Calling On Congress To Support the Protection of Religious Minorities

The actions and policy of the U.S. Government play a critical role in the fight for human rights and religious freedom. In particular, the U.S. Department of State gathers information and writes uniquely authoritative reports on human rights. What the State Department reports or fails to report has an enormous affect on human rights work all over the world.

As we discussed on the blog, the State Department  failed in a number of instances to accurately and clearly portray human rights abuses. As a human rights group, Jubilee Campaign finds this trend very concerning.

Fortunately, we are not alone. Allies of religious freedom in Congress wrote a bill entitled the “Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2011.” This bill establishes a Special Envoy, specifically tasked to investigate the plight of religious minorities from Egypt through Iraq and Pakistan to Nepal. It passed the House 402 to 20 and waits for the Senate’s approval.

This bill is desperately necessary. One of the recent reporting failures of the State Department involves the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt. Hundreds of cases document the Egyptian practice of kidnapping Christian girls and forcing them into abusive marriages with Muslim men.

In Iraq the two-thirds of the Christian population was forced into exile, publicly murdered or quietly ‘disappeared.’ The freely elected government of Afghanistan put several Christians on trial for ‘apostasy.’ Iran stands on the brink of executing a Christian pastor for ‘insulting Islam’ by believing in another faith.

Muslim extremists use Pakistan’s blasphemy law to oppress Christians and Hindus. Hindu nationalists use India’s anti-conversion laws  to oppress Christians and Muslims. Nepal’s proposed criminal code combines blasphemy language with anti-conversion language, and extremists are already targeting religious minorities.

The State Department’s current mechanisms have proven unable to even recognize many of these trends much less combat them. This bill is a badly needed addition to the toolkit of the U.S. Government in dealing with the entrenched hatred of religious minorities.

Please contact your Senator and ask them to support S. 1245 Full Text Here.
Mail in the sample letter or use it as a script when you call. Feel free to personalize the letter.

This legislation does not draw the ire of either party. It is not controversial. Instead, it faces the indifference of those with a lot on their plate. Many people on Capitol Hill are sympathetic in theory, but in practice they simply do not see the vital importance of these issues.

Please reach out to your Senator and let them see. They are your representative. They will listen to you. We urge you to let your voice be heard.

Sample_Letter_to_Senators__________________________________________________________ 

Senator ____________

Over the past decade, terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East specifically targeted religious minorities. These attacks and the lack of protection provided by the governments involved, including the US, have shown a serious disregard for the rights of these minorities. Peaceful communities which have existed for hundreds of years are being wiped out. Existing mechanisms at the U.S. Department of State have proven unable to recognize and respond to these human rights violations.

To provide that necessary response, Senators Roy Blunt and Carl Levin introduced S. 1245 entitled the “Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2011.” This bill has already passed the House 402 to 20 in a massive showing of bipartisan support.

As my Senator, I would like to ask to you to support this Bill.  There are few things as evil as punishing someone for their honest convictions. I ask that you do everything in your power to end religious persecution, especially of minorities.

Sincerely
Your Name

“We are Unable to Confirm…”

An Exercise in Burying our Heads in the Sand: The State Department and Oppressive Governments Everywhere

By Gregory Treat – Jubilee Campaign Staffer, Government Relations Coordinator, Special Projects, Manager of Jubilee Facebook Page and This Blog

Working for Jubilee Campaign gives me the honor and privilege of working on cases and improving human rights from all over the world. In the course of that effort, I work with some absolutely great people throughout the U.S. Government including the U. S. Department of State.

However, sometimes the sheer self-serving moral cowardice masquerading as pragmatism that infests our government agencies sickens me.  Specifically, over the past weeks I have been exposed to a consistent pattern in the State Department that offends me on both an intellectual and moral level.

Let us take two human rights issues: forced abortion and sterilization imposed on women and families in China and forced conversions and marriages afflicting Coptic Christian girls in Egypt.

On July 21, I attended a briefing on China’s forced abortion and sterilization practices. I want to send a big thank you to those of you who prayed for that briefing; it went very well. The briefing clearly presented documentation and eyewitness accounts that China performs forced abortions and sterilization as a part of their One-Child policy.

Unfortunately the China Profile of Asylum Claims and Country Conditions, released by the U.S. Department of State downplayed any claims of forced abortion or sterilization in China, labeling them ‘alleged’ or ‘unconfirmed.’ Characterizing the ongoing practice of forced abortion and sterilization in this manner hamstrings advocacy efforts to end this human rights abuse or help the victims.

This report influences the U.S. government to such an extent that under current U.S. policy the courts refuse to give asylum to some Chinese couples who have violated the one-child policy. After all, according to the China Profile released by the U.S. Department of State, the People’s Republic of China no longer practices forced abortion and sterilization. This will surprise Chinese human rights advocates such as Chen Guangcheng who served a four-year prison sentence and is still under house arrest for protesting this ongoing practice.

A second example of the use of the word ‘alleged’ to describe ongoing human rights abuses occurs in relation to Egypt’s Coptic Christians.  The Coptic Christian community in Egypt suffers widespread and virulent persecution at every turn. Perhaps the most grievous form of this persecution targets young Coptic girls. Coptic girls are lured away from the protection of their families, kidnapped, drugged, and raped. Broken by this brutality, the girls submit to ‘marriage’ and ‘conversion’ that no civilized society would recognize as voluntary. Human trafficking for sexual purposes communicates the reality.

Concerned NGOs and independent investigations have documented literally hundreds of such cases. Experts estimate that this practice claims thousands of Coptic women every year. Despite this readily available evidence, which NGOs often directly submit to the U.S. Department of State, the Country Report on Human Rights Practices, the International Religious Freedom Report and the Annual Report on Trafficking in Persons describe documented and reliable evidence as mere ‘allegations’ that are ‘disputed.’

Enormous amounts of evidence verify the existence of these human rights abuses. Hundreds of witnesses have told their stories in every venue. Congressional hearings, sworn testimony in court, news interviews, and Youtube videos all tell the same story. Yet the U.S. Department of State insists on evaluating these human rights violations in China and in Egypt in a manner that is intellectually absurd.

I attended a Helsinki Commission Hearing “Minorities at Risk: Coptic Christians in Egypt” on July 22, 2011. At that hearing, Michelle Clark, a recognized expert on human trafficking communicated the question very well. “Under normal human rights circumstances, such reporting eliminates the use of the word allegation. I’m just wondering why the word allegation persists now that we have been able to document such reports.”

I think that many of those who are informed about  human rights abuses are asking the same question. I know I am.

Exciting Update on Chen Guangcheng

Last Friday Congressman Chris Smith submitted an amendment to the State Department 2012 appropriation bill House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Committee unanimously approved the Amendment which is below.

Our friends over at Women’s Rights Without Frontiers produced their own press release on this encouraging development. We encourage you to go check it out.

AMENDMENT OFFERED BY MR. SMITH OF NEW JERSEY

SEC. ll. SENSE OF CONGRESS ON ADMINISTRATION ACTION NEEDED TO SECURE THE FREEDOM OF CHEN GUANGCHENG AND OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS IN CHINA.

(a) FINDINGS.—Congress finds the following:

(1) Blind, self-taught legal advocate Chen Guangcheng publicly exposed the fact that in 2005, 130,000 involuntary abortions and sterilizations were performed on women in Linyi County, Shandong Province in a single year.

(2) Mr. Chen was arrested on June 21, 2006, tried on November 27, 2006, and sentenced on December 1, 2006, to four years and three months in jail, on charges of ‘‘intentional destruction or damage to property’’ and ‘‘gathering people to disturb traffic order’’.

(3) The prosecution and trial of Mr. Chen has drawn repeated criticism for its lack of due process of law, including the detention of his defense lawyers on the eve of trial and the alleged extraction of witness statements under torture.

(4) Time Magazine named Mr. Chen one of “2006’s Top 100 People Who Shape Our World”, in the category of ‘‘Heroes and Pioneers’’.

(5) In August 2007, Chinese authorities stopped Mr. Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing, at the airport, revoked her passport and forcibly returned her to her village as she attempted to travel to Manila to collect Mr. Chen’s Magsaysay Award, known as Asia’s Nobel Prize.

(6) Mr. Chen was released from prison on September 9, 2010, with a chronic, debilitating intestinal illness contracted in prison, for which he has been allowed no medical treatment.

(7) Mr. Chen is now under house arrest, where he has been repeatedly and severely beaten, and denied adequate medical treatment and nutrition despite fragile and deteriorating health.

(8) Mr. Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing, and their children have been subjected to harassment, surveillance, and confinement throughout Mr. Chen’s imprisonment and house arrest.

(9) Mr. Chen and Ms. Yuan secretly recorded a video describing the harsh conditions of their house arrest, which included constant surveillance by 66 security police, severed telephone and internet connections, lack of adequate food, and continued intimidation by officials, who enter their home at any time, without notice.

(10) In February 2011, following the video’s release, Mr. Chen’s legal team tried to assist him, but several were placed under house arrest, and two of his lawyers, Jiang Tianyong and Teng Biao, were beaten and later disappeared.

(11) The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China issued the following warning on February 17, 2011, ‘‘Correspondents should be careful if they attempt to enter the village of activist Chen Guangcheng in Shandong Province. In recent days several correspondents have encountered groups of violent, plainclothes thugs. . . They have pushed reporters around, threatened them with bricks, damaged their cars, confiscated or destroyed their equipment and taken their press credentials’’.

(12) The 2010 Congressional-Executive Commission on China Report states that ‘‘Chinese authorities continued to implement population planning policies that interfere with and control the reproductive lives of women, employing various methods including fines, cancellation of state benefits and permits, forced sterilization, forced abortion, arbitrary detention, and other abuses’’.

 

(b) SENSE OF CONGRESS.—It is the sense of Congress that—

(1) the Government of the People’s Republic of China should cease its harassment of Chen Guangcheng and his family, including his wife, daughter, son, and mother, and arrange medical treatment for him and his wife, Yuan Weijing;

(2) the Government of the People’s Republic of China should release Chen Guangcheng and his family from house arrest, allow them freedom of movement, and allow access to him by international diplomats and journalists;

(3) the President and the Secretary of State should actively and repeatedly seek diplomatic visits to Chen Guangcheng and his family;

(4) the President, Secretary of State, and other Administration officials should raise the issue of harassed, arrested, disappeared, and disbarred human rights lawyers and defenders with the Government of the People’s Republic of China and link this issue to United States interests in the rule of law and human rights;

(5) the President, Secretary of State, and other United States Government officials should aggressively and repeatedly raise the issue of the coercive implementation of China’s birth limitation policy with President Hu Jintao; and

(6) Chen Guangcheng and his wife, Yuan Weijing, are to be commended for their courage and integrity and should be supported in their determination to expose and oppose coercive population control methods in China that violate the human rights of women.

Jubilee Campaign seeks improved ICC operations

July 25th, The Hague, The Netherlands – International Human Rights Non-governmental organization, Jubilee Campaign, is seeking the improvement of the International Criminal Court’s processes to expedite the handling of investigations and review of reported crimes against humanity.

After meetings with the ICC in an attempt to find out the status of preliminary examinations the ICC prosecutor had announced since last year, Jubilee Campaign Netherlands Chairperson Ann Buwalda Esq said “it came as quite a surprise to learn ICC has been conducting a preliminary examination into the situation in Nigeria since 2004. That appears to be way too long. In the meantime thousands more people have died from conflicts in that country. We have no idea when these examinations will end, if ever.”  Noting that Nigeria was among the first 60 nations to ratify the Rome Statute and join as a member of the court, the ICC first launched its investigation of violence in Jos, Plateau State in 2004. That initial examination remains open seven years later, and five states are also in this preliminary examination stage. The ICC has not yet launched an “investigation” of Nigeria or any specific incidents within five states under examination.

Jubilee Campaign had approached the ICC along with a delegation from Jos, Plateau to discuss possible areas of helping expedite the work of the ICC. However, the ICC did not meet with the Plateau State government officials on the delegation because of restrictions found within the rules of the Rome statute.  The Rome Statute allows NGOs as well as national governments more access to the ICC than local authorities including even those in whose jurisdiction crimes may have been committed. Thus, three Plateau State officials which included the Attorney General and the former Congresswoman whose constituents included victims of the 2010 violence, were excluded from today’s otherwise meaningful meeting at the ICC

“We find it worrisome that it appears local authorities whose subjects are victims of mass killings have less right to interact with the ICC than NGOs such as ourselves. While we find this both absurd and frustrating, we feel in the interim that we should help be a voice for the voiceless in this instance,” says Buwalda.

Lawyer, Emmanuel Ogebe, Counsel to the Plateau State delegation,  gave his view on the impact of the restrictions of the ICC governing rules on victims.  “There is definitely a contradiction in a prosecutor in the Hague aspiring to take jurisdiction over incidents that occur 10,000 miles away then not being able to collaborate with local officials who are on the scene to examine the situation. The law which says only federal governments can be liaised with does not make any investigative or prosecutorial good sense and should be changed. Anyone who is in the position to shed light on the resolution of a case should be more than welcome. That is a civic duty and that is the way most of us were brought up to be responsible citizens.”  Mr. Ogebe continued that, “It is a most unusual situation to find a state government like Plateau which is actually the size of some African nations having less right than Jubilee Campaign. It is ironic that any court would have such an unfair system of viewing interested parties. We are happy the ICC met with us and we explained the absurdity of this situation. We now hope to be able to help them be more helpful to the cause of human rights globally.”

In fact, Article 15 welcomes NGO submissions at this preliminary examination stage in which the ICC continues its receipt of information.  NGOs are encouraged to make their submissions directly to the ICC, and the contact information is given on the ICC website.  The ICC section known as the Jurisdiction Complementary and Cooperation Division reiterated that it welcomes NGO reports.  The procedural overview provided by this section was meaningful, despite the constraints that the Rome Statute imposes.

Chen Guangcheng Needs Our Help

Time Is Running Out: Join with us and sign a petition for Chen’s release

As the situation with Chen Guangcheng continues to heat up our friends at China Aid and Women’s Rights Without Frontiers have not been idle. A video they produced shows the world what is happening to Chen Guangcheng and calls for his release in poignant visual form. We urge you to watch the video and add your name to the petition seeking Chen Guangcheng’s release.

Please listen to Reggie Littlejohn who founded Women’s Rights Without Frontier’s to fight for the rights of the unborn in China.

Please add your name to the Petition
Join with us to see Chen Guangcheng Freed!

As you all know, we at Jubilee Campaign promote the human rights and religious liberty of ethnic and religious minorities in countries which imprison, terrorize or otherwise oppress them. You may also know that our longtime friend, China Aid, is a Christian human rights organization committed to the advancement of religious freedom and rule of law in China. You may be less familiar with Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, a broad-based, international coalition that opposes forced abortion and sexual slavery in China.

I want to make clear to you why it is so vital that Chen Guangcheng be freed and why we are all pushing so hard for the release of this one man. It is always a worthy cause to advocate for the freedom of a prisoner of conscience. But in circumstances like these the fate of specific individuals rebounds to massive effect on the issues that they champion.

It would be nearly impossible to effect any change in government policy without the strategic work of homegrown human rights advocates. These people champion the causes of the weak and oppressed from inside the system. Consequently, the government seeks to silence these valiant human rights defenders. Chen Guangcheng began and led the effort to stop forced abortions in China. If the Chinese government silences him it will deal a grievous blow to all attempts to end this butchery.

Reggie states in the video, “It has taken a blind man to see the truth behind the brutal one-child policy.” By taking up the cause of the unborn, Chen Guangcheng has linked his fate to theirs. This petition is not merely about one man, however noble he may be. This petition may help save millions of children whose mothers desperately want to hold their living babies. We urge you to sign the petition and to pray for Chen Guangcheng.