Thank you for inviting me to join you today. It's an honour to be here.
Last year, Freedom House recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom and shrinking of civil society space. Connected to this trend, we also witnessed the deterioration of religious freedom. Over 80% of the world's populations live in a society with substantial restrictions on religious practices.
I direct our emergency assistance program. Through this program, we provide small grants to human rights defenders and civil society organizations under threat, as well as to victims of persecution based on belief.
We have supported 1,145 cases of persecution based on religion or belief since 2011. Of these cases, 58% or 662 individuals have been Christians.
Over the past 12 months alone, Christians have comprised 67% of the survivors that we have assisted, totalling 270 people. Over half of them were from Egypt or Pakistan. This is in line with data from multiple reports that Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world.
The persecution of Christians takes many forms, including the destruction of churches, forcible conversion to Islam in Muslim-majority areas, being jailed under blasphemy laws or through other legal or extra-legal means, and, in extreme cases, mass killings. Nearly half of the cases we support involve physical attacks, such as sexual violence, murder and kidnapping, and attacks on property.
Non-state actors are the primary source of threats in around 60% of our cases, while state actors are the primary persecutor in around a quarter of our cases. Overall, state security forces, non-state armed groups, non-Christian neighbours and, in the cases of conversions, even family members have been implicated in severe violations of the basic freedom of Christians. The severe and ongoing nature of the repression often leads to Christians having to flee from their homes and from their communities. In many cases, we are supporting relocation.
I will first outline some of the broader trends we see in different political and cultural settings and provide case studies to illustrate the impact. These are case studies of situations in which we have provided support. I will not be providing names because of confidentiality. In some cases, we have provided funding to help these survivors relocate to safer areas, access medical treatment or receive legal support. I will conclude with recommendations to help in addressing these abuses.
Under Communist governments and other authoritarian regimes, Christians' freedom of worship is often restricted through onerous registration laws for religious organizations, state co-optation of Christian groups and mass state surveillance of churches.
For example, last year, a Protestant leader in Vietnam was detained by the authorities numerous times due to his church's independence from the regime. His church was targeted under the guise of state unification policies, which seek to place all religious groups under strict government control. Fearing imprisonment, he was forced to flee his village and find a new home.
Our 2017 report, “The Battle for China's Spirit”, documents the persecution of Christians and other believers in China. As I'm sure you'll hear from one of the other witnesses when the teleconference comes on, the report found a high level of persecution for Protestants and a moderate level of persecution for Catholics, a trend that has appeared to intensify in recent months with China's attempts to “contain the overheated growth of Christianity”—that was a quote from a Chinese official.
Since early 2014, Protestants in China have been particularly affected by the removal of crosses and church demolition campaigns, punishment of religious leaders and the arrest of human rights lawyers defending cases for Christians. In some recent cases, Protestant preachers have been detained and sentenced to prison because their activities are conducted through unregistered social organizations.
Meanwhile, in countries facing armed insurgencies and violent extremism, Christians are frequently assaulted by militants on multiple sides of the conflict, often with the tacit acceptance of the state. Last year, extremist attacks in the Minya area of Egypt killed and severely injured dozens of Christians and decimated several churches. The limited government response to the attacks means that Christians in this region of the country continue to face insecurity and routine violations of their religious freedom.
The recent church bombings in Sri Lanka are another instance of terrorist violence against Christians for openly practising their faith. The attacks in Sri Lanka also highlight how violence can exacerbate tensions with other groups, as many Muslims are now fleeing the area.
In many of the same countries racked by overall extremist violence, we also find cases of kidnappings and forced conversions of Christians, especially targeting women and girls. For example, in Nigeria last year Muslim radicals abducted a teenage girl, forced her to convert to Islam and married her to an older Muslim man. When the girl's father began working with a lawyer to recover his daughter, local extremists assaulted him and other members of his family, forcing them into hiding.
Blasphemy laws are another tool of repression against religious minorities, including Christians. The Canadian government generously provided assistance in the high-profile case of Asia Bibi, which brought international attention to this type of persecution. We frequently see these pernicious laws being abused to settle personal vendettas against Christians. In Pakistan, for example, a Christian family was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to prison, following a dispute with a local Muslim vendor. After four years of prison, when the family members were finally released they continued to be targeted by extremists who refused to believe in their innocence.
Even in some democracies Christian leaders face an environment of insecurity and attacks on their places of worship. In India, as Hindu nationalism continues to rise, Christian pastors have become key targets for Hindu extremist groups. Anti-conversion laws and direct violence are often used to pressure Christians to remain silent about their faith and to falsely accuse pastors of conversion to shut down their ministries. In one case a Christian pastor was falsely charged with forced conversions, simply for holding normal prayer services. He had to fight the legal charges against him and his church was shut down by Hindu extremists.
When Christians seek, through the legal system, restitution for persecution, they often encounter a criminal justice system that is biased against them and supports impunity for perpetrators of religiously motivated violence. For example, last year in a rural area of Egypt, when survivors of an anti-Christian attack went to the police, authorities ordered them to participate in a reconciliation session with their attackers, during which they were forced to agree to not pray in church and to give up their claims for compensation.
Finally, I would like to touch on the heightened threats faced by human rights defenders and lawyers who protect the freedom of Christians. In some countries, regardless of the faith background, advocates who defend the basic rights of Christians are viewed as traitors to their nation and are targeted both by their government's security services and extremists in their country. For example, in the case of Asia Bibi, her lawyer, a Muslim, received death threats from militant groups due to his work combatting the blasphemy charges, forcing him to flee the country. More recently in Sudan, human rights lawyers who defended Christians in court were detained and tortured following the outbreak of anti-government protests last December.
With this widespread persecution in mind, there are several concrete steps that the Canadian Parliament and the Canadian government can take.
First—and I know this has been done already but I'm encouraging the continuation of it—take strong and immediate action against violators of religious freedom through the use of the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, the Magnitsky act. Targeted sanctions against foreign officials who have committed gross violations of religious freedom is an important mechanism in holding state actors accountable. This act is a tool that we recommend Canada increasingly use to help limit impunity and also to continue to demonstrate Canada's strong commitment to protecting religious minority groups.
Second, engage in public and private diplomatic efforts to increase state capacity to respond to instances of religious persecution inside the country. By working with countries to bolster their own response mechanisms to religious freedom violations, Canada can increase state accountability and the rule of law, and improve protections for all minority faith groups, including non-believers.
Direct more funding to support victims of religious persecution and organizations that work on religious freedom issues. Supporting courageous grassroots activists and civil society organizations can lead to long-term reform, especially through support for organizations focused on areas such as interfaith mediation and legal advocacy. To be very clear, in this recommendation I am not advocating calling for more funding for Freedom House in particular. There are many excellent organizations dedicated to improving protections for freedom of religion or belief.
Fourth, Canadian MPs can consider adopting a religious prisoner as a form of advocacy. In the U.S., members of Congress who support the cases of individual prisoners of conscience bring attention to their plight, potentially resulting in releases or reduced prison terms.
Finally, the Canadian government should consider adopting its own list of countries of particular concern, CPCs, to highlight the most egregious violators of religious freedom. In the U.S., the CPC list has been an important tool for bringing attention to countries and implementing targeted sanctions in places where the rights of religious communities are most frequently abused.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable committee members, for this opportunity to speak to the global issue of Christian persecution.
I believe this is an important topic that demands our attention and understanding if we are to sort through the other difficulties that intersect religious persecution and effectively advocate on their behalf.
The Voice of the Martyrs Canada defines Christian persecution as a situation in which Christians are repetitively, persistently and systematically inflicted with grave or severe suffering or harm, and deprived of or significantly threatened with the deprival of their fundamental human rights because of a difference that comes from being a Christian, which the persecutor will not tolerate.
To distinguish Christian persecution from other forms of religious repression, it is helpful to ask whether, if a person had other religious beliefs, or would change their religion to the majority religion of the region, things would get better for them. If the answer is yes, then the potential for persecution on religious grounds becomes a probable motivator.
Studies conducted by the Pew Research Center and the International Institute of Religious Freedom stress that three-quarters of all religious persecution is perpetrated against Christians, making this a significant religious-liberty violation globally today.
Basic human rights that are being infringed upon include the freedom to an education, the right to own property, the right to dignity and respect, the right to life, liberty and security of the person, the freedom of religion or belief, and the freedom to change one's religion and to manifest their religion or belief.
As a Christian organization, The Voice of the Martyrs Canada believes in the biblical basis for human rights, being that all people created in God's image are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religion or belief. We further regard the freedom of religion or belief as stated in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the underpinning of all rights and liberties. Having worked with The Voice of the Martyrs Canada for 16 years, I have travelled to numerous countries, profiling cases of persecution and implementing projects to assist Christians in the context of their suffering.
Why are Christians persecuted?
The Voice of the Martyrs Canada, with nearly 50 years of engaging personally with persecuted Christians around the world and sifting through complicating factors that intersect religious persecution, has witnessed and focused on three leading causes of Christian persecution.
Cause number one is that Christians suffer because of their identity as Christians. These are Christians who have been born into a Christian family, identify themselves as Christian—whether Catholic, Protestant or evangelical—and are considered Christian by those within their social construct. Their desire is to live peacefully within their communities, raise families, obtain meaningful work that will provide for their families, and engage in activities that enhance their communities, all the while remaining free to practise their religious beliefs and customs. Sadly, these aspirations are denied to or withheld from Christians, who are seen as belonging to a western religion and are, therefore, treated with suspicion. As a minority, then, Christians encounter discrimination and are often deprived of the advantages and opportunities enjoyed by those of the majority.
Take, for example, the situation in North Korea. Being found to be Christian in North Korea results in a life sentence to a concentration camp in which the person will suffer due to mistreatment, hard labour and lack of food. A Christian will very likely die in these camps due to the harsh conditions or due to execution.
Take, for example, the situation in Pakistan. All Christians in Pakistan face some difficulty, discrimination and persecution because of their Christian identity. Several large-scale attacks have occurred in Christian colonies recently, including those during Christmas 2017 and Easter 2018. In general, Christians are trapped in a cycle of poor education and poverty. Many are employed as indentured servants in brick kilns or tree nurseries, as street sweepers and as sewage workers. A few Christians have been imprisoned for long periods, while many others cycle in and out of prison, charged under the country's blasphemy laws.
Take also Nigeria as an example. Boko Haram militants and Fulani Islamic militants have worked together to target Christian villages for destruction. They have attacked Christian villages for many years. In the last two years, they have committed more acts of extreme violence against Christians than any other group globally. Nearly all Christians in northeastern Nigeria have lost family members to Boko Haram and Islamic militant Fulani violence. Entire congregations have been displaced. Many pastors have been forced to leave the region. Thousands of Christians remain in camps designated for internally displaced people. Famine in the north has resulted from the ongoing jihad activities. Farmers aren't working because they fear attack. Food shipments are often stolen. Fulani Christians are often detained for short periods in community prisons based on Islamic sharia.
Second, Christians suffer because of their Christian witness and testimony. A vital aspect of the Christian life is to share the gospel with family, friends and neighbours. Christians know this to be the biblical mandate called the “great commission”, as found in Matthew 28:16 to 20. Christians believe that evangelism, therefore, is to be an essential component in practising their faith. Evangelism for the Christian is a means of sharing the gospel—that is, the good news of Jesus Christ. It is our experience that much of the persecution in this area is as a result of church growth. In other words, the more the church is active in preaching the gospel, the more it grows, and the more it grows, the more it is persecuted.
For example, an estimated 27 million Christians live in India, but that is only 2.1% of the population. Christians in India are openly visible, but churches have been demolished and burned. Worship gatherings have been disrupted. Crosses and graveyards have been vandalized. Bibles and other Christian literature have been confiscated and burned, and more pastors are beaten and thrown into prison. Christians are often arrested and held up for weeks after being falsely accused of forced conversion of Hindus to Christianity.
Another example is Egypt. Egypt is home to the largest Christian population in the Arab world. Overt Christian activity can result in persecution. The Egyptian Coptic Church enjoys a fair amount of freedom to worship openly, as long as they keep their faith to themselves and do not engage in evangelistic outreach to the Muslim majority community. Christians who evangelize face tremendous opposition from Islamist groups, including radical elements within the government. Christian women and girls are frequently kidnapped and forced into marriage with their Muslim captors.
The last reason Christians are persecuted is that Christian converts suffer because of their decision to leave their former religion. Effective evangelism results in tremendous church growth throughout non-western nations. That has been the cause of backlash and persecution against Christian communities, but more often, converts to Christianity experience more significant human rights abuses. Anti-conversion bills and blasphemy laws are commonly used as a means of discouraging conversions as well as a means to apply pressure on converts to reconsider their conversions.
In some cases, conversions can result in lengthy prison sentences and even execution—in Iran, for example. The Iranian government is among the most repressive regimes in the world. It is illegal to leave Islam. Those who do leave face constant threat of imprisonment and being falsely charged with acting against national security. These Christians are routinely fired from their jobs. It is difficult for a known believer to find a new job. They are also often evicted from rented homes. Several Christians are currently imprisoned and many others are under house arrest awaiting sentencing. Bibles are highly restricted. It is illegal to import them and illegal to have a Bible printed in the country.
The last example is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is one of the world's worst persecutors of Christians. The government delivers converts to Christianity to their families, assuming they will be killed according to the country's strict interpretation of Islamic law. These Christians are more likely to be killed by family members than to be imprisoned.
In conclusion, I realize that this presentation only scratches the surface of this critical issue but I hope it's given you a little more insight into some of the burdens faced by Christians around the world: difficulties in Communist and post-Communist nations, from the religious nationalists, under totalitarian or security states, and from Islamic extremists.
On the one hand, the Bible teaches that followers of Jesus can expect opposition and persecution in the world because of their identity as a Christ follower as well as their witness of Christ and proclaiming his message. On the other hand, Christians also believe that governments are instituted by God to ensure true justice for all people. Where governments fail to protect the rights and freedoms of Christians and other religious adherents, we must speak out for the oppressed and call for change.
I will close with the words from the Bible, which is a key verse for The Voice of the Martyrs. It is Hebrews 13:3: “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body”.
Great. Thank you so much.
In October of last year, Pastor Wang Yi, the head of the Early Rain Covenant Church in southwestern China, asked his audience a question: Have we made a difference? If tomorrow morning the Early Rain Covenant Church suddenly disappeared from the city of Chengdu, if each of us vanished into thin air, would the city be any different? Would anybody miss us?
As of December last year, Pastor Wang and his church have been able to explore that question. Starting on December 9, police arrested more than 100 church members, including Wang and his wife, who was also a key leader in the church. The church was shuttered and many members went into hiding. About half of those arrested were released. More than 50 continue to be held. Wang's wife was released earlier this month, but her husband continues to be detained. He faces potential charges of inciting subversion, which is a crime that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. Over the next month, more members of the church were detained. Students who had attended a seminary school affiliated with the church were sent back to their home provinces and were prevented from returning.
I visited Chengdu in January to see what had become of the church, which is one of the largest underground or “house” churches in that part of the country. I'd been told that access to the church, which occupied three floors of a commercial building in Chengdu, would be difficult, but I was able to walk into the building. I took the elevator to the floor of the main church hall and managed to get a few minutes in the former hall before plainclothes police came in and told me I had to leave. The church was bare aside from a dusty Ping-Pong table. The cross that hung in the back, that would be behind Pastor Wang as he gave sermons, was gone. The police watched until I got in a taxi and left.
What happened to the Early Rain Covenant Church is a reflection of a broader campaign by Chinese authorities to sinicize religion in China. One part of that has been cracking down on these unregistered churches, many of which had been able to operate and were tolerated by authorities for years. In recent years, other even larger house churches, such as the Zion Church in Beijing, which had more than 1,500 members, have been shut down. Early Rain had more than 500 members. In January another church in Chengdu was placed under investigation less than a week after the mass arrest of the Early Rain Covenant Church members. A Sunday school in Guangzhou, in southern China, was raided. The previous November, another church in Guangzhou, called the Guangzhou Bible Reformed Church, was shut for the second time in three months.
Chinese Christians and activists say that what's happening now is the worst crackdown on Christianity since the Cultural Revolution, when the leadership under Mao Zedong vowed to eradicate religion. This effort to sinicize religion comes from concerns about western influence in China and systems of belief that connect Chinese citizens with international networks. The government says this oversight is necessary to prevent foreign forces from using religion to destabilize China.
Today there are an estimated 60 million, at least, Christians in China, in both rural and urban areas. This means that congregation-based churches can organize large groups of people across the country. Some do have links with Christian groups abroad. A church like Early Rain was likely especially alarming. Wang was a little different from other pastors. He was a civil rights lawyer before. He was a well-known public intellectual and essayist before he became a pastor.
While other churches tend to be apolitical, Wang's church was outspoken. They had advocated for the parents of children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake—thousands of deaths that critics said could have been avoided had authorities not approved the shoddy construction of schools and other buildings. They also advocated for families affected by faulty vaccines that were approved by authorities. They also commemorated every year the victims of the highly sensitive June 4, 1989, crackdown.
As you know, this is not just Christianity that has come under pressure. All five government-sanctioned religions in China—Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Taoism and Protestantism, to which Early Rain belonged—are supposed to have these sinicization plans. We already know about the efforts to sinicize Islam, so I won't go into those, but one thing I was looking for when I was reporting in Chengdu on this church was any parallels or any techniques possibly being used on Christians that had been similar to those used on Uighur Muslims and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
When they were arrested, a lot of the detainees—some 20 of them, I think—were sent to a legal education centre, so I wanted to know whether or not there were any parallels between these centres and the re-education centres used in Xinjiang.
As far as I could tell from the people I spoke to who were sent to the centre in Chengdu, there were not. These people were able to read the Bible and weren't subjected to any kind of political indoctrination. It seems to me that the most obvious parallels between the cases of Uighur Muslims and of Christians would be the use of technology to surveil and control the activities of religious believers.
Earlier, I mentioned the Zion Church in Beijing. One of the reasons why they were forced to close down was that they were ordered to install 24-hour closed-circuit television cameras. In a lot of mosques in Xinjiang, they've had to install cameras. When the church refused, the pastor and members of the church said that they were consistently and constantly harassed by state security. They eventually were shut down and the church was demolished. Other churches have been asked by police to hand over detailed lists of attendees and their ID numbers and phone numbers, which is another technique also used in Xinjiang, where people are tracked.
We also see similar efforts in regard to the outward signs of Christianity, as we have seen with mosques and other Islamic structures being torn down in Xinjiang and Ningxia. There was a statement signed by 500 house church leaders, who said that crosses have been removed from buildings and the authorities have forced churches to hang the Chinese flag or sing patriotic songs. They also have barred minors from attending church. This is also a rule in Xinjiang for minors.
Going back to the example of Chengdu, the Early Rain Covenant Church, since being closed and the mass arrests, has continued to hold meetings virtually, where people dial in to a live webcast. Others hold very small group meetings in their homes if they're able to. Others gather in groups in restaurants or parks. As I said, many have gone into hiding, so people communicate over encrypted chat platforms [Technical difficulty—Editor].
Thank you so much, Madam Chair and honourable members, for this opportunity to speak to you today.
In the majority of countries around the world, Christians face restrictions to the free and peaceful practice of their religion. The Pew Research Center's most recent report on global restrictions on religion, published in 2018, states that Christians face harassment either from governments or from social groups in 144 countries.
Challenges faced by Christians include discrimination, harassment, violence by state and non-state actors, and imprisonment or death. Often in countries where Christians face violations of their freedom of religion or belief, they also face violations of other connected human rights, such as freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and the right to life.
In some cases, Christians suffer violations of human rights solely because of their beliefs, while other Christians are targeted for different reasons—for example, wider targeting of ethnic groups comprising various religious identities. The human rights situation for Christians varies according to context, as do the individuals and non-state and state actors responsible for the violations against them.
I'll start with China and then move eastward to a variety of our countries of focus.
The Pew report found that China had the highest levels of government restrictions on religion. While China officially recognizes both Catholicism and Protestantism as two of the five religious traditions overseen by “state-sanctioned” associations, many Christians in China belong to unregistered churches, which do not fall into this category. It is fair to say that some of those who belong to unregistered churches do so for reasons of conscience, as they do not want to belong to a church under the control and surveillance of the state.
Ever since revised regulations on religious affairs came into effect in February 2018, there has been a rapid tightening of restrictions on churches in China. Across the country, authorities have forced unregistered churches to close and have harassed leaders and members. Meanwhile, registered churches have been forced to remove religious symbols and have been prohibited from allowing children to engage in religious activities. In several parts of the country, churches have been demolished altogether.
As we've already heard today, one notable example is that of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan province. On December 9, 2018, police arrested over 100 members of the church, including the church's pastor, Wang Yi, and his wife, Jiang Rong. Many of those initially arrested have since been released, including Jiang Rong, but Pastor Wang and several others have remained in detention for over a year now.
Since the crackdown on the Early Rain Covenant Church began, families and individuals who attended the church have faced ongoing harassment from police and landlords under pressure from authorities. Dozens of church members have also been detained for short periods under administrative detention.
Moving east to India, while Christians account for just 2.3% of the population in India, this equates to a total of 28 million people, a population larger than that of many countries. As a religious minority, Christians face a range of violations of religious freedom and other human rights.
Concerns for the situation of Christians remain high in the aftermath of India's recent parliamentary elections, which saw Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, retain power and make fresh progress in some states. During Modi's first term as prime minister, Christians faced increasing social hostility in the form of hate speech, attacks on prayer meetings, denials of access to basic services and violence.
Violence against Christians is a country-wide problem for India. Cases of such violence were reported in 13 different states in January 2019 alone. Often, these violations take the form of large groups of Hindu nationalists breaking up prayer gatherings held in private homes. Reports have emerged of Bibles being burned and Christians being beaten during such assaults.
Just two weeks ago, two Christian men handing out religious tracts were violently assaulted in Puducherry, in an attack led by the local leader of the BJP youth wing. An accomplice recorded and shared a video of the attack online. Despite the identity of the attackers being known and an official complaint lodged with police, the police have yet to take any action.
Moving further east to Iran, the Iranian Christian community, along with other religious minorities, has suffered multiple violations of religious freedom for years. Although Iran is party to several international covenants that protect religious freedom, religious minorities are viewed with suspicion and treated as a threat to a theocratic system that imposes a strict interpretation of Shia Islam.
Christian converts from Islam often face charges of “action against national security”. A notable example is that of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and three of his fellow members of the Church of Iran, who were arrested in Rasht in May 2016.
In June 2017, they were given 10-year prison sentences by the 26th branch of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran for acting against national security through propagating house churches and promoting Zionist Christianity. The group was released on bail pending appeal but were later informed that their appeal had failed, and they were subsequently arrested in a series of raids in July 2018 and taken to begin their prison sentences.
In addition to these cases, Iran has cracked down on Christianity through the forced closure of churches, arbitrary arrests, interrogation, detention and surveillance, and the delivery of excessive prison sentences. Often sentences are handed down by judges notorious for human rights violations and the trials demonstrate that due process has not been respected. This is particularly true for trials involving Christians and Christian converts.
Moving further west to Nigeria, the Pew Research Center estimates that Christians comprise approximately 40% of Nigeria's population, equal to over 80 million people. Despite this relatively sizable population, Christians in Nigeria continue to face violations of religious freedom in several parts of the country.
Twelve states in northern Nigeria have adopted a sharia penal code, which has effectively rendered Islam a state religion, in violation of Nigeria's secular constitution. In most of these states, the education of Christian schoolgirls is frequently curtailed by abductions, forceable conversion and marriage without parental consent. A notable case is that of Leah Sharibu, a Christian schoolgirl abducted along with 109 of her classmates by terrorists in Dapchi in February 2018.
While the government successfully negotiated the release of all of her surviving classmates, Leah has been denied her freedom because of her refusal to convert. She has spent over a year in terrorist captivity and recently turned 16 as their hostage.
Her case is just one of many examples. Also notable are the 112 Chibok girls who remain in Boko Haram's captivity since their notorious abduction in April 2014.
Christians also face violence in much of central Nigeria, where increasingly well-armed militia, composed predominately of members of the Fulani ethnic group, have been responsible for regular attacks on farming communities. Thousands of men, women and children have died and thousands more have been displaced in rising attacks, which local observers have described as a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing.
Now I will move to our own hemisphere. Despite the fact that Mexico is a majority Christian nation with Roman Catholics accounting for approximately 83% of the population and other Christian denominations accounting for a further 10%, Mexico has held the record for 10 years running for more Catholic priests killed than any other country in the world. In 2018, 10 priests were killed, part of a total of 26, documented by the Catholic Multimedia Center, in the past six years.
Church leaders are at particular risk in areas with significant presence of organized criminal groups where the message they are preaching often comes into direct conflict with the objectives of the criminal groups. Church leaders can be targeted for refusing to co-operate with criminal groups or because their ministries negatively affect the criminal groups' financial interests. In the majority of cases, the remains show clear signs of torture, an indication that they were intentionally targeted and were not victims of random crime as the Mexican government often tries to claim.
In November 2014, the body of Father John Ssenyondo, a 55-year-old Ugandan priest working in the state of Guerrero was recovered and showed signs of torture. He had disappeared about six months earlier after being kidnapped by a criminal leader who reportedly attempted to force him to carry out a baptism.
Currently, church leaders of different denominations in Uruapan, Michoacan, have reported receiving threats from criminal groups. Sadly a few weeks ago, Pastor Miguel Angel Bucio's body was found in Uruapan. He had been kidnapped just a few hours earlier and his body also showed signs of torture.
This weekend, two gunmen opened fire in a Catholic church in Chiapas state killing Margeli Lang Antonio, a children catechism teacher. Extremely high levels of impunity in Mexico mean that few if any of these murders are ever investigated, let alone prosecuted, leaving church leaders with little recourse if they come under threat.
In conclusion, Christians around the world face violations of religious freedom and other human rights, which vary in type and severity according to context. In some instances, Christians suffer as a result of restrictive policy and government repression. In others, they are targeted by non-state actors and members of other religious or ethic groups.
It is important to note that the examples given demonstrate that Christians suffer human rights violations not only at the hands of Islamic extremists or in Muslim majority countries but also in secular nations, in nations in which other religions account for the majority of the population, and even in nations where Christians are the largest religious group in the country.
Sadly, we see few examples of parts of the world where the religious freedom situation is improving. It is vital that actions be taken to defend the religious freedom of Christians and of all of those who suffer for their religious beliefs.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair, for this opportunity at the last of our meetings and the mandate of this subcommittee of the foreign affairs committee in the 42nd Parliament.
It's been an honour to serve with everyone on this committee. Each of us has our own way of coming at the passion and the desire of this committee, and it's really touched me and helped me to grow as a social justice activist and somebody who wants to see Canada's place in the global meaning of human rights and the well-being of all of the planet's citizens. I think this committee's doing tremendous work on that.
It is also for that reason that I think it's important to go on record to say here today that we had a turning point, I believe, on this committee. When I first came here, there was great pride in the operation of this consensus model. I would like to differentiate, because there are people who follow this committee who do take a scholarly approach, and I think it's important in our public sphere to differentiate what is actually happening now. It's not a consensus model. We're operating on unanimous consent, and there is a big difference in that.
It started with the Uighur study, and then some of the tremendous latitude, as other members of the committee who have more history here have discussed, didn't happen towards the end. That is a concern to me, because I feel that this committee has a role and a responsibility that's higher than each of us. Even though we think we're magnanimous and our views are broad, we're always challenging ourselves to be broader. I think we do a disservice if we continue to call this consensus. I certainly hope that those who are returning for the next Parliament will take up that mantle and really truly consider what consensus versus unanimous consent means. The dissenting voices are not always evil and bad, or just people who don't want to get along. It's challenging us, which is why the consensus model was held up with such pride at one time.
The other thing I want to add is that we do have a little bit of unfinished business. I wonder if the rest of the committee has also thought about the recommendation from Dafina Savic to do a unanimous motion and a recommendation for the government with regard to having August 2 as an official day of commemoration for the Romani genocide.
I don't know if anyone else here had planned to do this, so if I may, Madam Chair, I will just read this motion, as per the request of our witness at the last meeting, to the committee. It is that the committee issue a recommendation for the government to adopt a unanimous motion declaring August 2 as the official day of commemoration of the Romani genocide and commit to combatting anti-Roma racism, discrimination and violence.
Before we go in camera, I first want to say that probably one of the most profound events of my last four years as a member has been chairing this committee. I have tremendous respect, especially for the long-time members of the committee.
Mr. Anderson, you will be missed.
Mr. Sweet, thank you very much. I know how many years you've been on this committee as well.
I want to say that I think, in this place, with the partisanship and some of the things that go on in other committees, having a committee where we know that we are making a difference every single day, that we are giving a voice to people in the world who have absolutely no voice, who have nobody to stand up for them.... I think this committee is doing tremendous work, every single one of you.
I also think that we've set a wonderful precedent with the recognition award.
Thank you, Mr. Sweet, for that idea. It is something that is going to carry on, I hope. I think we are all proposing to the next incarnation of this committee that this carry on.
I want to say a tremendous thank you to our clerk. We have subjected her, at times, to a lot of logistical issues, doing things that are not necessarily in the box. Also, there are our analysts, who have sometimes burned the midnight oil to make sure they got us the materials we needed.
As well, thank you to the technical support and the interpreters. We've had three-way interpretation. We've had video conferences with every part of the world. I know the challenges that we've put them through. Especially to our staff, thank you. They sit in the back. We often don't see them or don't think about them, but they are the reason we're able to do what we do. To everybody who supports the committee, the clerk and of course the former clerk, who is also here, thank you very much.
I'm assuming we have some support to go in camera so that we can discuss the remainder of our committee business.
[Proceedings continue in camera]