The Church of Scotland has raised concerns about proposed restrictions to religious freedom in Nepal with the UK and Scottish Governments. The Moderator of the General Assembly has written to the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond MP, and the Scottish Minister for International Development, Humza Yousaf MSP.
The Moderator has expressed his grave fears at the plans currently being debated in the Nepali parliament, which may deprive people of the right to choose their religion. This directly contravenes the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – despite Nepal agreeing to it as far back as 1991.
The Rt Rev Dr Angus Morrison writes: "The growing threat to religious freedom around the world is, I believe, one of the most pressing issues of our time. As Moderator, I wish to encourage people of good will everywhere to take this matter with the utmost seriousness, and together to do everything we can to promote the cause of freedom of religion and belief for all, including the crucially important right to change one's religion.
"On behalf of our partners and friends in Nepal, I therefore request that you raise this matter with the Government of Nepal, and thus help to ensure that, in its proper sense, freedom of religion for all people in Nepal is enshrined in the country's new constitution."
There have been fears that with the attention on other serious issues facing Nepal, these changes could be put in place without any international scrutiny. Dr Morrison hopes there is still time to encourage the Nepali government to rethink its plans.
The Church of Scotland has a long history of engagement in Nepal which began in 1870 when a mission station was founded in Kalimpong, in the frontier territory between India, Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. There has been continued support to Nepal from the United Mission to Nepal (UMN) since 1954.
Nepal has been officially secular since 2008. Of the population, 81 per cent are Hindu, with Christians officially accounting for just 1.4 per cent. It is thought the true figure is at least double this – making for a sizeable minority who could be under threat from the new proposals.
Human rights within Nepal were particularly poor in the years 1996-2006, but more recently the situation in the country has improved. The Church is concerned the threat of restrictions to religious freedom could indicate a worrying change in the direction the government is heading. .
Ties between the Church of Scotland and Nepal remain strong. At this year's General Assembly the Rev Ram Kumar Budhathoki of Nepal Ebenezer Bible College gave a heart-felt speech on the state of the country following the devastating earthquakes, which he experienced with his congregation and which left many thousands dead.
Later in the year, the Church will send a delegation to Nepal followed by practical support for the United World Mission. Sandy Sneddon, of the Church's World Mission Council said: "The Church of Scotland will launch a campaign in September to support UMN's rebuilding and rehabilitation work in Dhading district. In August I will visit Nepal for discussions with UMN and to visit the area where the work will be focussed. I will also meet with our three mission partners serving with UMN and Ram Kumar Budhathoki, whose story touched so many people at May's General Assembly."
* Read the Moderator's letter to the Foregin Secretary here: http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/28578/Dea...
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