Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich – The State of International Religious Freedom
By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich
In the United States, the right to worship freely is often called America’s first freedom. It is a necessary component of American foreign policy and of our commitment to creating a more peaceful world.
History has shown that governments and societies that uphold religious freedom are safer, more prosperous, and more secure. Our commitment to protecting this fundamental human right is both a moral necessity and a national security imperative.
On June 2, the US State Department released the 2021 International Religious Freedom Report. The more than 2,000-page report is a comprehensive, fact-based account of nearly 200 countries and territories around the world that is made public for use by all religious freedom guardians, including governments, religious communities and activists.
For more than two decades, the International Religious Freedom Report has been an essential tool for the United States to advance and defend the universal right to worship freely.
Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998the Department of State is required to submit an annual report to Congress detailing the state of religious freedom in countries, government policies that violate religious beliefs and practices, and US policies that promote religious freedom.
As old Secretary of State Mike Pompeo previously said of the report: “Its very existence is proof of our firm determination to uphold human dignity.
Three central themes emerges from the 2021 report.
First, discriminatory laws and policies are used by foreign governments to mistreat their own people. For example, excessive prison sentences and house searches target believers in Russia, the Taliban and the Islamic State threaten and attack religious minorities in Afghanistan, and the Chinese Communist Party commits genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minorities.
Second, the report found that the rise of intolerance and hatred in societies fuels violence and conflict. According to American Commission on International Religious Freedomrecord levels of anti-Semitic incidents took place in Germany and the UK in 2020. In a separate report, the Commission said that 82% of Jews in Sweden, 85% in Poland, 86% in Belgium and 95% in France said that anti-Semitism is a “very big” problem.
Finally, partnership and collaboration between members of civil society, governments, and multilateral partners have been important in advancing and defending religious freedom.
Using the report’s findings, the president is also required to designate any nation that “has engaged in or condoned particularly serious violations of religious freedom” as a “Country of particular concern. Countries that seriously infringe religious freedom but do not meet all of the CPC criteria are designated as “Special Watch List countries.”
On November 15, 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken named Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as countries of particular concern.
Designations on the Special Watch List included Algeria, Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua. As I wrote earlier, the administration removed Nigeriabut in the wake of the ongoing violence, he is set to be rebranded as one of the world’s most serious religious freedom violators.
Updates from the Biden administration regarding these designations, which have yet to be released, will be watched closely by religious liberty advocates and perpetrators of persecution.
Tragically, as evidenced by the latest international report on religious freedom, religious oppression is a daily reality for millions of people of faith around the world.
The United States plays a significant role in exposing these atrocities so that perpetrators of religious freedom violations can be held accountable. America will not stand by as people are targeted, punished and persecuted for their faith.