WASHINGTON, D.C. — The recent release of the 2013 International Religious Freedoms Report prompted Representative Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to speak in support of religious freedom.
The report designates Countries of Particular Concern and details the ways in which each listed country suppresses religious freedom. The report also sheds light on the discrimination being faced by religious minorities around the world.
Royce applauded the release of the report, but is not satisfied with the efforts the United States President Barack Obama administration is making.
“The President had not designated Countries of Particular Concern since August 2011, an annual requirement under the law,” Royce says in a statement.
Royce is not alone in his concern. Obama has received criticism for leaving the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom vacant for 10 months. The previous Ambassador, Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook, resigned in October 2013, and Obama appointed her replacement July 28.
Rabbi David Saperstein is the first non-Christian to be chosen for the position. At his appointment, Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed his support for religious freedom.
“I want to emphasize this effort is not about naming countries to lists in order to make us feel somehow that we have spoken the truth. I want our designations to be grounded in plans, action…” Kerry said.
The report and appointment of Saperstein, come at a time when religious freedom is at a historical low point. The report begins with the statement: “In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory.”
Christians have been driven out of Syria by the tens of thousands since the conflict began, 140,000 Muslims in Myanmar have fled the region due to violence. Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt face systematic discrimination. Churches and mosques have been demolished by violent Buddhist groups in Sri Lanka, and Baha’i’s in Iran are imprisoned and persecuted. In Europe, 48 percent of the Jewish population has considered leaving their homes because of rampant anti-Semitism.
“And yet,” the report writes, “amid the darkness of religious strife lay inspiring and unheralded acts of interfaith solidarity.”
In Pakistan, a Muslim community created a human chain to protect Christians while they attended a church service, while in Egypt Muslim men protected a Catholic Church congregation in a similar fashion. In the United Kingdom, a neighborhood watch team of Orthodox Jews worked with Muslim leaders to help them identify and protect themselves against attacks.
The report highlights each of these incidents and is, itself, a reassuring step towards religious freedom; but, Royce is not satisfied.
“One glaring omission from the State Department’s list is Vietnam,” he says, “I have seen the extent to which the Communist Government of Vietnam will go to punish peaceful religious dissidents.”
Information from the Human Rights Watch supports Royce’s claim. Ethnic minority Christians in Vietnam are victims of false charges of national security crimes, abuse and property seizure.
To ensure that Vietnam’s religious minorities are not forgotten, Royce has introduced H. Res.228, which advocates for the inclusion of Vietnam on the list of Countries of Particular Concern.
The report has shown both the extent of the discrimination and the acts of solidarity that bring hope for a tolerant world.
“History shows that nations that uphold the rights of their people—including the freedom of religion—are ultimately more just and more peaceful and more successful. Nations that do not uphold these rights sow the bitter seeds of instability and violence and extremism,” Obama has said.
– Julianne O’Connor
Sources: TIME, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. Department of State, IRIN
Photo: Huffington Post