Persecution watchdog group Open Doors has accused the U.S. and world leaders of standing by and watching Christian genocide happen in 2014, following the release of its World Watch List of countries where followers of Christ are most heavily targeted. The group added that Christian persecution is very much a "leading indicator" of major humanitarian problems, such as the rise of terror group ISIS.
Open Doors CEO David Curry told The Christian Post in a phone interview on Wednesday that "there has been a genocide of Christians in Iraq, and the Western world stood by and watched it happen."
He added that for 2015, he would like to see world leaders "understand that the persecution of Christians is a leading indicator, around the world, of major humanitarian problems. It's not that Christians are collateral damage; it's that they're being targeted — and wherever they are being targeted, there are future problems."
The newly released World Watch List ranks 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith. The majority of nations on the list are spread throughout North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where hostilities toward Christians have risen in 2014.
One of the most notable news stories of 2014 has been the rise of terror group ISIS, which has captured large amounts of territory across Iraq and Syria, countries which find themselves ranked as No. 3 and No. 4 on the WWL, respectively.
ISIS has heavily targeted Christians and other religions minorities, often forcing people to convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed for their faith. The terror group has emptied entire centuries–old Christian communities from several cities in the region.
The U.S. and a broad coalition of allies has responded by carrying out airstrikes against ISIS and other affiliated jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria, and they've supported regional forces fighting back against the terror group.
Curry told CP, however, that he hasn't seen any actions taken by world leaders that've actually been able to help the affected refugees and persecuted people on the ground.
"I am very disappointed by the response of the U.S. government and State Department in the protection and advocacy for persecuted Christians," he said. "The power and leadership vacuum within the United States has created a very dangerous situation in Iraq for Christians."
"I'm not aware of any significant thing that has happened beyond trying to contain the borders of the Islamic State."
He added that although ISIS has stolen headlines in 2014, jihadists have been targeting Christians in the region for the past decade. Curry argued that the U.S. and other western governments, including the United Nations Security Council, have failed to stand up and protect the rights and lives of Christians.
North Korea remained at the very top of the WWL for the 13th consecutive year. Curry said that despite the release of Korean-American Christian missionary Kenneth Bae and a couple of other western citizens that had been detained by the government of Kim Jong Un, those cases do not, in any way, show that North Korea is softening its harsh treatment of Christians.
"It is number one on the WWL, the most brutal and dangerous place in the world to be a Christian, because the government requires and enforces with hostility a total dedication to the hero worship of their leader. So it's gotten more dangerous in North Korea, not less," the Open Doors CEO said.
"I think the fact that he [Kim] has released one or two foreigners likely has to do with some political consideration, but it has not changed their posture or their position on Christians within their country. Christians are the number one enemy of the state, according to North Korea, and they treat them with great brutality."
A major Asian nation that remains high on the WWL is India at 21st place, with 2014 marking a number of violent attacks carried out by Hindu extremists on Christians.
Persecution of Christians has continued despite the Indian government marketing itself as the world's largest democracy, and expressing continued desire to join the ranks of the most powerful and influential nations in the world.
"This year, and during the reporting year, India has become a more dangerous place for Christians, largely because Hindu extremists seem to think that the new government there will give them impunity when they attack Christian churches. The episodes of violence there from extremists are on the rise," Curry said.
As for the seeming disconnect between the Indian government and this level of persecution, Curry noted that it is not uncommon for a government to reach out for strong relations with the West, but be unwilling to improve its religious freedom record.
"India is following a very familiar pattern," he said. "We have other 'partners,' so to speak, Saudi Arabia being the most notable, that want to do business with us, but are still brutally suppressing the freedom of religion for Christians."
African countries have experienced a significant rise in Christian persecution in 2014, the WWL notes, with Somalia finding itself at second place in the list; Sudan at No. 6, Eritrea and No. 9, and Nigeria at No. 10.
Terror group Boko Haram in Nigeria, targeting Christians and seeking to force out the government, has made a number of news headlines throughout the 2014 with a series of massacres and mass kidnappings.
Curry suggested that terror groups such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab are actively learning from the tactics of ISIS, allowing them to increase their scope and level of brutality.
"This wave of violence, this ideology of hatred, is spreading. That's why this year you see Africa and African countries rising on the list," he said.
As the only representatives of the American continents on the WWL, Mexico at 38 and Colombia at 35 stand out among the others.
"That is a surprise to people, but the answer is found in organized crime revolving around drugs, and the fact that Mexico and Columbia have targeted priests, targeted Christian pastors, seeing them as a threat to their freedom to continue their illicit activities," Curry said.
In December, the Vatican reported that Mexico remains the most dangerous country in Latin America for priests, noting that there have been 47 attacks against clergy members in the past 24 years.
Open Doors warned that Christian persecution around the world is likely to continue rising in 2015, unless world leaders take more concrete actions to safeguard the religious and human rights of people.
"They need to support the human rights issues revolving around freedom of religious expression," Curry concluded.
The 2015 WWL includes information on the level and type of persecution going on in each country on the list, as well as specific points people can focus their prayers on.