Thursday, February 21, 2008

Somalia and Ethiopia Improve Rank on Human Rights for Christians

Saint Liibaan of Somalia who was martyred in Mogadishu in 1994.

According to Open Doors’ 2008 World Watch List, Somalia and Ethiopia are two of the countries that improved human rights for Christians. The annual Christian persecution list moved Somalia from 4th of the bottom up to the 12th place, an improvement mainly related to the recent establishment of a secular government. Despite the improvement, persecution of Somali Christians is still widespread in the country and wherever overt harassment is absent, Christians are often ostracized by the Somali community.

Citizens of Somalia are almost entirely Sunni Muslims, with only a few hundred Christians. As an indication to severity of the religious persecution, many Christians have left Somalia during the civil wars while the Archbishop of the country’s cathedral left almost two decades ago.

In contrast, the northern region of Somaliland has been a noticeable exception for years, with its better religious freedom in particular and a progress towards democracy in general. According to figures from the 2008 report of Freedom House, after the northern Turkish region of Cyprus, Somaliland is the second closest to a democracy in the world compared to various “disputed territories” seeking UN recognition.

Concerns of religious persecution exist in some southern parts of neighboring Ethiopia, particularly in the Somali speaking region of Ethiopia, where a house of a Christian family in the regional capital of Jijiga was targeted by religious fundamentalists in January. But both neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia improved in their world rankings on religious freedom, 49th and 43rd respectively, while conditions in Eritrea (11th worst) and Libya (23rd worst) reportedly declined last year.

Worsening conditions for US allies

North Korea took first place in the ranking of the most Christian persecuting nations, becoming the worst country for Christians in the world for the sixth year in a row. Human rights groups around the globe have condemned the institutionalized persecution of Christians in many of these top persecuting countries. One of the top American allies, Saudi Arabia, was ranked the second worst country for Christians, triggering more criticism on America’s foreign policy.

In addition to Eritrea and Libya, Saudi Arabia was also one of the countries listed by the UN Security Council’s 2006 report about the source of support for the Al-Qaeda linked Islamic Courts Union (ICU) fighting the Somalia government in Mogadishu. However, Saudi Arabia is the largest U.S. export market in the Middle East and the world’s leading petroleum exporter, including around 20 percent of the total American imports of crude oil. Similarly, big Oil deals followed the restoration of American relations with Libya despite the religious and political conditions inside Libya, while US-Eritrea relations severely deteriorated.

The annual report by the rights watchdog, Open Doors, relates to the sentiment of observers about the capability of the struggling Somalia government. Many believe there is a potential for positive changes towards religious tolerance in Somalia under the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein. In addition to building a secular government, the TFG has the potential to attract investment from the secular Somali Diaspora, which relates more with the secular elements of the TFG than with ICU’s radical interpretations of Islam. But parts of Mogadishu suffer under near-daily attacks from the radical Islamist insurgency which has increasingly benefited from its Somali nationalism rhetoric to enhance its support base.

Source: Jimma Times.

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