(CNSNews.com) – Eighty percent of religious believers who are being persecuted around the world are Christians, and in some regions the scale and nature of the persecution approaches the international definition of genocide, according to a new report commissioned by Britain’s foreign office.
“The main impact of such genocidal acts against Christians is exodus,” says the report’s author, the Anglican Bishop of Truro in southwest England, Philip Mountstephen.
“Christianity now faces the possibility of being wiped out in parts of the Middle East where its roots go back furthest.”
The report released Thursday says the proportion of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa – a predominantly Muslim region – has dropped from around 20 percent of the total population a century ago to some four percent today. In Iraq, the number of Christians has plummeted from 1.5 million early this century to less than 120,000 today.
It examines the treatment of Christians across parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and turns a spotlight on many governments, among them Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Iraq, Nigeria, and Algeria.
The report found that “high levels of persecution” were taking place in 50 countries, affecting some 245 million Christians. That’s more than ten percent of the world’s estimated 2.3 billion Christians.
Among the many problems identified:
State policies including clampdowns on public worship, a political climate in which extremism thrives, a trend towards religious conservatism in some Muslim-majority countries, the teaching of religious hatred in school textbooks, legal and social discrimination, hate speech targeting believers, arrests and intimidation, the destruction of churches and Christian symbols, and the abduction and killing of clergy.
“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 U.N.,” Mountstephen wrote.
(The U.N. Convention on Genocide defines genocide as actions including killing and seriously harming people “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”)
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who commissioned the independent study focused on Christian persecution early this year, told reporters in Ethiopia on Thursday, “I think we’ve all been asleep on the watch when it comes to the persecution of Christians.”
Hunt, a committed Christian, argued that some in the West have perhaps been held back from tackling the issue by “political correctness” and “an awkwardness” because of Europe’s colonial past.
“Personally, I think it is partly because of political correctness that we have avoided confronting this issue,” the Press Association quoted him as saying. “I think there is a misplaced worry that it is somehow colonialist to talk about a religion that was associated with colonial powers rather than the countries that we marched into to as colonizers.”
But, Hunt added, “what we have forgotten in that atmosphere of political correctness is actually the Christians that are being persecuted are some of the poorest people on the planet.”
Mountstephen made a similar point when the review was launched last January, saying that the Christian faith today is concentrated in poorer parts of the world, and is “not primarily an expression of white Western privilege.”
The report released Thursday is an interim one; the full report is due for publication over the summer, and is expected to include recommendations for government policies to respond to the situation.
Earlier this week in Washington, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a statutory independent body, issued its annual report, which also found that the worst violators of religious freedom are located in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Unlike the British report, which focused solely on Christian persecution, the USCIRF examines and makes policy recommendations to the government on violations against adherents of all faiths.
The USCIRF report determined that 16 countries meet the statutory criteria for designation as “countries of particular concern” for especially egregious violations.
They are Burma, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.