Monday, March 24, 2008

Former Kosovo Peacekeeper Becomes a Voice for Persecuted Christians

PEACE SEEKER Massillon, OH resident D. Hunter Haynes, a former police officer and a United Nations peacekeeper in Kosovo, is founder of the Orthodox Christian Advocacy Institute, which seeks to investigate incidents of religious persecution around the world. Haynes said thousands Christians are killed every year in persecutions. REPOSITORY PHOTO MICHAEL S. BALASH

MASSILLON, OH - D. Hunter Haynes said when he traveled to Kosovo in 2000, he was seeking adventure. What he found was a personal mission to raise awareness of religious persecution around the world.

Haynes, 41, who went to Kosovo as a U.N. peacekeeper, said at least 150 Orthodox churches have been systematically destroyed or profaned there; the result of fighting between Serbs, and Albanians, Kosovo's majority population.

In response, he started the Orthodox Christian Advocacy Institute, a company that investigates incidents of religious persecution — particularly involving Orthodox Christians — around the world.

"I've thought about doing this for a couple of years," said Haynes, who has a tiny office in downtown Massillon decorated with Orthodox icons, maps, and books from his great-grandfather's library. Haynes moved his family to Massillon after graduating from Ohio State University in January. His wife, Valerie, is from Waynesburg.

A lifelong Presbyterian, Haynes said that what he witnessed in Kosovo, led to his conversion to Orthodoxy.

"With my experience, I thought, 'How can I benefit the church?'" he said. "I felt responsible to do some kind of human-rights work."

HOT SPOTS

A former Marine, and a police officer and sheriff's deputy for 12 years, Haynes was recruited for the U.N. peacekeeping force by DynCorp, a private contractor, for the U.S. Department of State. From September 2000 through Sept. 19, 2001, he was a precinct captain at one of 34 police stations in Kosovo.

"After the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia in 1999, the United Nations set up an interim government in Kosovo," he explained. "They wanted a civilian police force, but how do you do that? They decided to import veteran officers for training. It sounded like a worthy cause. I believe it was."

Haynes said there remains a disconnect about religious persecutions, even among Western Orthodox Christians

"Kosovo's just the top of the iceberg," he said. "In at least 12 hot spots around the world where Orthodox churches are present, where people are being killed daily."

'STILL GOING ON'

Because Serbs are a minority in Kosovo, Haynes said many live in heavily fortified enclaves. "They were basically unprotected. The Albanian paramilitary attacked them. The most disturbing thing we found out is that after we were on the ground, that's when the killing of Serbs began and the churches were destroyed. It's still going on."

When Kosovo emerged in 1999 after war unraveled Yugoslavia, the U.N. and NATO placed the region under the sovereignty of Serbia. On Feb. 18, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. The U.S., Great Britain, France, Italy, Turkey, Albania and Germany recognize the new Republic of Kosovo. Serbia, Russia and Spain contest it.

Haynes said his goal is to provide information so that church authorities and human-rights advocates can voice their concerns to policy makers, who can exert economic and diplomatic pressure on governments.

"The international laws are on the books," he said. "They just need to honor them. That hasn't been done."

ACCOUNTABLE TO LAW

Haynes plans to submit his findings to Christian periodicals, government agencies and human rights groups. Every year, the federal government publishes the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"But there isn't a lot said about Kosovo," he said, "But this isn't just about Kosovo. I won't hesitate to speak out about persecution of other religions.

"This is an issue that affects everyone on certain levels. Everybody has a right to religious freedom. ... My goal is to visit 50 churches per year and do two overseas investigations per year."

Haynes doesn't charge a fee for his services, but does accept donations, explaining that OCAI isn't nonprofit because the Internal Revenue Service restricts what representatives of nonprofits can say politically.

He says that 170,000 Christians are killed every year for their beliefs.

"The facts are not a secret," he said. "We need to wake up and be vigilant and hold governments and officials accountable to the law."

For information, visit www.ocai.info

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