7 February 2020
Open Doors believes that the UK Government can make a crucial difference in the lives of persecuted Christians around the world, and so it’s very encouraging that the issue of Christian persecution was debated in the House of Commons and the House of Lords on 6 February 2020. Thank you so much for praying for the continued impact of the World Watch List 2020 report, which many MPs made reference to during the debate.
The topic in the House of Commons was moved by Heather Wheeler, Conservative MP for South Derbyshire, who opened the debate by saying: “The suffering of men, women and children persecuted for their faith or belief is a matter of deep concern to the Government. […] However, despite our longstanding support of freedom of religion or belief, it is fair to say that we had not given the particular issue of Christian persecution the attention it warranted.” Representatives of all the major political parties joined in the debate, highlighting the need for the Government to take action on this issue, following the Bishop of Truro’s 2019 report that addressed it.
The impact of the World Watch List launch
Many of the MPs speaking in the debate had attended the Parliamentary launch of the World Watch List in January. Thank you so much to all of you who invited your MP to the launch. It’s really encouraging to see the direct link between the launch in Parliament and the issue of Christian persecution being given focus in the House of Commons. “Each year, their event is possibly the best attended by Parliamentarians, MPs and members of the House of Lords,” said Michael Tomlinson, Conservative MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole, in reference to the World Watch List launch.
And MPs make it clear that the main reason they attend events like the World Watch List Parliamentary launch is because their constituents tell them how important the issue is. For instance, Dr Lisa Cameron, an SNP MP and an officer of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), said: “This issue is of immense importance to constituents and church groups across East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow [her constituency]. I have received over 60 emails in the past couple of weeks asking me to attend the Open Doors event in Parliament. I attended and was extremely impressed by its detailed work and its watch list of countries where Christians are persecuted today.”
Response to Open Doors' recommendations
It’s encouraging to hear the work of Open Doors recognised in Parliament, and to see the statistics of the World Watch List report being used to inform debate, but it is, of course, far more important that progress is made to help secure the freedom, safety and dignity of our persecuted church family.
That’s why it is so welcome and important that all four recommendations of the World Watch List Report 2020, given to MPs who attended the Parliamentary launch, were referenced during the debate. Thank you to all of you who are emphasising the importance of these recommendations to your government representatives and continue to pray for the impact of the report.
…for the Department for International Development (DfID) to recognise religion as a factor of vulnerability when developing its programmes and projects
This point was repeatedly made in the debate. “The report from Open Doors poses two questions,” said Jim Shannon, DUP MP for Stranford. “First, the need for the UK Government, and crucially the Department for International Development, to recognise religion as a vulnerability in any assessment of their programming around the world; and, secondly, the need for the UK Government to recognise local faith actors as a resource which, with support from DfID, should be utilised in development work. Those are two very salient points, which could be extremely helpful in taking things forward.”
Open Doors welcomes the recent news that the Foreign Office is rolling out religious literacy training to all its staff, both in the UK and abroad, and the call during the debate for it to be increased.
…that the work of the Prime Minister’s special envoy for FoRB be supported
The recommendations of the all-party parliamentary group for international FoRB, made in November 2019, were reiterated: that the special envoy for FoRB be made a permanent role, and ‘that the commitment that the international roving ambassador for human rights will work with the special envoy for FoRB is expressed in visible public activity at the United Nations, including the Human Rights Council, as well as elsewhere, including with FCO posts worldwide’ and that ‘FCO posts actively engage with the Prime Minister’s special envoy for FoRB by proactively seeking ways to concretely advance FoRB in country’.
…for the Government to combat the growing crisis in Nigeria
Sir Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, spoke of the violence against Christians in Nigeria, and said that ‘our longstanding connection and friendship with Nigeria means that we are well placed to do something about the unravelling situation’.
Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton, also raised the issue of Christian persecution in Nigeria, citing a recent statement by Baroness Cox that ‘the asymmetry and escalation of attacks by well-armed Fulani militia upon predominantly Christian communities is stark and must be acknowledged’ and highlighting the continued violence by Boko Haram, targeting Christian communities. She asked that DfID in-country staff produce a report on their activities to address the persecution of Christians, and suggested that the approach of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to tackling this persecution in Nigeria should be analysed by an independent review.
…for the right to FoRB to be part of future trade negotiations
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office needs to be more than an extended department of trade, because if we in Britain will not stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, who are we?” Lyn Brown, Labour MP for West Ham, was among those who called for FoRB to be a factor in future trade deals, adding that ‘statements of concern from our Government are simply not enough’.
On the same day, the House of Lords debated on ‘protecting the right of FoRB in government international development plans’, where Baroness Sugg, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, affirmed that DfID and the FCO were committed to implementing the Truro report, adding: “It is an incredibly important fundamental belief of the UK’s that we are able to help promote religious freedom overseas, and we will continue to do that through our diplomatic efforts and also through our aid efforts.”
It was very promising to hear that representatives in the House of Commons and the House of Lords recognise the need for action.
Please keep praying for your MPs and for the role of the UK Government in promoting FoRB and addressing the worldwide persecution of Christians. As Jim Shannon said in the House: “Today’s debate raises awareness, but we must continue to stand up for the millions of Christians who have hoped for change for many years and are yet to see it become a reality. If we don’t, who will?”
You can read a full transcript of the House of Commons debate online.