Increasing severity in the persecution of Christians in different parts of the world is reaching “genocidal” levels, according to a new report commissioned by the British government.
An interim report issued by an Independent Review set up at the request of the UK foreign secretary said that Christians are overwhelmingly the most targeted religious group in the world, and that “acts of violence and other intimidation against Christians are becoming more widespread”.
The review has been led by Anglican Bishop Philip Mounstephen of Truro.
“I have to say that although I am personally experienced in the life of the global Church having visited in South America, in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia and in many other places as well, I am nonetheless deeply shocked by the scale, the scope and the severity of this phenomenon,” the bishop said in a statement.
The report was announced on December 26, 2018, by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and was due to be concluded by Easter. However, Bishop Mounstephen said the scale of the problem was too large and won’t have a final report until the summer. The interim report released on at the beginning of this month focuses on “the scale and nature of the problem”.
“Evidence shows not only the geographic spread of anti-Christian persecution, but also its increasing severity. In some regions, the level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide, according to that adopted by the UN.
The eradication of Christians and other minorities on pain of ‘the sword’ or other violent means was revealed to be the specific and stated objective of extremist groups in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, north-east Nigeria and the Philippines. An intent to erase all evidence of the Christian presence was made plain by the removal of crosses, the destruction of Church buildings and other Church symbols,” the report says.
It adds that the killing and abduction of clergy represented a direct attack on the Church’s structure and leadership, noting that where these and other incidents meet the tests of genocide, governments will be required to bring perpetrators to justice, aid victims and take preventative measures for the future.
The document notes that the main impact of such genocidal acts against Christians is an exodus from the region, with Christianity now facing “the possibility of being wiped out in parts of the Middle East where its roots go back furthest”.
“In Palestine, Christian numbers are below 1.5%; in Syria the Christian population has declined from 1.7 million in 2011 to below 450,000; and in Iraq, Christian numbers have slumped from 1.5 million before 2003 to below 120,000 today. Christianity is at risk of disappearing, representing a massive setback for plurality in the region,” the report continues.
The report notes that violent persecution exists “in many forms,” and can include both state and non-state actors. It lists church bombings, extrajudicial killings, enforced “disappearance”, and the kidnapping of Christian girls as some of the actions which regularly affect Christian communities in parts of the world.