In January 2020, Open Doors, an international NGO advocating on behalf of persecuted Christians, released their annual World Watch List. The World Watch List provides an assessment of 50 countries where Christians face the most severe types of persecution. At the very top of the list, the countries which show extreme levels of persecution, we see North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, India and Syria.
The World Watch List 2020 does not give much hope for the persecuted communities. Indeed, it presents a grim picture of the situation of Christians globally making it very clear that the persecution encountered by them continues to get worse. The report identifies that, “in 2020, 260 million Christians live in World Watch List top 50 countries where Christians are at risk of high, very high or extreme levels of persecution. This is up from 245 million in 2019.” The report also emphasizes some important, negative changes within global trends of the persecution of Christians. Furthermore, it identified that: “countries which had previously avoided more intense levels of persecution, such as Sri Lanka and Burkina Faso have, in the reporting period, experienced destabilizing violence, highlighting the fragile persecution context in west Africa and south Asia.”
The report suggests that we should be positive about the future for persecuted Christians globally, as “faith actors across the world are standing firm and strengthening communities against the odds. Church leaders, wider church networks and faith based non-governmental organizations provide a lifeline of care in isolated places, where no other help is forthcoming.” However, the numbers and the narrative gives a very different impression. According to the report, the situation in China continues to worsen as more and more churches in China are experiencing pressure at the hands of the Chinese state. Indeed, in the reporting period, over 5,500 churches have been destroyed, closed down or confiscated. In India, Christian minorities are subjected to extreme persecution which manifested in at least 1,445 physical attacks and death threats against Christians in 2019. In Nigeria, in 2019, approximately 1,350 Christians were killed for their faith. Indeed, these numbers do not give much hope to the persecuted.
One must acknowledge the great contribution of faith leaders across the world, standing up for the persecuted. However, it is important to recognize that their assistance can do only so much if states and international actors do not step up their game and address the issue. It is crucial to realize that more and more states are waking up to these issues, recognizing that it requires a comprehensive response.
Among others, the UK, the US, Poland and Hungary have been leading the way. However, as the issue is a global phenomenon, it requires a truly global response. The response does not only require a response after the atrocities have occurred and efforts to assist the victims, it also requires a strong response in securing justice. Indeed, impunity will only beget further crime. This is visible in many parts of the world, no least in Nigeria. In Nigeria, Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen have been perpetrating mass atrocities unabated for several years. In January 2020, a new actor (to the region) has emerged: Daesh fighters. They have been reported to have killed several Christians with a promise to continue to spill more blood without mercy.
Knowing the situation of Christians globally, it is difficult to hold hope of a better future. States and international actors must come to a conclusion, once and for all, that acts of violence as experienced by Christians (but also other religious groups) globally, will not cease on their own. Actions are required. These actions are required now.