Pakistan. “It was a long process and involved many people, but ACN was the inspiration,” Ms Ochab said.

The lawyer Ewelina Ochabt the International Conference "Return to the roots: Christians in the Nineveh Plains" organized by ACN
The lawyer Ewelina Ochab, author of the book “Never Again: Legal Responses to a broken promise in the Middle East,” at the International Conference “Return to the roots: Christians in the Nineveh Plains” organized by Aid to the Church in Need in Rome, Italy, on 28.09.2017.

“As an organisation that has been dedicated to helping suffering Christians for over 70 years, we at ACN are very excited that the United Nations has proclaimed this day. A step that has long been overdue,” Dr Heine-Geldern said. “All religious communities regularly fall victim to violence, but as international reports on religious freedom confirm time and again, Christians are unfortunately the group that is most persecuted.” During the last five years alone, there have been two cases of genocide of religious minorities: the first of Christians and other religious groups by the troops of the “Islamic State” in Iraq and in Syria, and the second of the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar. Dr Heine-Geldern also referred to systematically-organised atrocities which are increasingly being committed in particular against Christians in Africa.

The ACN president considers the new day of commemoration to be an important milestone, which, however, should be seen only as a first step. “It is important that 22 August does not become an end in itself, but triggers a process that motivates the international community to implement a coordinated plan of action to end religious persecution and prevent it in the future. It is really the duty of the United Nations, governments and political actors to enforce the human right of freedom of religion. This symbolic day must be followed by action.” The president then said that one of the necessary instruments would be a UN platform for the promotion of an exchange with representatives of the persecuted religious groups. In addition, the United Nations need to work towards establishing an international tribunal dedicated to the issue of the impunity of groups ranging from Boko Haram to Al-Shabaab and IS from prosecution for acts of religious violence.

Last year alone, the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need granted more than 100 million euros to over 5,000 projects in 139 countries worldwide to help Christians in need.

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