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UK should do more to tackle persecution

10 April 2015

The Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander writes in the wake of the Garissa killings

CHRISTIAN persecution is once again filling our headlines, dominating our prayers, and weighing down our hearts.

This Easter weekend took place in the dark shadow of the brutal murder of 147 students in Garissa University in Kenya. Christian students were callously singled out and brutally killed by a murderous terrorist group that continues to terrorise the region.

The sermons and teachings of religious leaders this weekend were rich in references to this suffering. While many of us attended services during Holy Week, our fellow Christians in Kenya turned to armed guards to protect their congregations on the most important day of the Christian calendar.

Even before this latest massacre in Kenya, 2015 has been a year of recurring tragedy. Last month, in Lahore, suicide bombers attacked two churches, killing 17 people, and setting off a cycle of violence across the city. Today, 76 per cent of the world's population live in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom, and the vast majority of those facing persecution are Christians. Christians are subject to violence, intimidation, and discrimination in more than 50 countries.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was right to appeal for more to be done. He has called on us all to tackle this "climate of fear and animosity".

Other governments are already showing strong leadership. The United States and Canada have both appointed international ambassadors for tackling religious persecution. The UK, having fallen behind, should now follow suit.

An incoming Labour government would appoint a global envoy for religious freedom, reporting directly to the Foreign Secretary.

In addition, Labour would establish a multifaith advisory council on religious freedom within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Tackling religious persecution would be a key foreign-policy priority. Not just because it is po-litically right, but because it is a moral necessity.

Douglas Alexander is the Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary, and served as Secretary for International Development under Gordon Brown.

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