This year’s International Religious Freedom report makes clear that governments are not the sole perpetrators of religious freedom abuses. Indeed, some of the worst persecutors of religious minorities are violent extremists and terrorist organizations.
The terrorist group ISIL expanded its territory in Iraq over the last year, and proceeded to commit horrendous atrocities against religious minorities and others in areas under its control. We are unlikely to know exactly how many Yezidis ISIL has massacred for some time because mass graves are still being discovered, but estimates are in the thousands, with at least hundreds killed simply for refusing to convert to Islam. Many Shia, Christians, Sunnis who disagree with ISIL, and others have also been killed or driven from their homes.
On both sides of the Iraq-Syria border ISIL sought to eliminate or enslave those who it assessed as deviating from ISIL’s own violent interpretation of Islam. It has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people, conducted mass executions, and kidnapped, sold enslaved, raped and/or forcibly converted thousands of women and children.
In Syria, the terrorist group al-Nusra Front conducted targeted executions of religious leaders including seven Druze clerics in Dara province and Jesuit priest Frans van der Lugt in Homs. Al-Nusra Front also kidnapped priests and nuns on multiple occasions, and engaged in bombings and other religiously-motivated attacks.
People living in northern Nigeria, the Far North Region of Cameroon, and southern Chad and Niger were subject to terror and destruction as a result of Boko Haram’s quest to impose its religious and political beliefs throughout the region. The group deliberately targeted Christians, as well as Muslims who spoke out against or opposed their radical ideology.
In Pakistan, violent extremist and terrorist groups attacked houses of worship, religious gatherings, and religious leaders, causing hundreds of deaths during 2014.
In Burma, abuses of religious freedom included societal violence against religious minorities, including Rohingya and other Muslims and Christians.
Governments around the world must take decisive action to prevent violence, harassment, discrimination, and other abuses against religious minorities. In the case of ISIL, the United States is working with 65 coalition partners to take the fight directly to the terrorists and defeat them.