Five Predictions for 2022
1) Governmental repression on account of faith continues – Genocide-like conditions in China and Burma against Uighur and Rohingya Muslims will continue unabated. Both Beijing and Naypyidaw appear immune to scorn and sanctions. Burma’s military leaders have faced targeted sanctions for years with no real change in their behavior. New limits on imports from China sourced from Xinjiang are a positive development. 2022 will show whether these will spur significant change. Elsewhere, Iran’s persecution of the Baha’is will continue, while Algeria further slides away from its positive record for minority rights.
2) Democracies fail to protect religious minorities – India will hold state assembly elections across the vast nation, giving an opening for firebrands to use religion as a tool to scaremonger for votes. These state campaigns will impact millions; the province of Uttar Pradesh alone, the epicenter of Muslim lynchings and church closures, has over 200 million people. Similarly, 2022 elections in Nepal could swing away from minority rights. And democratic tools will continue to be used against minorities in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, limiting space for diversity of thought and belief.
3) Progress reversed – Sudan under the leadership of Abdalla Hamdok made real gains in reversing decades of autocratic Islamist rule. Unfortunately, the past year saw reversals in democratic progress, and recent shootings of protestors further darkened the picture. The military will likely sacrifice religious freedom reforms to curry favor with extremists. Also concerning is the impact of the State Department removing Nigeria from the “country of particular concern” list, both for the strength of U.S. engagement in the country on religious freedom and the signal it sends to Abuja about how they can ignore these concerns. And the floor will continue to drop in Afghanistan as the Taliban presses its regressive agenda.
4) Better coordination for human rights – The darkening clouds on the horizon will spur rights-respecting nations to organize themselves to meet the challenge more effectively. The International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance (IRFBA), for instance, continues to grow and raise its collective voice. And while the composition of the UN Human Rights Council falls short of its ideals, it will spur new measures among likeminded nations to use the venue to highlight abuses. The challenge is ensuring these efforts move beyond statements to consequential diplomacy that prompts change on the ground for the persecuted.
5) Opportunities to seize – The Central Asian nations of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan continue to improve their records relating to freedom of religion or belief, providing leadership among their neighbors that could hopefully spur a race to the top. Likewise, the various Persian Gulf emirates continue to provide space for diversity of beliefs and freedom of worship in ways unthinkable to regional behemoths Saudi Arabia and Iran. As a result, both regions offer opportunities for creative partnerships to expand respect for freedom of religion or belief.