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Uganda among Countries with Religious Discrimination During COVID-19: Recent Report

A poster of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPGFoRB)

Uganda is one of the several countries in Africa where religious minorities have been excluded in key strategies to fight COVID-19, a recent report on the state of religious freedom, which also highlights various forms of religious discrimination and persecution across the world indicates.

Compiled by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPGFoRB), the report details the situation of religious freedom in 30 countries, including those in Africa where religious inequalities have been documented.

In Uganda, the APPGFoRB report notes that the government’s response to COVID-19 has systematically excluded religious minority groups.

“Consultative meetings with religious communities to allocate distribution of supplies and to coordinate responses and health messaging have been organized under the umbrella of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda whose membership is limited to seven organizations,” the APPGFoRB report indicates.

Making reference to the East African country, the limited outreach to just seven religious entities “means that all other groups are not included. This is not only to the detriment of those groups, but to everyone in Uganda, as certain groups being denied the knowledge and support to protect themselves from COVID-19 means that it is more likely to spread and persist in the country,” the report further indicates.

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Members of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda include representatives from the Catholic Church, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the Church of the Province of Uganda and the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council.

Others are the Uganda Orthodox Church, the Born Again Faith and the National Alliance of Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches of Uganda.

In the report dubbed “Commentary on the Current State of International Freedom of Religion” that was launched Monday, March 1, there are countless other examples of religious and belief minority communities globally being discriminated against following the outbreak of COVID-19.

The commentary looked at the impact of COVID-19 on religious minorities as well as concerns at the intersection between freedom of religion and gender in several countries.

It specifically explored the increased vulnerability of minority religious and belief communities due to economic pressures occasioned by the pandemic, the state crackdowns on marginalized religious and belief communities as well as violence that was inspired by religious beliefs.

More in Africa

Other African countries highlighted in the APPGFoRB report include Burundi, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Libya and Zimbabwe.

Non-African countries in the commentary include Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Israel, India, among others.

The report highlights an incident in South Korea where members of the Shincheonji church of Jesus have been demonized and blamed for the spread of COVID-19 by government officials, leading to over 4,000 documented cases of discrimination against its members including being fired from jobs due to membership of the church.

In other countries, the report notes, members of minority religious groups have been accused of being responsible for the spread of the virus and physically assaulted in public.

APPGFoRB is a group of over 130 cross-party parliamentary members who champion the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), as outlined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among their fellow parliamentarians, policy-makers, the media and the general public and pursue effective implementation of policy recommendations relating to this right.

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Established in 2012, the group benefits from the expertise of 20 human rights and faith-based stakeholder organizations.

While launching the 66-page report, APPGFoRB emphasizes the impact that the global pandemic has had on FoRB, stressing that many countries in the world have experienced “a tsunami of hate and xenophobia.”

“Religion and belief communities have been blamed for the virus; made scapegoat for the outbreaks; castigated as irresponsible ‘super-spreaders’; accused of being resistant to implement public health measures, of peddling ‘phoney’ remedies, of opposing vaccinations etc, etc,” the report states.

It adds, “Whilst freedom of conscience must of course be respected, many of these attacks, which have made some religion or belief groups the target of conspiracy theories and of hate speech, have amounted to little more than self-serving attempts to deflect attention from the failure of the authorities in relation to these matters.”

According to the report, many countries have seen increases in levels of violent conflict during the pandemic.

This, the report says, is because of how, in some cases, the pandemic has negatively interacted with the root causes of conflict such as youth unemployment, social and economic inequalities, and stigmatization of minority groups.

There have also been increasing reports of armed groups utilizing the chaos and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the report notes.

The report makes reference to the US Institute for Peace on Nigeria which says, in part, “Boko Haram has stepped up its attacks as the number of cases in Borno State grows. These attacks combined with other battles involving farmers and herders and increasing banditry in the northwest have displaced hundreds of thousands of people.”