New Challenges in Africa and Middle East
The panel of experts comprised a diverse group both in nationality and religion, with members from East Africa, West Africa and others representing the Middle East.
Paul Ananaba, a lawyer, summarized religious freedom in 47 African countries presenting a controversial rating on a scale of 1 to 7 on the standings of each country. In his presentation, Ananaba pointed out that "more needs to be done on protection and completion of rights on the African continent." With 61% of the countries in Western Africa rated as not free, he says "this is a good place to talk about it."
An attendee commented on the rating. He noted that the degree correlates to the dominant religion in the country. He maintained that religious violence comes from outside influences. "Religious disturbance is caused by ripples from outside. A cough in Iran will cause ripples in Nigeria."
Andrea Shugart speaking on behalf of the Middle East Concern said "religious hatred is rife, especially among Christians and Muslims." She held "Christian persecution is just one of the persecutions for a minority group. However, when doing our studies we look at other forms of religious persecution, but focus more on combating Christian persecution.
In response to a question raised about the voice of IRLA in the African Union, the chairman Paul Ratsara said "we are getting ready to have our IRLA representatives in the Africa Union." Remarks were made on matters of religious freedom. A member said "we should draw a line between state violations of religious rights and individual violations of religious rights." Geoffrey Mbwana added that "we need to create greater awareness of what constitutes religious freedom. The IRLA is not deeply established in Africa."
Andrea Shugart explained the biggest challenge they face in attaining religious liberty in the Middle East is the immigration of religious minorities. "Minorities move out, leaving a smaller group with a smaller voice, and there is less pressure on the government to make changes." A further challenge she mentioned was that the Arab world views all other religions as western religions. This view coupled with their negative attitude towards western culture makes it difficult to fight religious hatred, she said.
Harald Wollan, speaking for the Middle East said "Nothing is done when it is done to someone else, but we cry when something is done against us." He said this as he was proposing us to "be the voice for the voiceless." Referring to the purpose of this congress, he asserted "we are not here talking against each other, but helping each other strengthen our faiths."
Participants agreed that working with persecution within different Muslim faiths other than working with persecution between Christians and Muslims will show that we are not only pushing our cause forward. The large number of lawyers attending brings the legal contribution to the mission of the IRLA and they are testimony to the support we have on our lasting journey. [Otieno Mkandwire]