Friday, December 2, 2011

November 10th, 2011 - LTNI Meets with Hamilton-Area NDP Member Parliaments


Love thy Neighbour International extends its sincere thanks and appreciation to MP David Christopherson (Hamilton Center), for coordinating and inviting two other Hamilton area New Democratic Party MPs, to meet with an LTNI delegation at his constituency office. On November 10th, 2011 LTNI Chair Vincent Samuel, Director Rafique Masih and Executive Member Simon Arif met with MP David Christopherson and MP Chris Charlton (Hamilton Mountain East), as well as a constituency office staff member of MP Wayne Marsdon (Stoney Creek).

Initially, Vincent spoke regarding the lack of religious freedom and human rights around the world. According to recent REW research reports, approximately one third of the countries in the world have high or very high restrictions on religion, and nearly 70% of the world's population live in countries with heavy restrictions on freedom of religion. These restrictions on religion originate from both national authorities and religion-related terrorism undertaken by private individuals, organizations and extremist groups. Government restrictions included constitutional limitations or other prohibitions on free speech. Countries in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa have the most severe restrictions on religion. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran top the list of such countries. While most countries provide for the protection of religious freedom in their constitutions or laws, only a quarter of these countries fully respect and implement these legal rights in practice.

In 75 countries i.e., 4 out of every 10 countries in the world - governments limit the efforts of religious groups to preach and in 178 countries or 90% percent of the world’s countries: members of religious groups must register with the government. India and China also have extreme, but different restrictions on religion. China has very high levels of government restriction but few incidents of social hostilities, while India has very high social hostilities but few government restrictions. The governments with most religious restrictions are Saudi Arabia, Iran,Uzbekistan, China, Egypt, Burma, Maldives, Eritrea, Malaysia and Brunei. Whereas, countries with highest religion related terrorism are Iraq, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Somalia, Israel, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

Vincent then gave a detailed presentation to the MPs on various issues relating to the creation of the office of religious freedom by the Conservative Government of Canada. It was emphasized that the issue of religious freedom is neither about freedom of one particular religion nor is it an issue of importance for only the Conservative Party of Canada. LTNI considers it a human rights issue and a value that all Canadians hold. Therefore it requires support across all political parties and from all ethno-religious minorities. David Christopherson promised to meet with Conservative MP David Sweet on this issue on behalf of other two Hamilton NDP MPs, and assured their support.

The focus of this meeting revolved around the following themes:

1. The role of Canadian Parliament in the creation of office of religious freedom. Vincent stressed the need for strong legislation and all-party support in Parliament. He explained that this legislation requires some “teeth” to prevent the office from becoming a ceremonial or research based educational institution. Instead, the office should be able to recommend policy initiatives, rewards and punitive measures to promote religious freedom effectively across the world.

2. The role of the Canadian International Development Agency as it enjoys special relationship with serious offender nations in the world. 80% of international development funds are given to just 20 countries; most of them violators of human rights. CIDA can effectively influence the lives of religious minorities in a positive manner by redirecting funds for their development as well.

3. The impact of the office of religious freedom within Canada and its unintended consequences with regards to Islamic religion and cultural practices: i.e. women’s rights, polygamy, female circumcision, sharia banking, jihadi ideology, prayer during work and animal sacrifice etc.

In the end both MPs in attendance promised to work with LTNI and planned to have future follow-up meetings. Also future targeted development projects for religious minorities in Pakistan were discussed. A pilot project run by Rafique Masih for the elimination of poverty via agriculture was briefly discussed. MPs were open to offering support to similar projects when presented in the future. At the close both MPs and three staff in attendance thanked LTNI delegation for this update and meeting.

Click here for the original report.

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