Religious minorities under increasing threat in South-East Asia

There is a growing hostility towards Christians and other religious minorities in South-East Asian countries. Vietnam and Cambodia were recently reviewed in the course of the 32nd session of the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which concludes this week. ADF International, a faith-based legal organization with a full time presence in Geneva, contributed to the sessions with reports on both countries.

“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. In both Cambodia and Vietnam, people of various religions and beliefs, including Christians, continue to face hostility, harassment, and discrimination from local authorities and violent groups. We urge both countries to take every possible measure to ensure that human rights are fully respected, protected, and promoted. We call in particular for the repeal of any law limiting the ability to practice one’s faith and share it with others,”

said Giorgio Mazzoli, UN Counsel for ADF International in Geneva.

Religious freedom in Cambodia and Vietnam

While the UN review of Cambodia mainly focused on the violation of freedom of expression, ADF International’s report prominently addressed infringements of religious liberty. Despite enjoying constitutional protection of their rights, religious minorities in Cambodia have faced growing hostility in the last few years. For example, in 2016, a group of Montagnard Christian refugees from Vietnam were deported. In the same year, local government authorities broke up a bible study group in Ratanakiri, denying its members freedom of assembly and religion.

In Vietnam, freedom of religion is constitutionally protected but the “Law on Belief and Religion,” which entered into force a year ago, has undermined this. The law subjects religious activity to a higher degree of control through additional registration requirements. It justifies limiting religion on vague grounds such as “national security,” “public order,” and “community well-being.” Enforcement of the law is uneven across different localities and religions, and many believers face unfair treatment. Christianity viewed as a vessel for unwelcomed foreign influence that threatens national customs and traditions. Consequently, Christians are increasingly exposed to intimidation, physical force, or coercion.

Top priority to focus on religious minorities

During the review sessions, many criticized Vietnam for the Law on Belief and Religion. They called on the government to review it and bring it in line with international laws on religious freedom and freedom of speech. Cambodia’s session saw a strong focus on violations of freedom of expression as well as assembly. These violations directly affect Christians and other religious minorities.

“It is very important to participate in this international review process and help improve the human rights situation in as many countries as possible, and especially in Cambodia and Vietnam, for which we also filed reports,”

said Elyssa Koren, Director of UN Advocacy for ADF International.

“Too often, the UN’s review processes focus on the wrong issues, and fundamental human rights are neglected. As our report makes clear, the increasing hostility toward Christians and other religious minorities should be at the top of the UN’s priorities.”

What is the Universal Periodic Review?

The Universal Periodic Review mechanism assesses the human rights situation in all 193 UN Member States. The process is state-driven and provides the opportunity for each Member State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation in their countries. It is designed to give civil society, as well as fellow UN Member States, an opportunity to help promote fundamental human rights around the world.

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