Baroness Cox addresses violations of religious freedom in Nigeria and Azerbaijan in the House of Lords

23 October 2015

Yesterday (22/10/2015), Baroness Cox spoke in a short debate in the House of Lords concerning Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights – ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.’

Violations of freedom of religion are prolific in many of the countries in which HART works. On this occasion, Baroness Cox drew attention to such violations in Nigeria and Azerbaijan.

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, if any, to promote Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Baroness Cox (CB): My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend on this important debate and his powerful introduction. I will focus on the violations of religious freedom in two countries largely ignored by international media but in need of urgent attention. In northern Nigeria, attacks on those who do not adhere to Boko Haram’s ideology occur almost daily. Since October 2014, nearly 4,000 people have been killed and around 2.2 million internally displaced.

Last week, suicide bombings on the outskirts of Maiduguri in Borno state targeted two mosques, with at least 39 Muslims killed. When I and my colleagues from my NGO, HART, visited the area, we learned that the scale of slaughter and abduction far exceeds that reported by the media. For example, the horrific plight of the Chibok girls, already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, is internationally known, but the fate of more than 1,000 women and girls taken by Boko Haram—which also abducts and forcibly recruits boys as young as 12 years old—is not. Christian communities have been subject to regular attacks for decades in northern Nigeria, but these have escalated with the rise of Boko Haram. A reign of terror persists there, as described powerfully last week by Victoria Yohanna, who herself escaped from Boko Haram.

I turn briefly to Azerbaijan, which has been classified as “not free” by Freedom House. The Government there restrict the religious practices of most non-Shia Muslim communities. Leaders of unsanctioned religious services have been imprisoned, and many mosques and Muslim schools have been closed. Churches must be registered, but none have been able to do so since January 2010. Those gathering to study religion have been jailed and some deported.

A junior State Committee official has claimed:We forbid religious books—but this isn’t religious discrimination”. Police raids of Muslim prayer and study meetings continue. A raid of a home in September 2015 left 85 people taken for questioning, 3,000 religious books confiscated and two Turkish scholars deported. On 7 October this year, five Sunni Muslims were jailed following their arrest during a raid of an Islamic study meeting. Their lawyers were not allowed to attend the final hearing.

What representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the Governments of Nigeria and Azerbaijan concerning these serious assaults on freedom of religion and belief?

You can read the full text of the debate on Hansard here.

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