UK Government pledges to accept all recommendations of Christian persecution review

Pakistani Christians protested for greater protection after suicide bomb attacks on two churches in LahoreReuters

The Government has said it will accept all of the recommendations in a major review calling for more action to be taken in response to Christian persecution.

The final report drawn up by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen, warns that levels of persecution against Christians are coming close to "genocide".

It asks the Government to take the lead on a new Security Council Resolution calling on all governments in the Middle East and North Africa to protect Christians. 

Other recommendations include imposing sanctions on the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses towards Christians. 

Minister for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan, told MPs during a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday that the Government would accept the full recommendations of the report. 

Outlining the Government's response to the findings, he said that the reticence to speak out on Christian persecution must end. 

"The world is an increasingly challenging place for people of faith, and in some parts of the world for those of no faith," he said.

"In the past two years, appalling atrocities, as we have heard today, have been committed against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the horrific shootings in two Christchurch mosques shocked us all, but there are so many other stories of suffering that gain far less news coverage, and the statistics tell us, as we have heard again today, that Christians suffer more persecution than any other religious group in the world, yet we hear far less about this than one would expect.

"We are too reticent about discussing Christian persecution, and we must overcome this mindset; the evidence justifies a much louder voice." 

He went on to say that the UK "should not be timid" but "bold" in speaking up about the global persecution of Christians and that all Government departments needed to make a "serious effort" to address the problem. 

"As Christianity is perhaps the most truly global of religions, the persecution of Christians often indicates wider violations of the rights of all minority groups, and the report notes the large body of evidence for this," he said.

"In some places the persecution of Christians is closely linked with poverty and social exclusion, and elsewhere it is compounded by discrimination against women, so increasing the attention given to Christian persecution does not dull but sharpen our focus on human rights for all." 

The response has been welcomed by Release International, a charity that supports persecuted Christians worldwide and which contributed to the Bishop of Truro's report. 

"Release International is delighted that the minister has pledged to take the protection of Christians into the very heart of government policy," said CEO Paul Robinson, adding that the report "highlighted definitively that Christians are far and away the most persecuted religious group in the world today".

"We hope that today's decision to champion persecuted Christians and put their plight front and centre of government policy will send a vital message to governments everywhere that this violence has to stop," he said. 

"We are grateful that the UK Government is saying that the world will no longer be able to turn a blind eye to discrimination and violence against Christians."

Sir Alan Duncan's speech can be read here in full: 

Christians suffer more religious persecution than any religious group in the world. And yet we hear far less about this than one would expect. We're too reticent about discussing Christian persecution and I think we must overcome this mindset. The evidence justifies a much louder voice... We should not be timid. We should be bold and ensure that the UK's response to Christian persecution is in proportion to the problem.

The Government has decided to accept every recommendation in full.

First, we will put Freedom of Religion or Belief at the heart of FCO culture, policy and operations. We will publicly articulate our goals and give guidance to diplomats on how to reflect these values.

We already engage on Freedom of Religion or Belief in a range of international forums, but we will strengthen our approach with an advocacy strategy. We will carefully examine whether adopting the label Christophobia will better inform FCO policies to address the problem.

We will strengthen our data on Freedom of Religion and Belief and we already have the Magna Carta project that it is investigating ways to improve that data. We will work with the Department of International Development's Freedom of Religion or Belief programme to look how better data can inform the development of international policy.

We will respond immediately to any atrocity, including genocide, and we will continue our work to impose sanctions on the perpetrators of religious faith-based persecution.

We will encourage arm's-length bodies and partners such as the British Council to develop appropriate policies on Freedom of Religion or Belief. And to promote religious literacy ... all foreign office staff will undergo mandatory training where this is relevant to their job.

We will create a clear reporting framework to formalise how we engage with minority and religious leaders on the ground and we will use a recommendation to tailor responses to violations.

We will ensure that human rights reporting mentions faith-based persecution wherever relevant.

To improve coordination, we will also investigate whether new Whitehall structures could strengthen cross-government thinking. We will initiate regular themed discussions with civil society representatives and convene ministers across government to give a consistent international approach.

At the United Nations, will explore how best to deliver a new Security Council Resolution urging all governments in the Middle East and North Africa to protect Christians and to allow UN observers to monitor the necessary security measures.

My Right Honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will follow up on the recommendation that this report should also inform the work of other public authorities for a future full Cabinet meeting.

Finally, we recognise the importance of measuring the impact of our work, so a review will be commissioned after a suitable amount of time.

We warmly recommend this review for helping to give the worldwide persecution of Christians the attention it demands. The review provides us with new evidence and raises concerns to which we must respond. I hope members who today will agree that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is demonstrating its firm commitment to addressing the recommendations of the review and to improve freedom of religious expression around the world.'

Through its international network of missions Release International is active in more than 30 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles; and working for justice.