Commemorating the Victims of Violent Religious Persecution

August 21, 2020

There is something powerful in stopping to remember that any campaign for religious freedom or human rights or peace is not merely about an abstract idea. It is about real people, individuals whose lives have been immeasurably impacted. 

In light of this, an international day has been set aside each August 22 to commemorate the victims of violence based on religion or belief

The specific causes of violent religious persecution are many. They are often complex and defy simple solutions, but they still must be combatted. In congressional testimony earlier this year, I highlighted three trends that account for much of the global religious persecution in the world today: (1) state-led repression of religion, (2) non-state hostilities facilitated by inept or complicit government actors, and (3) government as the arbiter of “right religion” through blasphemy and apostasy laws. 

But impacted by each of those trends are real individuals and families and communities facing persecution or hostility on account of their religious beliefs or identity. 

Sometimes these names become well known — such as 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad — far more are likely never to be well known. Yet for each of those individuals, their stories matter. They should not be left to languish in silence, but we must work hard to know and understand their stories, how persecution impacts them and how they respond.

Finding answers to those questions was at the heart of the Under Caesar’s Sword project, a collaborative global research project that investigates how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is severely violated. A team of 14 scholars, representing the world’s leading scholars of Christianity in their respective regions, traveled around the world to study Christian communities in over 30 countries, including China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, and India.

To mark the international day to commemorate the victims of violence based on religion or belief, RFI is hosting a special premiere of the Under Caesar’s Sword documentary on August 22, 2020

The film explores the responses to persecution from Christian communities around the world but draws lessons for people of any faith who are facing persecution. As the film makes clear, the only world in which one community is secure is one in which every community is secure. 

How should we respond? There are many actions that should be taken, but here are three: 

  1. Speak out: use the voice of influence wherever you are to share the stories of persecution and raise awareness of what is happening. Film can serve as a powerful medium to communicate stories. 

  2. Seek justice: far too often, there is a culture of impunity for those who commit acts of violence, or, if charges are brought, they fail to account for the specific atrocities that were committed. Proper documentation of violations of freedom of religion or belief, including mass atrocities and even genocide, should lead to prosecution in a court of law.

  3. Share in their needs: persecuted communities and individuals are often in need of humanitarian and development assistance, whether through government or private assistance.

These are just a few steps that can be taken, and there are many more Recommendations for Action to consider. 

On this day, I hope you’ll add your voice to those calling for the protection of all people from acts of violence because of their religious beliefs or identity and continue the work to promote religious freedom for everyone, everywhere.