|Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck
Statement at Opening Session of the Advisory Committee
on Religious Freedom Abroad
February 13, 1997
Department of State, Washington, DC
Good morning. I want to thank everyone here for joining or participating directly as members in the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad which is conducting its first meeting. We are very pleased to see the level of public interest in this Committee's work, and of course I welcome all the Committee members who have had an opportunity to get acquainted over the last day. I'm John Shattuck, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. I have been appointed by the Secretary of State as Chair of this Advisory Committee which is perhaps unique among advisory committees in that its work will be reported both to the Secretary of State and, by its mandate, to the President of the United States, emphasizing the great importance of the issue that we are here to discuss this morning.
Religious freedom is one of the most important issues in the world today. It is a bedrock issue in our own country. We were founded on the principle of religious freedom and it is a principle of freedom of religion for all religions. Many persons have come to this country escaping religious persecution, and freedom of religion is enshrined in our own Constitution. For the past half-century, it has been reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other International Covenants and is now a part of international law. So the work that we in this Committee do and that the United States does to promote freedom of religion around the world is not only a result of our own national values and commitment in this area, but also of very important elements of international law that protect freedom of religion.
Promoting religious freedom and combatting persecution have become priority concerns in U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. Government is concerned about incidents of persecution for all, whether the victims are Christians, Jews, Baha'is, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, or individuals of other faiths or beliefs. President Clinton set the tone for the work of this Committee on January 16th of this year when he delivered a proclamation designating Religious Freedom Day and urged Americans to support the aspirations of ethnic and religious minorities in other nations as they strive for their own right to worship freely. Secretary Albright in her confirmation hearing stated that promotion of freedom of religion is a high priority for her personally. She will join this Committee later this morning to participate for a period in between other events that she is engaged in today.
The Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad is intended to amplify U.S. concern and action about religious freedom and persecution. It is intended to increase the awareness among Americans about the issues of religious freedom and persecution abroad. It reflects the persistence and growth of persecution around the world. It will address the challenges facing new democracies, such as securing the protection of religious minorities and respect for the right to worship freely. It reflects the growing recognition of how religious differences have been manipulated to instigate bloody and sometimes genocidal conflicts, and how religion is often a key factor in the resolution of those conflicts. The role of religious leaders and religious organizations is central.
Our Advisory Committee is represented by 20 religious and secular leaders whose expertise on major religions and beliefs of the world and on international human rights have made them uniquely suited to provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary and the President and raise the profile of this issue. They will provide the U.S. Government with supplemental information on instances of persecution, assessments of the promotion of religious freedom in different countries, advice on the role religious institutions can take in promoting an atmosphere in which this right can be enjoyed and on ways in which the United States Government through its policies and actions can directly advance religious freedom.
I have, in my role as Assistant Secretary of State, logged hundreds of thousands of miles in travel to over 40 countries to raise human rights issues with foreign leaders and nongovernmental individuals. I have seen the killing fields of Rwanda and the mass graves in Omarska. I have visited churches facing severe persecution in China. I've met with Bishop Belo in East Timor, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu of South Africa, and many other religious leaders around the world.
We see from our 1996 Human Rights Reports which were released 10 days ago that many religious groups around the world in 1996 faced stepped-up persecution and other difficulties in practicing their faith. Christians have been subject to repression, ranging from interference to outright persecution, in many countries. Non-Muslims are prohibited from public worship in Saudi Arabia while elsewhere in the middle East, anti-Jewish materials regularly appear in government-controlled media. In Cuba, persecution continues despite the easing of some of the harsher measures. In China, the government intensified its policy of severely restricting and bringing under official control all religious groups including Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. In Vietnam, both Buddhists and Christians suffered from government restrictions. In Iraq, Sudan, and Pakistan, minority Muslim sects were targets of persecution. Many other instances of this kind could be cited and no doubt will be as the Committee begins its work.
The U.S. is now addressing, through a variety of policy tools these issues of religious persecution and is also seeking to bring about reconciliation in situations where terrible conflicts resulted from cynical leaders fanning the flames of religious difference. Our aim is to secure the release and improve the treatment of individuals in countries where they face incarceration or harassment because of their faith. We use both quiet diplomacy and public condemnation. We engage in frequent, bilateral dialogue with other countries on these issues. We conduct monitoring and intervention in the cases of individuals who are victims of specific forms of persecution.
We prepare the annual Country Reports and have stepped-up our inclusion of material on religious persecution as a result of a direction by the Secretary of State to U.S. embassies worldwide to monitor more aggressively issues of religious freedom. We will, with input from the Advisory Committee, prepare a report on the persecution of Christians which will be released after additional information is made available. We are also developing and updating information on country conditions in countries where persecution is on the rise for consideration by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, so that those seeking refuge from persecution can have claims for asylum fairly and intensively considered by our government.
The President regularly meets with representatives of many religions to discuss issues affecting religious communities. He has pressed foreign leaders and countries where there is religious persecution, for example in China and Indonesia. We have included religious liberty on the agenda of much of our work in international organizations; the United States is responsible for the resolution on establishing a special rapporteur on freedom of religion at the UN. We support and promote UN Human Rights Commission resolutions on religious freedom issues in China, Sudan, Iran, Iraq and other countries where persecution is strong. We have raised the issue at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. At the World Conference on Women in Beijing, the First Lady delivered a very courageous and strong statement on the importance of the right of religious freedom and as a paramount issue among our human rights concerns.
Much more can be done to build on this work and that is where this Advisory Committee and the recommendations it will make are so important and why the President and the Secretary have made this a central issue of their concern. We look forward to the work of the Advisory Committee not only in bringing information and recommendations to the U.S. Government about what it can do but also in promoting more cooperation among religious organizations in working on the terrible problems of conflict in the world. We have addressed this by establishing a subgroup of this Committee which will address issues of conflict and conflict resolution as well as another subgroup that will address issues of religious persecution.
[end of document]
to the DOSFAN Home Page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.