Global database provides new info on anti-religion violence

By Jeff M. Sellers |
Church burnt by ISIS with cross on roof in Qaraqosh Iraq
A cross hangs from the roof of a church burned and destroyed by ISIL during their occupation of the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh on December 27, 2016 in Qaraqosh, Iraq. | Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The first global database to track cases of anti-religion violence became available to the general public in January, providing rights advocates, ministries and others a plethora of information to defend religious freedom and belief.

The Violent Incidents Database (VID) tracks types of perpetrators, religion of victims and both non-physical and physical violence, from forcible marriage to killings. Run by the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF) and funded by Global Christian Relief (GCR), it is the first worldwide database of incidents of anti-religion violence, said IIRF International Director Dennis Petri.

“It’s not expert-opinion based, it’s just recording incidents as they appear in public sources in the media, and that’s really the added value of the instrument, because it fills a gap,” Petri told Christian Daily International. “And of course, it’s useful for research but also for ministries that work in that space to inform their strategic planning, and also for advocacy and awareness raising, because it really gives you a sense of the scope and the magnitude of different phenomena.”

Providing searches by country, religion and perpetrator, the database also includes data on arrests, vandalism, sexual harassment, abductions, attacks on houses, attacks on shops, closures of worship venues, attacks on religious buildings and cases of people forced from their homes or countries.  

Kinds of perpetrators listed are religious groups, organized crime, political parties, religious leaders, ethnic leaders, family, government officials, ideological pressure groups, ordinary civilians, revolutionaries or paramilitary groups and multilateral organizations.

Research on religious freedom violations has developed greatly in the past few decades, Petri said, and several Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) data sets have emerged.

“They all have their value, and they’re getting better, and so that’s very helpful, but there was not an event-based database just yet, an instrument that records incidents of religious freedom violations whether violence or non-physical violence, and so that’s what we do,” Petri said.

The IIRF has had a database of religious violence cases in Latin America going back to 2002, but the group launched it as a global database available to the public starting in January.

“Reception has been very good,” Petri told Christian Daily International at the Jan. 30-31 International Religious Freedom in Washinton, D.C. “In academia, it’s already seen as a complement.”

Unlike some instruments that focus on one religious group, the VID catalogs incidents of violence against eight categories of people, including animists and atheists.

“There are entire religious traditions that just don’t collect data,” Petri said. “It’s very difficult to get together information. And even within Christianity, which does the best job, it’s still very uneven. So, some countries and some denominations will have more reports than others.”

About 95 percent of the data is based on public sources, Petri said, and by clicking on the “Actions” column of a given report, a user can access the URL for the incident source.

“It’s a database that at least, we hope, gives an expression to what’s known out there, and of course what we know is not everything that happens,” Petri said. “It can serve journalists, clearly, to raise awareness, to write context for stories, and it can give access to individual incidents, but mainly it provides the quantification just to give a sense of the scope of these things.”

The data base is a complement, not a substitute, for more targeted research, filling in the gaps of other efforts, he said.

“Of course, it’s very helpful for policymakers, especially people in the human rights fields, because in human rights what’s required is a way to prove that what you’re talking about is not just isolated incidents or exceptions but part of a pattern, that it’s structural. And the VID gives that framework,” Petri said.