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John Isaac, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons
indigenous people.jpg
John Isaac, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons
World News

‘Children refused school enrolment, water cut off’: New report highlights religious persecution in indigenous communities

by Tola Mbakwe

A Christian persecution watchdog has highlighted long-standing freedom of religion and belief violations happening in indigenous communities.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has published a new titled Belief and belonging, which brings awareness to the plight of religious minorities within indigenous communities.

The research, which is comprised of a series of interviews with indigenous people representing different religious beliefs, focuses on Colombia, India, Mexico and Vietnam.

It concluded that in those countries, freedom of religion or belief rights aren’t reflected in indigenous communities as they are elsewhere.

It found that in Colombia, community leaders and local authorities are the ones discriminating against religious minorities, and such violations are backed by courts.

The report highlights that Catholics in indigenous communities in Mexico are usually found to be discriminating against Protestants. The country has a law that protects the rights of indigenous communities to govern themselves according to traditional laws and customs, which makes it difficult to clamp down on violations.

President and founder Mervyn Thomas told Premier: “A number of Protestants in places have refused, for example, to sign an agreement obliging them to participate in religious activities associated with the Roman Catholic Church, and to make payments that will help with the upkeep of the Roman Catholic Church. When they have refused to sign these agreements in these in these four states, there are drastic measures taken by the indigenous the indigenous authorities.

“For example, they might have their electricity and water cut off from their homes. In one case, where we interviewed people, the village draining drainage network, when it was built, they didn't allow it to reach villages to be installed into these Protestant families’ homes.

“Children from the communities have not been able to enrol in the local school. And in some cases, they've even not been permitted to receive medical attention in the in the region. So it's quite serious.”

CSW said education is key in tackling religious discrimination in indigenous countries. The charity said people should learn that pluralism within a community is okay.

It has also called for governments to address the issue with urgency.

The report states: “The intersection of indigenous rights and freedom of religion and belief (FoRB) must be recognised and systematically and urgently addressed at the international, regional, national and local levels to ensure that the individual rights of all indigenous people receive the same protections afforded to non-indigenous peoples.

“This must be done in a way that also considers the way in which indigenous peoples have historically experienced attacks on their culture and identity with, in many cases, devastating consequences. These efforts must also be led by indigenous people themselves, with voices from both majority and minority communities within those populations.”

In addition to making specific recommendations to the governments of each country, the report calls on the United Nations and Member States to ensure that the right to FoRB of indigenous peoples is consistently raised in conversations and put in the spotlight.

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