Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians

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Across the globe, in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, Christians are being bullied, arrested, jailed, expelled and executed. Christianity is by most calculations the most persecuted religion of modern times. Yet Western politicians until now have been reluctant to speak out in support of Christians in peril.

That sums up succinctly the background to the work of this Independent Review, established by the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, HM Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and chaired by the Bishop of Truro, Rt. Rev. Philip Mounstephen. The core tasks (referenced in the Terms of Reference in the Appendix to this Final Report) were to map the extent and nature of the global persecution of Christians; to assess the quality of the response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and to make recommendations for changes in both policy and practice.

Initially, the aim was to conclude the Review by Easter 2019. However it rapidly became apparent that the scale and nature of the phenomenon simply required more time. Thus it was agreed that an Interim Report focusing on the scale and nature of the problem would be produced by the end of April 2019, with this Final Report to be delivered by the end of June.

After an introduction, and explanation of the methodology used to produce this Final Report, it continues with an analysis of the global phenomenon of Christian persecution. It provides this first by reproducing the Interim Report in its entirety as an essential element of the whole. It then drills down into particular countries by summarising the situation there, before taking a particular case study for each and commenting on and analysing the FCO response to it. The analysis of the phenomenon concludes with a summary analysis of the considerable amount of oral and written evidence that the Review team took.

The next section focuses more specifically on the FCO response to the issue by analysing the responses to a questionnaire sent to a large number of religious and civil society actors around the world. It follows that with an analysis of a parallel questionnaire sent to UK Embassies and High Commissions, before looking at the approach taken to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) both by individual states globally and by a number of multilateral institutions.

The report then ends with a conclusion and a clear set of recommendations for the FCO to implement.

There are two critical qualifying comments to make about the whole.

First, Independent Reviews of this nature would normally be conducted over a considerably longer period of time and with greater resources allocated to them than has been the case here. Nonetheless there have been strengths in a more light touch approach that has inevitably been less bureaucratic. But as a consequence I make no claim at all for this to be seen as ‘the last word’ on this issue. I would much rather it be seen as catalysing further action, as I’m sure it should. And while it makes no claim to be comprehensive, and some readers will no doubt take issue with parts of it, it nonetheless makes a persuasive case for a different approach on the part of the FCO.

Second, and all that notwithstanding, there is a considerably greater evidence base that stands behind this Review than will be evident from this present work in its printed form. Much of the evidence cited above will be complemented by a significantly greater body of evidence that will be deposited on the Review website over the coming days. Indeed there is further evidence still which cannot be made public due to security and confidentiality concerns.

‘The Times’ editorial cited above continued, ‘The West must be ready to support the Christian faith. That, rather than embarrassment, has to be the starting point of our necessary conversations with…. followers of other faiths.’ And it concluded, ‘We cannot be spectators at this carnage.’ Indeed we cannot, and it is the hope of the whole Review team that this report will help the FCO not to be spectators but to be actors using their very best efforts to address this egregious phenomenon.