Uniting for justice

7_Meriam-IbrahimWhether it’s opposing large-scale corporatised tax evasion under the umbrella of the Tax Justice Network, supporting UnitingWorld or speaking out with other groups on a range of issues, the need for successful campaigning partnerships is obvious and increasing.

From supporting grassroots initiatives to partnering in global campaigns, the Uniting Church is involved in a broad range of humanitarian and advocacy activities.

Middle East Concern (MEC) is one of the many organisations the Uniting Church partners with on international advocacy operations.

MEC is a broad coalition working to promote religious freedom and support individuals suffering human rights abuses in the Middle East and North Africa.

With a specific focus on supporting persecuted Christians, MEC was formed in 1991 in response to concerns in Egypt. Organisations from across the globe as well as many Christian leaders in the Middle East and North African region are members of MEC.

Originally from Melbourne, Vicki Salkin is the UK-based advocacy and development manager for MEC. Ms Salkin has more than 20 years’ experience in the Australian government sector specialising in international law, speaks several languages and has undertaken additional training in cross-cultural communication.

On a recent visit to Melbourne, Ms Salkin met with politicians and a range of local supporters including the Uniting Church synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

Ms Salkin cites the widely publicised case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag (pictured) as an example of conducting successful advocacy through a range of international partnerships.

Earlier this year Ms Ibrahim (who was raised as a Christian) was given a death sentence under Article 126 of the Sudanese criminal law concerning apostasy – leaving the religion of Islam and converting to another religion. Reports suggest family members filed a lawsuit to have Ms Ibrahim declared a Muslim despite being raised as a Christian.

“The case of Meriam is a classic case,” Ms Salkin said.

“It illustrates all the persecuting factors in the region. It’s a very good illustration of effective international advocacy with partner groups – including the Uniting Church.

“Advocacy is very important in these sorts of cases. We approach politicians and governments to put pressure on governments in the region where abuses occur. In Meriam’s case it’s been a huge success and many Uniting Church people were heavily involved.”

Ms Ibrahim gave birth to her daughter in jail and the death sentence was to be carried out when her daughter turned two.

The case drew international condemnation and a host of groups rallied to advocate on behalf of Ms Ibrahim.

“The campaign really started when she was sentenced to death,” Ms Salkin said.

“Middle East Concern immediately sent out an advocacy request around the world to politicians and also the Uniting Church – the Uniting Church hopped onto it straight away.

“Uniting Church members supported a global letter-writing campaign to overturn the conviction.

“Ms Ibrahim was eventually released from jail after a court appeal.”

Despite the success of this particular case, Ms Salkin notes there is still much to do in combating injustice in the region.

“Unfortunately what we’ve seen with Ms Ibrahim’s case – this amazing success story – isn’t always replicated in that part of the world,” she said.

As Ms Salkin explained, frequently incidents concerning family disputes relate to inheritance and other financial matters.

“For instance, if a Muslim in Jordan becomes a Christian, he or she can be taken to a personal status court and basically stripped of all of their civil rights,” Ms Salkin said.

“Your marriage can be annulled, your children taken away, your inheritance taken away, your passport taken – you still remain a Jordanian citizen but in effect you suffer civil death.”

Commenting on the instability of the region, Ms Salkin stressed the need for ongoing combined efforts.

“Our goal in working with Syrian Christians is to have an inclusive society where Christians are included in the government and community decision making, social and cultural aspects of the nation – along with other minorities.

“That’s what we are working towards and that would be the ideal across the entire region.

“There is amazing work being done supporting Christians but there’s always work to do and there is so much more strength in unity.”

For more information on the work of Middle East Concern visit www.meconcern.org.

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