This Wednesday October 26th, our very own Ann Buwalda participated in a Panel Discussion at the Family Research Council.
The topic of International Religious Persecution is very near and dear to our hearts at Jubilee Campaign. We see the critical impact that U.S. foreign policy has on the survival of religious minorities in both positive and negative ways.
Unfortunately as the panel discussion revealed, over the past 13 years religious persecution has grown significantly around the world and the U.S. has still not really engaged on the issue.
Click Here to watch a video of the Panel Discussion. Ann’s presentation begins at 17:29 and her prepared remarks are below.
October 26, 2011
The Urgent Need for the United States to Engage an International Religious Freedom Policy
I would like to thank the Family Research Council for hosting this panel discussion and for drawing everyone’s attention to The Pew Forum report entitled, “Rising Restrictions on Religion.” The Pew Forum’s report found that restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose during the three year period between mid-2006 and mid-2009 in 23 of the world’s 198 countries or 12% of the world’s countries. However, due to the population sizes of countries found to have restricted religious freedom, 32% of the world’s population suffered a decline in their freedom to practice their faith.
Most of the period of time covered by The Pew Forum study occurred during the Bush administration. Most people would agree that the Bush administration did make international religious freedom a key aspect of its foreign policy goals. Despite the Bush administration’s more overt efforts to protect international religious freedom than prior administrations and certainly than the current administration, one-third of the world’s population experienced an increase in restrictions according to the Pew Forum’s report.
Will the Obama’s administration diminished foreign policy emphasis on international religious freedom continuing this downward trend of countries curtailing religious freedom? So far, the answer appears to be dramatically, “yes.” The need for the United States to engage countries to protect religious freedom is more urgent today than ever before.
Consider these examples of current, real time urgency:
Within hours of the death of Dictator Muammar Gaddafi this past week, the transitional government declared that Shari’a or Islamic Law will be the basis of all law, which likely exceeds the demands of the more secular society within Libya as well as the pre-Gaddafi constitution. Although Libya’s ambassador to the United States is seeking to downplay the impact of setting up a religious rather than a secular civil society, banning the charging of interest in lending is hardly an example of moderation. Considering the $140 million in aid given to Libya since the start of the uprising, one would have hoped that the recent visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Libya would have at least included religious freedom on the agenda. If in fact religious freedom was mentioned by Secretary Clinton, the subsequent Shari’a law announcement by the transitional leadership appears to disregard any recommendation for a secular society.
An increase of attacks in frequency and brutality against The Coptic Christian minority in Egypt has occurred since January of this year. Muslim extremists and the military have been involved in numerous attacks on peaceful Christian demonstrations and on Coptic houses of worship this year. Two brutal examples occurred this month. On Monday, October 3, Muslims surrounded and attempted to demolish the St. Mary’s Church in the Upper Egyptian village of Elmadmar, in the Tema district, in the Sohag province. On October 9, the military attacked a Peaceful Coptic protest resulting in reports of up to 27 dead and over 300 persons wounded as a result, these numbers according to Coptic Solidarity Press Release. The situation for Coptic Christian minorities is not getting better, and Coptic Christians are fleeing Egypt in droves. My office has been receiving phone calls from panicked Coptic Christians in Cairo pleading for help to flee the country.
Despite the best efforts of the Bush Administration to seek religious freedom for a significant minority population, in Iraq hundreds of thousands of minorities have been forced to flee. Most estimates claim 1.2 million to 1.5 million Christian minorities lived in Iraq prior to the removal of Dictator Saddam Hussein. Some reports state that less than 345,000 Christians now remain in Iraq, and some estimates go as low as 150,000. The Sabean-Mandeans report their population has declined from approximately 100,000 before the war to less than 5,000 today. Religious minorities have been forced out by uncontrolled murders, kidnappings, and violence against houses of worship.
The Afghan Constitution does not support the freedom of religious choice. Shari’a Law is found as the source of its legal underpinnings as Article 3 of the Afghan Constitution. The recently released U.S. Department of States’ International Religious Freedom report noted that there is no longer any public Christian church in that country. Likewise, the once significant Jewish minority has been expunged from the country.
Always hostile towards anyone found who has converted away from Islam, Iran launched a public and aggressive effort to arrest their citizens participating in Christian church activity. Following the arrest of over 150 converts to Christianity in December 2010 and January 2011, currently, at least eight Iranian Christians are still imprisoned for their faith. Six have spent several months in jail. One, Pastor Yousef Naderkhani, has been sentenced to death solely because of his conversion away from Islam.
Pakistan’s religious-based oppression of minorities was dramatically highlighted by the March 2, 2011, assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti. Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, was the sole Christian in the cabinet and a staunch opponent of Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy laws. The blasphemy laws are a major player in the destabilization of Pakistan. The trial of Asia Bibi, accused of blasphemy by a neighbor, and the suspicious death of Qamar David, serving a life sentence for blasphemy are recent examples of the ongoing persecution these laws encourage. Each year an average of 45 Pakistanis are charged with blasphemy, and the discrimination encompasses Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis, other minority groups, and has even been used against other Muslims.
According to the Pew Forum report, the rising restrictions on religion have occurred in each of these countries.
Libya’s Government Restrictions are High and have increased significantly over the past three years. Its Social Hostility is Moderate, and did not increase significantly over the past three years
Egypt’s Government Restrictions are Very High and increased significantly over the past three years. Its Social Hostility is also Very High, but did not increase significantly over the past three years
Iraq’s Government Restrictions are High and did not increase significantly over the past three years. Its Social Hostility is Very High and did not increase significantly over the past three years.
Afghanistan’s Government Restrictions are High and did not increase significantly over the past three years. Its Social Hostility is Very High and did not increase significantly over the past three years.
Iran’s Government Restrictions are Very High and did not increase significantly over the past three years. Its Social Hostility is High and did not increase significantly over the past three years.
Pakistan’s Government Restrictions are High and did not increase significantly over the past three years. Its Social Hostility is Very High and did not increase significantly over the past three years.
Clearly, the “Arab Spring” has turned into the “Arab Winter” for minorities in affected countries. During this time of dramatic change in several countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, the United States needs to assertively engage emerging governments to ensure religious freedom for all citizens including minorities. Yet, this administration seems to be backing down at the worst possible time on this crucial issue. Some of the consequences of failure to engage IRF within our foreign policy thrust are a rise in refugees and the internally displaced and a rise in violence perpetrated against minorities.
Jubilee Campaign promotes the human rights and religious liberty of ethnic and religious minorities; advocates the release of prisoners of conscience imprisoned on account of their faith; advocates for and assists refugees fleeing religious based persecution; and protects and promotes the dignity and safety of children from bodily harm and sexual exploitation. Jubilee Campaign holds special consultative status with ECOSOC at the United Nations.