Category archives: Human Rights

In Afghanistan, Women Are Being Subjugated. In the West, They Are Being Erased.

by Arielle Del Turco

March 29, 2022

We are being treated like criminals just because we are girls. Afghanistan has turned into a jail for us.” This is how one Afghan girl describes life under the Taliban. Girls across the country had their hopes dashed last week when Taliban authorities reneged on their promise to allow girls’ secondary schools (above 6th grade) to reopen. The decision was so last minute that the students were not told until they arrived at school Wednesday morning and had to be sent home.

One girl tearfully recounted to her mother, “Mom, they didn’t let me enter my school. They’re saying girls aren’t allowed.” Instead of attending classes and progressing in their education, she and other Afghan girls will be expected to stay inside their homes and help with housework.

The pretext given by some Taliban officials is they were unable to plan for a school uniform dress code for teenage girls. This pathetic excuse is no doubt familiar to Afghans who previously lived under Taliban rule. When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, education for girls was similarly restricted. But in recent months, Taliban officials have tried to insist that they’ve changed over the last two decades. However, all pretense of modernization within the Taliban is now over; that is a deeply tragic reality for women and girls in Afghanistan who simply want to go to school and live normal lives.

While Afghan women and girls were grieving the loss of basic freedoms and opportunities because of their sex, a very different scene played out nearly 7,000 miles away in a U.S. Senate chamber. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, to define the word “woman.” Jackson responded, “No. I can’t…I’m not a biologist.” It struck many as odd that a well-educated and successful person—whom many hail as a pioneering black woman herself—was unable or refused even to define the word “woman.”

But this ambiguity on the nature of womanhood isn’t limited to a Supreme Court confirmation hearing; it’s taking our culture by storm. In recent weeks, we’ve seen biological males who self-identify as women kicking biological females off the podium in women’s sports and taking their slots in “woman of the year” designations.

Clarity on the sexes is needed now more than ever. But the truth is not that complicated. Writing in the National Review, Madeleine Kearns explains why no one needs a degree in biology to know what a woman is: “Sex is observable at birth, detectable long after death, and demonstrable in our chromosomes, gametes, and reproductive organs. We are reminded of our sex every time we go to the bathroom or look in a mirror. The sex of the vast majority of people is identifiable at a glance.”

The West’s erasure of women puts women and girls at physical risk in shared spaces like bathrooms and locker rooms and robs them of opportunities that policies like Title IX were supposed to protect. It also has the potential to undermine global momentum on women’s rights. What does it mean for international women’s rights advocacy if the West can no longer agree on a definition for “woman”?

While the West is embroiled in debate about gender identity ideology, the heart-wrenching and horrifying situations faced by many women around the world are being overlooked. Female North Korean defectors forcibly sent back to North Korea endure rape, torture, forced labor, and forced abortions in labor camps. Young Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan are at risk of being forcibly converted and married to their Muslim kidnappers. Uyghur women are targets of China’s genocide, undergoing brutal mandatory sterilization, forced abortions, and arbitrary detainment.

Women have come a long way in gaining equal rights and protections in much of the world. Yet, the West does a disservice to those women still fighting for basic rights when it sidelines their plight in favor of trendy, dangerous, and incoherent gender identity ideology.

Women and girls around the world aren’t being helped by the West’s newfound confusion about the sexes. We shouldn’t be afraid to say what a woman is—a biological female—and defend the human dignity of women around the world. We must convey the value and goodness of women’s unique qualities—not ignore them, undermine them, and certainly not erase them.

Ukrainian Athletes Are Teaching the World a Lesson in Valor

by Mary Szoch

March 9, 2022

As Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin continues to wage war on Ukraine in the weeks immediately following the Olympics, sports stories continue to make international headlines. Ahead of and during the Beijing Winter Olympics, the terrible conditions for Olympic athletes dominated the news, while the Uyghur genocide was a second tier news story.  But now, it is the defense of Ukraine’s freedom that has placed athletics and athletes in the spotlight.

Last week, World Taekwondo pulled all future events from Russia. It also stripped Vladimir Putin of his honorary black belt in recognition that he is, as Ukrainian President Zelensky put it, behaving “like a beast.” Putin’s status as honorary president of the International Judo Federation (IJF) and the European Judo Union has been revoked, and he is no longer the recipient of the International Swimming Federation (FINA)’s highest honor.

In stunning displays of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, the National Hockey League announced they would suspend business partnerships with Russia; the Union Cycliste Internationale has banned Russian and Belarusian teams from competing; the World Curling Federation has removed the 2022 European Curling Championships from Russia; FIFA has suspended Russia from the World Cup; and multiple Russian athletes have voiced their support for Ukraine at great risk to themselves. Even the International Olympic Committee, which did not pull the 2022 Olympics out of China despite the ongoing genocide in that country, issued a recommendation that international sports federations not invite or allow Russian or Belarusian athletes to participate in international competitions.

But the most inspiring stories of all have been the Ukrainian athletes who have joined the fight for their homeland. The Ukrainian men’s fencing team withdrew from a World Cup event in Egypt, where they were set to face Russia. Wearing their national colors, the team announced, “Today, Ukrainian fencing team refused to fence team event against Russian Federation. This is our protest against the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Thank you for all international fencers for supporting Ukrainians in the world. Russia, stop war in Ukraine.” Instead of fencing, the team planned to return home and defend their country.

Ukrainian tennis star Sergiy Stakhovsky was vacationing with his wife and three children in Dubai when he heard the news of Russia’s invasion. He, too, decided to return home and defend his country. “I was born here, my grandparents are buried here, and I would like to have a history to tell to my kids,” he said. “Nobody here wants Russia to free them, they have freedom and democracy … and Russia wants to bring despair and poverty.” His three children, all under seven, believe he is at a tennis tournament.

Ukrainian soccer coach Yuriy Vernydub left at the height of his career to fight for his country. “My son called me at 4:30 am and he told me the Russians attacked us. I knew then that I would return to Ukraine to fight,” he said. “Football is my life. I hope this war won’t last for long. We will win, and I will go back to my beloved work.”

The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, and his brother, Wladimir, are former boxing champions who are ready to fend off Russian attacks. Waldimir commented, “I am Ukrainian, and I am a fighter…our strongest force is the will and desire to live in a free country.”

And the Klitschko brothers aren’t the only prizefighters bearing different arms. Champion boxers Vasily Lomachenko and Oleksander Usyki have returned to defend their homeland as well. When asked about his decision to fight, Ukrainian heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyki said, “My soul belongs to the Lord and my body and my honor belong to my country, to my family. So there is no fear, absolutely no fear. There’s just bafflement—how could this be in the 21st century?”

Across the country, Ukrainians—including three athletes, Vitalii Sapylo, Dmytro Martynenko, and Yevhen Malyshev—are willingly laying down their lives for their country to remain independent. These men and women are heroes—dying so that others may live free. 

One of the reasons sports are good is because they have the ability to teach life lessons. They teach men and women to work hard, be the best they can be, work as a team, be mentally tough and courageous, and die to self for a greater good.

As Ukraine continues to struggle to maintain its independence, Ukrainian athletes are proving they have learned much more from sports than how to win gold medals. It is time for the rest of the world to learn a few lessons from Ukrainians.

Forced Marriage in Pakistan and Why It Matters to the U.S.

by Arielle Del Turco , Hannah Waters

March 1, 2022

For nearly a year, Nayab Gill has been forced to live with her kidnapper. 

In early 2021, 13-year-old Nayab and her father were approached by Saddam Hayat, a 30-year-old married Muslim man and father of four. Hayat offered to train Nayab in his beauty salon and give her a much-needed job. For weeks, Hayat faithfully picked up Nayab, brought her to his salon, gave her lessons in cosmetology, and brought her home each day. 

On May 20, however, Nayab never came home.

Nayab’s frantic parents searched for their child for over a week with no success. Eventually, local police contacted the Gill family, informing them that their daughter had registered as a willful convert to Islam and had married a Muslim man—Hayat. In reality, Hayat and six others had kidnapped Nayab from her home, raped her, forced her to convert to Islam, and coerced her into marriage.

After a long legal struggle and many nights spent trapped in her abuser’s home, Nayab’s case finally went to court. Although her parents presented her birth certificate, which proved she was a minor, the judge accepted Hayat’s forged documents—documents that claimed he had recently celebrated his 18th anniversary with his 19-year-old bride. Shockingly, the court ruled in the kidnapper’s favor, declaring that Nayab had willingly converted to Islam and married Hayat. At the ruling, Nayab’s parents broke down in tears as she was led by police back into the arms of her abuser.

Sadly, this horrific account is a reality for hundreds of Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan. Although there are no official records, it is estimated that over 1,000 cases like Nayab’s occur in Pakistan every year. Despite the clear human rights violation, the practice of forced conversion and marriage still thrives in Pakistan.

The newly-updated report from Family Research Council, “Combatting Forced Marriage of Young Women in Pakistan,” exposes the ongoing tragedy in Pakistan and presents ways in which the U.S. government can begin to address the problem.

The U.S. State Department designates Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its “particularly severe” religious freedom violations—and with good reason. Religious minorities hold a marginalized position in Pakistani society, a relic of the former Indian caste system.

The tension between religious groups provides a convenient means by which Muslim perpetrators can protect themselves from just punishment. Although the perpetrators of forced conversions and marriages are in violation of Pakistani law, the religious dynamics of Pakistan are such that a ruling in favor of a Christian or Hindu victim can often be seen as an attack on Islam itself. This creates an environment in which perpetrators can target their victims and commit crimes with impunity. 

When local police are informed of forced conversion and marriage cases, they are often reluctant to help find victims or bring perpetrators to justice. At times, authorities have even been hostile toward the victim’s family and often bend to the pressures of the extremist or influential abductors. Police have also interfered with investigations by discouraging Christian and Hindu families from filing formal complaints.

Pakistani courts aggravate this tragedy when they neglect to follow fair legal procedures. Investigations into the circumstances of an alleged conversion rarely take place; instead, the existence of a conversion certificate—which is often forged—is taken as sufficient proof. Furthermore, the threat of Islamist mob violence often makes judges afraid to do the right thing.

The issue of forced conversion and forced marriage in Pakistan is tragic. As a long-standing leader in upholding international human rights, the United States faces a critical moment. Continued silence will only embolden those who wish to violate human dignity and restrict religious freedom.

By taking a few simple steps, the U.S. government can go a long way toward holding the perpetrators—and the government that tolerates them—accountable. To start, American diplomats should raise this issue with their Pakistani counterparts. Congress can pass a resolution condemning this practice and calling on the Pakistani government to address it. The United States should also apply targeted sanctions on Pakistani officials responsible for committing or tolerating human rights abuses.

Forced conversion and marriage in Pakistan are enabled by social discrimination, corrupt authorities, and unjust courts of law. America’s diplomacy with Pakistan should address all these concerns. The United States must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to international human rights and advocate for the defenseless. Addressing this tragedy in Pakistan is a good place to start.

Arielle Del Turco is assistant director of the Center for Religious Freedom. Hannah Waters is the research assistant for the Center for Religious Liberty.

A Welcome Defeat of Assisted Suicide in Virginia

by Mary Szoch

February 4, 2022

Yesterday, the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee considered legislation legalizing assisted suicide, SB 688. Thankfully, with a vote of 7-7-1, this legislation failed. Modeled after similar bills across the country, SB 688 would have allowed a patient with a six-month terminal diagnosis to request and ingest medication for the explicit purpose of ending their own life.

Oregon was the first state to legalize assisted suicide in 1997. Since that time, nine other states and the District of Columba have also legalized it. Although proponents of assisted suicide argue it “empowers” everyone to dictate their end of life, this misguided desire for complete control has the unintended consequence of creating a culture in which certain lives are deemed unworthy of living.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, which has compiled over 20 years of data on assisted suicide, excruciating pain is not the reason most people choose assisted suicide. The top five reasons for choosing assisted suicide are the inability to engage in activities that make life enjoyable; the loss of autonomy; the loss of dignity; the feeling of being a burden on family, friends, or caregivers; and loss of control of bodily functions. These struggles are incredibly challenging, but they by no means devalue a person’s life. People facing struggles such as these need true compassion based in the willingness to share their suffering.

People with disabilities are some of assisted suicide’s strongest opponents. They recognize that every person has dignity and that many of the reasons deemed valid for ending a life are challenges people with disabilities overcome every day. Certainly, not everyone who lives with a disability has a terminal illness, but at some point, everyone who has a terminal illness will experience some form of disability. People aren’t choosing to end their lives because of their terminal illness but because of the disabilities caused by their terminal illness. Legalizing assisted suicide sends the message that a life with disabilities is not a life worth living.

In a profit-driven health care system, the odds are already stacked against people with disabilities. So states need to pass legislation protecting people with disabilities from discrimination—not legislation that allows insurance companies to choose to cover the cheapest option, lethal drugs, instead of actual care.

People with disabilities are not the only ones negatively impacted by this discriminatory practice. All people—especially minorities—who have disparate access to health care feel its effects. As Anita Cameron, minority outreach director for Not Dead Yet, said, “As long as racial disparities and disability discrimination exist in health care, assisted suicide cannot be the answer.” Sadly, in both Oregon and California, patients who would not have been terminal had they received medical care have been refused treatment and instead offered assisted suicide drugs.

Moreover, the option of assisted suicide prevents people with terminal illnesses from getting the mental health support they desperately need. Medical literature suggests that 25 to 77 percent of patients with terminal illnesses suffer from major depression. Yet, since its legalization in 1998, only four percent of patients who died through assisted suicide were referred for psychiatric evaluation. Tragically, instead of receiving the help they need, patients are offered the option to kill themselves. The assisted suicide legislation does not require family notification or the presence of a witness at the time of death. And so, those struggling with the desire to end their lives by taking the lethal drugs may simply suffer in silence until their death, with heartbroken loved ones left wondering if they could have done more.

The legalization of assisted suicide attempts to normalize and affirm the suicide of patients with terminal illnesses; however, it has the unintended consequence of normalizing and affirming suicide itself. For those suffering from suicide ideation, this has tragic consequences. The Centers for Disease Control reported a 49 percent increase in the suicide rate in Oregon from 1999-2010, as opposed to a 28 percent increase nationally.

The assisted suicide legislation proposed in Virginia disregards the value of human life and opens the door for exploitation and coercion. Pray that assisted suicide legislation would fail and for a renewed respect for the dignity of the human person—not only in Virginia but in all 50 states.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Holocaust Remembrance Day: “Never Again”

by Chris Gacek

January 27, 2022

Today, January 27, marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was on this date in 1945 that Soviet troops took control of the extensive Auschwitz labor and extermination complex that the Nazi Reich operated from 1940-45, finally liberating the remaining survivors.

Of the 1.3 million people who were taken to Auschwitz, 1.1 million were murdered. Of that number, 865,000 Jews were killed by lethal gas upon arrival. Others succumbed to starvation, disease, beatings, execution, and medical experimentation.

The Red Army soldiers experienced shock and disbelief as they approached and liberated the camp. These were hardened men, having fought the Nazis since June 1941.

In December 1941, they had retreated to the outer perimeter of urban Moscow. Yet, they fought their way back after turning the tide of the war in late 1942 and were in the outskirts of Krakow, Poland, approaching the pre-war German-Polish border.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s “Holocaust Encyclopedia” has a page devoted to giving a brief descriptive overview of the “Nazi camps.” The Encyclopedia states that in its 12 years of existence, the Nazi state “established more than 44,000 camps and other incarceration sites (including ghettos).” And these were used for a “a range of purposes, including forced labor, detention of people thought to be enemies of the state, and for mass murder.” Imagine the death and destruction Soviet soldiers witnessed walking through the tragic scenes the Nazis left behind in Auschwitz.

In addition to the carnage in the camps, there was the endless destruction brought about by the war itself being fought eastward to Moscow and back to near-Germany with millions of men bombing, shelling, and shooting apart so much of the pre-war civilization that existed in these regions. They must have already seen many horrific sites in the past several years, yet Soviet soldiers were appalled by what they saw in Auschwitz. The level of brutality and depravity seen there was beyond comprehension. Of course, it still is.

Yet, the Nazis did not operate haphazardly. Hitler held to a racial hierarchy of human life. In it, the most despised were the Jews. The Nazis targeted the Jews and psychologically manipulated the German people to “other” them.  They accused the Jews of being the source of every sort of evil in the world. Thus, their complete extermination would be a paramount goal of the Reich’s war aims.

The Holocaust is unique for its horror and scale in world history. In the other cases, the perpetrators of genocides targeted a people group because they occupied territory that that the perpetrator wanted free and clear: They lived next to each other, one group had to go. The extermination of the Jews by the Reich was a different thing altogether. Hitler sought the killing of the Jews in all places.

When the Nazis invaded North Africa, they brought SS killing teams to hunt down Jews in Africa. The Isle of Guernsey, Corfu, Tunisia, Norway, Sicily, the Caucuses—all became killing fields for Jews. There was no realpolitik reasoning for it. 

Hitler sought a metaphysical purge of the Jews from the earth reminiscent of the same demonic drive exhibited in the Book of Esther (Esther 3:5-6). Satan hates God, and he hates the Jews for their relationship with Him. It is a hatred that never rests.

There has never been anything like the tragedy of the Holocaust. That is why we observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We remember the victims, and we renew our commitment to Never Again allow this to happen.

A Year of Biden’s Foreign Policy: Blunders, Chaos, and Human Suffering

by Arielle Del Turco

January 20, 2022

President Joe Biden assumed office exactly one year ago, and although he declared at a press conference yesterday that he “probably outperformed what anyone thought would happen” in his first year, Americans are frustrated—and rightfully so. When it comes to foreign policy alone, one can’t help but think that American interests are less secure and our allies more frustrated with us than last year.

No Biden-era disaster is more prominent or caused more human suffering than the mishandling of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. The quick rise of the Taliban led to an economic collapse in a country where most people already lived below the poverty line. Now, desperate and mournful Afghan parents are selling their daughters into child marriages just to feed the rest of their family for a few more months and survive the winter.

Although the Taliban promised to respect human rights, women are feeling the brunt of that lie. Afghan women who served in the military or police are in hiding, as are female athletes. Afghan girls and female university students have been kept at home and out of school, maybe forever. The United States spent 20 years investing in women’s rights efforts in Afghanistan. After one year of Biden’s leadership, all of that progress is down the drain.

Vulnerable Afghan religious minorities might have the most to lose with the rise of the Taliban. This year’s World Watch List from Open Doors named Afghanistan the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. Yet, religious minorities were not included among the Afghan groups who received Priority 2 status from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

Meanwhile, our adversaries feel confident testing the president, and Biden’s weakness on the world stage has given them every reason to do so.

Certain Biden gaffes have left policy wonks wondering if the president even knows what he’s talking about. He seemed to abandon a long-term policy of strategic ambiguity about how the United States would respond if China invaded Taiwan, forcing the White House to backtrack and say the policy hadn’t changed. When a military conflict is at stake, Biden’s gaffes are not endearing—they’re potentially deadly. Biden should be taking practical steps to support Taiwan, including selling it necessary defense weapons and welcoming Taiwanese leaders in international forums as the island’s legitimate government.

Ukraine also has reason to feel uncertain of the United States’ support. Earlier this week, Biden indicated that “a minor incursion” of Russian forces into Ukraine might not be met with much pushback. It’s an abominable thing to say when Ukraine is vulnerable and Russian troops have amassed along its border. European allies were flustered that the president would make such a statement openly.

U.S. relations with some American allies are more strained than before. When the Biden administration negotiated a deal in secret to sell submarines to Australia, it effectively canceled an earlier agreement between France and Australia, one that was critical for France’s defense industry. To the French, it was a slap in the face. France responded by recalling its ambassador to the United States, a move reflecting heightened tensions between the two countries.

This month, the Biden administration withdrew its support for a proposed natural-gas pipeline from Israel to Europe, a decision with negative economic ramifications for Israel and Europe. This reversal from the Trump administration’s position is frustrating our friends and pleasing Russia and Turkey. Biden sold himself as someone who would “repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.” Sadly, some American allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East might not think that goal is being achieved.

Of course, U.S. promotion of religious freedom abroad—championed by former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—is waning. Although Rashad Hussain took the reigns as the new ambassador-at-large this month, the momentum on international religious freedom has drastically diminished under Biden’s leadership.

In November, the Biden administration removed Nigeria from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) on religious freedom, despite increased violence against Christians in rural Nigerian communities throughout the year. The move gives Nigerian leaders who failed to protect religious communities from violence a free pass.

President Biden neglected to host a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, an annual gathering of foreign diplomats and world leaders to strategize promoting religious freedom around the world. The Trump administration held two such gatherings in Washington that were widely deemed successful. It’s time to bring the Ministerial back. The problem of religious persecution hasn’t subsided, and neither should U.S. government attention on the issue.

Biden’s first year in office has been full of foreign policy challenges, many of his own making. A clear “Biden Doctrine” might not yet have come into view, but a year of foreign policy marked with blunders, chaos, and human suffering is a shame—not merely for the American people who entrusted Biden with our foreign policy, but for people around the world. The Biden administration’s actions will have countless ramifications for years to come.

On Religious Freedom Day, Let’s Recommit to This Fundamental Human Right

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

January 14, 2022

Each year on January 16, America observes Religious Freedom Day. Unlike many others, this observance wasn’t launched in the 20th or 21st century. Its first appearance dates back to a founding American document on the subject, penned by Thomas Jefferson in 1777. Less than 10 years later, the document was enacted into Virginia State Law, and later into America’s First Amendment.

Much of that amendment animates Jefferson’s views and visions for America:

…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.

The First Amendment—approved by Congress on December 15, 1791—emerged from Jefferson’s writings, and the freedoms enshrined in it have become known as American “First Freedoms.” Thankfully—although not without increasing opposition—religious freedom continues to be the law of the land in the United States.

But unfortunately, as we observe Religious Freedom Day in 2022, much of the world increasingly rejects America’s point of view about religious liberty. In country after country, there are no such boundaries. And today, the two most vicious enemies of religious freedom globally are radical Islamism and communist and post-communist regimes.

In the Middle East, Christians continue to be attacked by radicals and driven out of their historic homelands.

In Iraq, “Beginning in 2014, ISIS drove Christians from Mosul and their traditional homeland in the Nineveh Plains … From 1.5 million Christians in 2003, the Chaldean Catholic church now estimates a population of fewer than 275,000 Christians.”

In Iran, Islamist state authorities continue to arrest converts to Christianity on absurdly false charges. For example, Article Eighteen reports:

Christian convert Hadi (Moslem) Rahimi has begun serving his four-year prison sentence for “acting against national security” by attending a house-church and “spreading ‘Zionist’ Christianity.” The 32-year-old delivery driver, who has a nine-month-old daughter, turned himself in to Tehran’s Evin Prison on Sunday morning (9 January)…

Interestingly, despite ongoing marginalization, injustice and violence, innumerable conversions from Islam to Christianity in Iran continue to be reported, even being called a “Christian Boom.”

At the same time, across Africa, attacks on Christians are becoming increasingly violent and frequent. In Nigeria, massacres of Christians are being viewed by international observers as an unfolding genocide. Stories of massacres, mass kidnappings, and torched homes and churches are commonplace.

Meanwhile, in recent months, after America’s abrupt and ill-conceived departure from Afghanistan in August 2021, religious violence is skyrocketing. At the same time, it has become apparent that an underground Christian community, comprised almost entirely of converts from Islam, numbers as many as 10 to 12,000. The Taliban—Afghanistan’s radical new rulers—are systematically seeking out and killing those new believers along with other religious groups who do not conform to their extreme Islamist ideology.

In Pakistan, Christians and others are imprisoned on bogus “blasphemy” charges, often accused by neighbors as revenge for unrelated disputes. Even when those accused of blasphemy are acquitted or released on bail, they are in danger of mob violence. Such is the situation for  Nadeem Samson, who was released on bail on January 6, though his lawyer warns that “when Nadeem Samson is going to court he can be killed anytime.”

At the same time, post-communist regimes such as the Chinese government continue to marginalize religious beliefs that conflict with the state’s official atheist ideology. Well over a million Uyghur Muslims are held in internment camps and used as a source of slave labor. House church pastors such as Pastor John Cao are serving unwarranted prison sentences after being targeted due to their ministries. The country’s burgeoning surveillance state puts all citizens at risk as they are tracked for any actions that might be out of favor with the government—actions including going to church.

In North Korea, known Christians risk their very lives. Those who escape North Korea and are returned by Chinese authorities are particularly endangered as they are suspected of encountering Christian missionaries and churches in China. One North Korean defector said, “If you tell them that you went to a church and believed in Jesus, they would not stop at just beating you.” Other Christians are known to languish in harsh political labor camps with no prospect of ever being released.

Religious Freedom Day is an opportunity to pause and remember the profound importance of this right. As we continue to enjoy our own blessings and opportunities to share our faith, let’s remember those around the world longing to freely live out their faith.

China’s Tragic War on Uyghur Women

by Arielle Del Turco

December 17, 2021

Last week, an independent tribunal in the United Kingdom released a judgment that found the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur people to be consistent with the legal definition of genocide. Multiple governments have made the same pronouncement, including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Belgium. But these countries didn’t release their legal reasoning or factual evidence. The Uyghur Tribunal did—and it is Beijing’s abuses against Uyghur women specifically that resulted in the tribunal’s judgment.

Days of public hearings featured witness and expert testimonies, and a team of international human rights lawyers, professors, and NGO leaders combed through the evidence. The evidence uncovered was then measured against the legal definitions of crimes against humanity, torture, and genocide. The Chinese government was found guilty on all three counts.

The suppression of the Uyghur ethnic and religious minority is nearly all-encompassing. High-tech surveillance watches their every move. Passports are systematically confiscated. At least 1.8 million Uyghurs are held in internment camps, and both detained and “graduated” Uyghurs are used as a source of forced labor. No Uyghur person escapes the consequences of Beijing’s brutal crackdown in the Xinjiang region. Even children are sent to be raised in state-run boarding schools. Yet, notably, the weight of China’s genocide is targeted toward women.

The Uyghur Tribunal determined that China was “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group,” one of the methods of genocide outlined in the 1948 Genocide Convention. Earlier this year, the U.S. government came to the same conclusion.

Women bear the brunt of Beijing’s violent birth control policies in Xinjiang. One woman who worked at a hospital in Xinjiang in the late 1990s told the Uyghur Tribunal that approximately 100 women came for abortions every day, most sent by the government’s Family Planning Office and many in the late stages of pregnancy. She said that the aborted babies were disposed of in a garbage basket. Even after the end of China’s notorious one-child policy (and subsequent two-child policy), authorities in Xinjiang target Uyghur women for harsh sterilization and forced abortion policies.

Local authorities in Xinjiang are known to raid homes searching for children that surpass the government-approved limit. Gulnar Omirzakh, a Kazakh woman from Xinjiang, was required to have an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted after she had her third child. Then, in 2018, officials who showed up at her house in military attire required her to pay a $2,685 fine for having had a third child.

Uyghur and Kazakh women released from the internment camps say that they were given mysterious medication that stopped their menstrual cycles and impaired their minds. Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a woman who survived two years in a “re-education” camp, wrote in The Guardian that when a nurse required her to receive what she said was a vaccine, she was afraid they were poisoning her, but “In reality, they were sterilising us. That was when I understood the method of the camps, the strategy being implemented: not to kill us in cold blood, but to make us slowly disappear. So slowly that no one would notice.”

Another Uyghur woman who survived the camps told the Associated Press that officials inserted IUDs in every woman of childbearing age. At almost 50 years old, she pleaded for an exemption, but she was still rounded up with hundreds of other women who were herded onto buses and sent to receive IUDs at a hospital.

In a sick twist, the Chinese embassy to the United States tried to reframe forced sterilizations and abortions as “emancipat[ing]” Uyghur women so they are “no longer baby-making machines.” The women forced to undergo the trauma of abortion and sterilization likely don’t feel emancipated.

The effects of these policies are immense, and Chinese leaders have ambitious goals for this program. Researcher Adrian Zenz found that officials planned to subject at least 80 percent of women of childbearing age in some rural areas of Xinjiang to IUDs or sterilizations by 2019. The devices used can only be removed by state-approved doctors. It is due in part to this effort that the Uyghur Tribunal stated genocide is occurring in Xinjiang. The judgment read:

The tools of its policy include sterilisation by removal of wombs, widespread forced insertion of effectively removable IUDs equating to mandatory sterilisation and forced abortions. These policies will result in significantly fewer births in years to come than might otherwise have occurred… This will result in a partial destruction of the Uyghurs.

By targeting Uyghur women, the Chinese government is committing what is perhaps the most horrific crime known to mankind. Yet, the voices of prominent feminists are conspicuously silent on the situation in Xinjiang. Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur activist who advocates for her sister currently detained in Xinjiang and for all Uyghurs, asks why that is. She wrote in Bitter Winter, “Where are the Hollywood icons who proclaim themselves to be advocates for human rights? Where are the feminists?” These are important questions.

The Chinese government is exploiting the unique ability women have to become pregnant and bring new life into the world. It is doing this to destroy—at least in part—the Uyghur people. Beijing’s abuses against Uyghur women are one of the most significant human rights crises of our time, and we should be talking about that.

Amid the Push for Faux “Rights,” Human Rights Day Reminds Us of What Matters

by Arielle Del Turco

December 13, 2021

On December 10, President Joe Biden followed in the footsteps of his predecessors by recognizing Human Rights Day, an oft-ignored date commemorating a critically important event in world history: the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. Unfortunately, mission creep has plagued U.S. human rights advocacy in recent years, undermining the international human rights standards we have been blessed to inherit. Human Rights Day deserves to be acknowledged because the history of human rights is worth remembering, and its integrity is worth preserving.

The brutality and horrors displayed in World War II and the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany—most notably the Holocaust—demonstrated the need for a widely agreed upon understanding of the ways in which the human dignity of all people must be protected. And so, UN delegate Eleanor Roosevelt led a team of scholars and experts to draft a list of human rights, with regular input from the 58 member states.

This list needed to be such that all reasonable people—from the diverse cultures and norms represented in the UN—would agree to it. In the end, 30 rights and freedoms were agreed upon as being fundamental to humanity, and the UDHR became the guiding force for human rights advocacy.

Christian theologian Albert Mohler points out that the understanding of human rights inherited from Western civilization was “established upon the fact that we know from scripture that every single human being is made in God’s image and thus we are to recognize a dignity in every single human being. And we are to understand that that dignity implies certain God-given rights.”

The inherent worth of humans is what makes human rights important, and according to a Christian worldview, humans are important because they are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Christians understand that the capacity to reason is evidence of this. Article 1 of the UDHR complements this view and lays the groundwork for the rest of the document this way:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Among the rights listed in the UDHR are the right to life, liberty, and security of person (Article 3); the prohibition of slavery and servitude (Article 4); the freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile (Article 9); the right to own property (Article 17); and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion (Article 18).

Human rights are not granted by governments—they belong to everyone by virtue of their unalienable human dignity. Similarly, international human rights treaties and documents do not bestow rights. They merely reflect a commitment from party countries to respect those rights.

Thus, whenever a government violates human rights, it is acceptable for other governments to use persuasion and pressure to stop that country’s human rights violations. Doing so is not only right but also contributes to “freedom, justice and peace in the world,” as stated in the preamble of the UDHR.

When the U.S. government speaks up on behalf of Christians imprisoned in Pakistan on blasphemy charges or Uyghur Muslims detained in China on the basis of their religious and ethnic identity, this advocacy is not “interference” in the domestic politics of these countries. Rather, it upholds basic human rights—the same rights that all people are owed and all governments are obligated to respect.

Sadly, the international human rights project is in crisis. Ever-growing demands for the inclusion of additional “rights” muddle the priorities of human rights advocacy. These new “rights” often compete or conflict with others. And illegitimate claims to human rights have been used to push harmful policies. As former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback recently said, when “everything’s a human right, then nothing’s really a human right.”

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo similarly noted, “The bottom line is that more so-called ‘rights’ does not mean more justice. The constitutions of some of the most repressive regimes in history, such as the Soviet Union, promised a multitude of rights to their citizens while the regimes produced ever-climbing death tolls and daily deprivations.” The invention of new “rights” makes human rights advocacy incoherent and distracts from the fundamental rights laid out in the UDHR—the kind that the American Founders might have called “self-evident.”

The UDHR, in addition to founding documents like the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, should anchor the U.S. State Department’s human rights advocacy. Invented “rights” motivated by partisan social agendas cause confusion and untethers U.S. human rights efforts from international human rights law. Instead of looking for new faux rights, the State Department should focus on addressing the multitude of fundamental human rights violations occurring around the world right now.

The “struggle for human rights” that Eleanor Roosevelt referred to is far from over. Just last week, an independent people’s tribunal in the United Kingdom issued a formal judgment finding the Chinese government guilty of crimes against humanity, torture, and genocide. Although the Uyghur Tribunal might have echoes of the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-46, the judgment of the Uyghur Tribunal concerns crimes that are ongoing, not yet relegated to the past. This is a significant moment that will test the free world’s commitment to human rights and the 1948 Genocide Convention that calls parties to the dual responsibility of preventing and punishing genocide.

With the monumental challenges occurring around the world, the stakes are too high to get this wrong. The Biden administration must focus on the rights laid out in the UDHR and avoid distractions. The United States’ leadership on human rights has made a difference in the past, and it still can.

Senator Rubio Takes a Stand Against Uyghur Forced Labor

by Arielle Del Turco

December 2, 2021

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is hitting a new snag in the Senate. This time over an amendment from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would block products made with the forced labor of Uyghurs in China from entering the United States.

It’s a common-sense provision that would protect American consumers from unknowingly taking part in Communist China’s human rights abuses. So, what’s the hold up?

Rubio explained the issue on the Senate floor yesterday:

In China in the Xinjiang Province, Uyghur Muslims are taken form their homes, from their families, they are forced to work in these factories as slaves. Forced to renounce their religion and change their names. Forced sterilizations, forced abortions. It’s been characterized—rightfully so—as genocide. So, I filed a bill—bipartisan support—and this bill says that any product that’s made in a factory in that part of China has a presumption that it’s made by slaves, and it passed the Senate unanimously; it’s sitting over in the House.

So, I’m trying to get it here as an amendment on this bill and here’s what happens: The House, they have this thing where they come forward and say, “under the Constitution, if it generates any revenue, it has to start in the House.” The problem I have with that is that they interpret it very differently than how the Supreme Court has interpreted that clause in the Constitution, very broadly, in fact, so broadly that they can basically use it on virtually anything. They can just apply it to anything they don’t like.

The argument from Democrats that the Senate cannot add this amendment because of revenue concerns is overblown. The Congressional Budget Office has stated that the language of this amendment would have “insignificant effects on direct spending and revenues.” A Rubio spokesperson said, “Democrats are creating fake procedural excuses to avoid a vote on slave labor.”

In July, the Senate unanimously passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), which Rubio is now trying to include in the NDAA. And in the last Congress, the House passed a similar version of the bill by a vote of 406-3. Given its broad bipartisan support, this amendment shouldn’t be a source of contention. Yet, Senate Democrats tried to strike an amendment deal which would have ultimately excluded Rubio’s amendment against Uyghur forced labor. In response, Rubio blocked the deal.

Enraged, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Rubio’s efforts, “sad, tragic, and almost absurd.” But standing up against forced labor isn’t sad, tragic, or absurd at all. It’s the right thing to do. However, the fact that Democrats would rather have the NDAA held up again rather than include an amendment that would protect American consumers and vulnerable Uyghurs alike fit this description perfectly.

The White House has been pressuring Congress for months against bills that would promote human rights in China so that the administration can get Chinese leaders to cooperate on climate issues. This is shameful. The United States government shouldn’t be undermining its tradition of human rights advocacy, especially for fake climate promises from an authoritarian government that has no problem breaking its word. Congressional leaders should reaffirm its support for human rights in China despite the administration’s cowardice. 

Today, December 2, happens to be the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. It’s an important reminder that not all people are free, and modern slavery in the form of forced labor, forced marriage, and human trafficking keeps many people in bondage. At the very least, we ought to make sure that we are not participating in forced labor ourselves through the products we import. Rubio’s amendment does exactly that. No petty excuse from Schumer or the Biden administration will ever justify Democrat’s opposition to it.

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