World Bulletin/News Desk
The world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent history last year, according to a report by the U.S. State Department.
Syria, Central African Republic and Burma led the world in displacing people on grounds of their religious identities, the International Religious Freedom Report of 2013, released by US State Department on Monday, revealed.
Millions of mostly Sunni Muslims became refugees in Syria and approximately 160,000 Christians fled the country during three years of civil conflict which have left hundreds of thousands people dead.
In the Central African Republic, sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims resulted in at least 700 deaths in the capital, Bangui, in December alone and the displacement of more than one million Muslims throughout the country during 2013, the report stated.
Anti-Muslim violence in the city of Meikhtila in Burma led to about 100 people being killed and an estimated 12,000 residents being displaced from the area early in the year.
Violations of religious freedom
"This event showed that mob violence against Muslims was no longer confined to western Rakhine State (Rohingya), where over 140,000 persons have also been displaced since 2012," the report said.
Introducing the report, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which is attributed to governments which engage in, or tolerate particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
The designation is made by the US Secretary of State under authority delegated by the US President.
Turkmenistan was added to the list for the first time by Kerry.
On governments' attitude towards religious minorities, North Korea topped the list for its absolute prohibition of religious organizations and harsh punishment for any unauthorized religious activities, according to the report.
It also noted countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan put severe restrictions on members of religious groups who did not conform to the state-approved religions while in China, Cuba, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, religious activity was only lawful if explicitly authorized by the state.
The report underlined that anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiments were on rise in Europe, noting that intolerance was not limited to countries in active conflict.
Referring to a survey by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) of eight member states - Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and United Kingdom - released in November 2013, it said 48 percent of the local Jewish population had considered emigrating in some countries because of anti-Semitism.
Regarding religious freedom in Turkey, the report said: "Members of religious groups that had formal recognition during the Ottoman period, including the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Armenian Protestant, and Jewish communities, reported they had freedom to practice their faiths."
The Turkish government in 2013 continued to return or provide compensation for property confiscated from religious community foundations in previous decades.
The report said that, amid the darkness of religious strife, there had also been inspiring acts of interfaith solidarity.
Following the Peshawar church bombing in Pakistan in 2013, Muslims formed human chains around churches during services in a show of solidarity against violence, it said.
In Egypt, Muslims stood in front of a Catholic church to protect the congregation from attacks.
Touching upon attacks on mosques in the United Kingdom, the report said that a local orthodox Jewish neighborhood watch team assisted Muslim leaders to ensure safe access to mosques and alerted them to possible attacks.
The US Department of State submits the annual report to the US Congress in compliance the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
US embassies prepare the initial drafts of the reports based on information from groups including government officials, religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, religious groups and academics.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Temmuz 2014, 15:45