World Day of Social Justice – 20 February 2015
Social justice becomes a reality when social protection measures against discrimination and marginalization are enforced, thus targeting systemic social injustice and differential treatment. This is what the United Nations General Assembly aimed at emphasizing when it proclaimed The World Day of Social Justice on 20 February 2007. The advancement of social justice requires the removal of such barriers which discriminate against people based on – but not exclusive to – their age, gender, religion, culture, ethnicity or disability.
In Eritrea, religion can be a basis for differential treatment and persecution. A 1995 Presidential Decree declared that the country would recognize only four religions: the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Roman Catholicism, and Sunni Islam. The 1997 Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but because it was never implemented, the Decree trumps this right. All other faiths were banned and those who practice them would incur penalties of arrest, detention in inhumane conditions, intimidation and even social exclusion.
Makda, a young Eritrean girl, recounts how her father was expelled from his government job and left with no income to support his wife and seven children for being a Jehovah’s Witness.
“Our family were called “traitors” and our neighbours harassed us when we went outside. One day my parents and I were arrested during a religious gathering – I was only 14 years old. After three days, locked up in a cold prison cell with my mother, the officer released me with a warning: “Do not follow your parents’ religion or you will be expelled from school”.