To sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE

A tragic yet “largely invisible part of war and conflict” and the resulting refugee crisis is the sexual violence inflicted upon women, said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Holland addressed a gathering of humanitarians, scholars, faith and government leaders at a conference sponsored by the AMAR Foundation at Windsor Castle in the United Kingdom titled “Religious Persecution: The Driver for Forced Migration.”

“We have remarkable wisdom here,” said Baroness Emma Nicholson, chair and founder of the AMAR Foundation and a member of the UK House of Lords. “This wonderful, peaceful castle is of course a world away from the lives now being endured by many millions of people across the Middle East. In these next few days together it is imperative that we investigate the root causes of centuries-old hostilities. Why has religious persecution become the main driver for forced migration, and how do we stop these atrocities from happening in the future?”

Elder Holland lauded Baroness Nicholson for her organization’s religious tolerance initiative and efforts to address sexual violence in conflict.

“We seem as a global world to be able to accept and tolerate that at least 60 million of our fellow citizens are refugees. But it isn’t tolerable; this is wrong in all sorts of ways,” Baroness Nicholson said. “The harsh reality is underneath all of this is religious persecution.”

Because religious belief answers the basic answers of the human experience, Elder Holland said in his address, “A religious right is a human right. A human being must be permitted to find meaning in their life and for their life.” But these are rights which many in conflicts and forced migration do not enjoy.

Elder Holland explained that the freedom to search for meaning in life and to believe that a higher power has provided that meaning “is one of the most important freedoms a woman can have in any society where cultural traditions might seek to impose upon her a lesser conception of her own value. Religious freedom is the very foundation of anything that could be called empowerment.”

“Religious restrictions not only increase social violence and hostilities but also have been demonstrated to increase forced migration,” Elder Holland said. He explained that many religious groups in the past who had the freedom to do so chose emigration over persecution, as have the Yazidi and other minorities surrounded by conflict areas of the Middle East currently.

Elder Holland pointed to research by religious freedom scholars showing that high levels of religious freedom correlate with fewer incidents of armed conflict, high levels of health and earned income, and better educational opportunities for women.

“We need to realize that reducing restrictions on religion, particularly when these restrictions are targeted against minorities, is one additional component in the solution to forced migrations,” Elder Holland said.

Elder Holland cited a report from the UK House of Lords Select Committee on Sexual Violence in Conflict, chaired by Baroness Nicholson, which said if women are not involved directly in peace negotiations and in delivering the peace afterward, such efforts will be far less likely to succeed.

“We need that powerful and unique female force for good,” Elder Holland said. “Emma Nicholson is a magnificent example of the very empowerment of which we speak. She has done a herculean work in advancing this cause, and we are all indebted to her.”

The five-day conference at Windsor will continue through Wednesday, September 14. Elder Holland will speak of the Mormon refugee experience later in the conference.

In 2015, Elder Holland addressed the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Foreign Affairs in the House of Lords at the UK Parliament at the invitation of Baroness Nicholson. There he discussed humanitarian aid and religion’s role in resolving conflict.