In the 19th century, British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce identified the slave trade as the single greatest violation of human rights. Over several years he led a successful abolition movement through collaborative partnerships, grassroots empowerment, and policy campaigns. 21Wilberforce is employing this powerful model to train and empower others, facilitate results-based solutions, and work with like-minded partners to advance religious freedom around the world. Here are highlights from our work in 2022.
ANDRÉ SIMÃO, 21WILBERFORCE’S LATIN AMERICA AMBASSADOR AND SENIOR FELLOW, RESPONDS TO CRY FOR HELP IN AFGHANISTAN
As soon as the Taliban took over Afghanistan, 21Wilberforce received a cry for help from pastors and missionaries working in the country, so they could be immediately removed from there, as they feared being killed. In contact with other organizations, we helped rescue 30 Christians in the first month. We continued to receive calls for help, but the doors around the world were already closed to Afghans. The requests were for us to help rescue Afghan families of employees from Christian NGOs promoting human rights in Afghanistan. They were Christian converts and Muslims from a persecuted ethnic minority hiding in the country, fearing they would be reported, found, and killed. There was no way not to act.
We helped connect NGOs to contacts (through a network of International Religious Freedom (IRF) organizations, facilitated by former US Ambassador-at-Large for IRF Samuel Brownback) so that they could issue passports and visas and identify evacuation routes by land or air that would still work. Also, in September 2021, Brazil issued an ordinance that authorized granting humanitarian visas to Afghans, but no government support or reception structure was offered. Many asked for a Brazilian visa but received no response, and the process did not flow. Andre’ spoke with the leadership of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (BR MFA) and understood their concern that Afghans, unassisted in Brazil, would be exposed to dangers on the streets without being able to speak Portuguese. We needed to overcome this obstacle to be able to rescue Christians and Muslims, who feared a tragic outcome for having served Christian organizations in Afghanistan. Andre’ talked to organizations in Brazil and proposed starting a project to welcome these Afghans – and thus unlock the granting of humanitarian visas to Afghans by Brazil. Read more here.
12 NATIONS REPRESENTED AT 21W LEADING FOR JUSTICE CONFERENCE
Fifty leaders of congregations from Virginia, Maryland and DC, participated in a “Leading for Justice” conference sponsored by 21Wilberforce, NorthStar Church Network and the Baptist World Alliance, March 10-11. These individuals represented more than a dozen nations where many continue to suffer under religious persecution. 21Wilberforce staff led the conference that kicked off with the question: “What injustice keeps you awake at night?” This was followed by five interactive sessions for transformational leaders about living with passion, leading with excellence and leading for systemic changes. Read more here.
21WILBERFORCE PARTNERED WITH THE BURMA ADVOCACY GROUP
Myanmar’s military seized control on 1 February 2021following a general election which Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party won by a landslide. What started as civil disobedience has evolved into a civil war across the country. The Biden administration has formally determined that violence committed against the Rohingya minority by Myanmar’s military amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity. In partnership with The Burma Advocacy Group, 21Wilberforce played a leading role in mobilizing thousands of Burmese diaspora and other concerned citizens through its collaborative advocacy technology. The Burma Advocacy Group is comprised of leaders from associations, churches, community groups who are acting with one voice to advocate for the passage of The Burma Bill in the U.S. Congress. Learn more here.
21W SPEAK FREEDOM CONFERENCE held at SAMFORD UNIVERSITY
21Wilberforce and the Baptist World Alliance co-hosted SPEAK FREEDOM, a one-day conference at Samford University on July 9, 2022. Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement. The leadership conference focused on living with passion, leading with excellence and leading systemic change. Participants attended to convene, connect, and contribute to a shared agenda for developing leaders in the struggle for justice. Read more here.
21WIILBERFORCE RESEARCH PROJECT AIMS TO INCREASE EFFECTIVENESS IN UN FoRB ADVOCACY
21Wilberforce is partnering with the University of Stirling on an innovative research project that will equip human rights advocacy groups with insights and proven pathways to successfully advance religious freedom through the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UN UPR process provides an opportunity for all UN Member States, sometimes in collaboration with human rights groups, to make recommendations for other countries to improve their human rights policies. Individual countries are scheduled for review every four and a half years and after the review they are expected to implement recommendations for human rights improvements. Read more here.
GLOBAL DEFENDERS NETWORK LAUNCH SPEARHEADED BY 21WILBERFORCE
21Wilberforce is spearheading a launch called The Global Defenders Network (GDN) in response to the growing need to provide legal representation and defend victims of unjust laws that violate everyone’s basic human right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). GDN is an association of individuals, organizations, and networks that will work collaboratively on individual member and group initiatives. It is hoped that, over time, this network’s activities will help reform the laws and judicial systems that have led to these violations. Read more here.
LAUNCHING A GLOBAL MOVEMENT TO STAND FOR THOSE IMPRISONED FOR THEIR RELIGION OR BELIEFS
The Global Campaign for Religious Prisoners of Conscience (RPOCs) launched at the 2022 IRF Summit in Washington D.C., to raise awareness about violations around the world of the fundamental right to religious freedom. Governments and non-state actors commit these violations, which have led to an untold number of people being unjustly imprisoned for their religious beliefs, actions, and/or advocacy.
Central to the campaign is its focus on people, individual RPOCs, who suffer the often-devastating consequences of unjust laws and/or practices. People are ill-equipped to process numbers and suffering on a grand scale, and often are numbed by statistics and events seemingly beyond their control. But we can understand and feel compelled to work on behalf of an imprisoned religious leader, a disappeared child, or an individual tortured by an unjust government or a non-state actor. Ultimately, we want these prisoners of conscience freed and repressive laws, policies and practices changed. Read more.
TIMOTHY FELLOWS INITIATIVE LAUNCHES IN 2022
21Wilberforce has launched a new initiative called “Timothy Fellows” for young Baptist professionals and students around the world. Currently, five of six regions within the Baptist World Alliance are represented and the first ten Fellows hail from the Benin, Brazil (2), Bulgaria, Germany, Ghana, Honduras, Nigeria, United Kingdom and the U.S. 21Wilberforce President Randel Everett and Trent Martin, 21W Advocacy and Training Coordinator are leading the emerging leader cohort. This is three-year training program designed to help the Fellows gain a deeper understanding of religious persecution and effective means to challenge oppression in their communities. Read more here.