U.S. Department of State: millions displaced in 2013 over religious beliefs

U.S. Department of State: millions displaced in 2013 over religious beliefs

PanARMENIAN.Net - In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory. In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs, the U.S. Department of State said in its International Religious Freedom Report for 2013.

In Syria, as in much of the Middle East, the Christian presence is becoming a shadow of its former self. After three years of civil war, hundreds of thousands fled the country desperate to escape the ongoing violence perpetrated by the government and extremist groups alike. In the city of Homs the number of Christians dwindled to as few as 1,000 from approximately 160,000 prior to the conflict.

Elsewhere, in the Central African Republic, widespread lawlessness and an upsurge in sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims reportedly resulted in at least 700 deaths in Bangui in December alone and the displacement of more than one million people throughout the country during the year, the report says.

In Egypt, on multiple occasions organized groups attacked churches and Christian-owned homes and businesses and then looted and torched the properties. Islamist-led mobs carried out acts of violence, intimidation, compelled expulsions, and punishment against Christians, especially in Upper Egypt. Attacks on Christians spiked August 14 -17 when, according to NGO reports, assailants attacked at least 42 churches in various governorates, in addition to schools, orphanages, and other Christian-affiliated facilities. The violence resulted in the looting and destruction of at least 37 churches and the deaths of at least six Christians who were targeted because of their religious identity.

In Nigeria, casualties and human rights abuses associated with Boko Haram attacks and the government’s response escalated. Boko Haram killed more than 1,000 people during the year. The group targeted a wide array of civilians and sites, including Christian and Muslim religious leaders, churches, and mosques, often killing worshippers during religious services or immediately afterward. The federal government was ineffective in preventing or quelling the violence, only occasionally investigated, prosecuted, or punished those responsible for abuses related to religious freedom, and sometimes responded to violence with heavy-handed tactics, which were associated with both human rights abuses and civilian casualties. Over 10,000 people have fled to neighboring countries as refugees, fearing both Boko Haram and sometimes the military.

Among the post-soviet states, the report mentions, Tajikistan, which is the only country in the world in which the law prohibits persons under the age of 18 from participating in public religious activities.

In Armenia, the active engagement by Embassy officials encouraged the passage of a law to protect conscientious objectors, which led to the release of 28 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the fall of 2013, the report says.

In Russia, the government used a new law against “extremism” and amendments to existing laws to further restrict the activities of members of minority religious groups, including making it illegal for foreigners to participate in religious organizations, the report says.

In Azerbaijan, the report says, the government took no legal steps to implement the government directive prohibiting girls from wearing the hijab, or headscarf, in primary and secondary schools, and the majority of school administrators throughout the country did not implement the directive.

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