Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary of State
For Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Robert A. Seiple, Ambassador-at-Large
For International Religious Freedom
On-the-Record Briefing, Foreign Press Center, New York City
As Released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000
AMBASSADOR KOH: Thank you, Madame Secretary. As the official responsible for overseeing our global human rights policy, I should first thank the Secretary for the tremendous efforts that she has made to keep democracy and human rights in the mainstream of U.S. foreign policy. I am confident that history will show that no Secretary of State has ever been more dedicated to the cause of human rights or more committed to integrating the fight for human rights into the day-to-day work of the U.S. Department of State.
There is no better illustration of this point than the Second Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, whose public release we are announcing today. This report and its predecessor last year are unique documents. They constitute the first-ever comprehensive worldwide assessments of the state of religious freedom throughout the world. They grow out of our country's own historical insistence that governments everywhere respect and protect those who hold different religious beliefs.
As the Secretary said, our country was founded by people who fled from religious persecution and intolerance, and consequently insisted that religious freedom and the protection thereof be given a prominent place in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. After World War II, that commitment was universalized in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which expressly protects everyone's right to freedom of "thought, conscience and religion," a right that encompasses freedom to manifest one's religious beliefs in teaching practice, worship and observance, as well as the right not to believe at all.
With the end of the Cold War, restraints on religious expression around the globe became increasingly visible and so, in response, Congress enacted the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. That Act created three core mechanisms to promote the universal right of freedom of conscience and religion: an Office of International Religious Freedom under an Ambassador at Large, located in my bureau of the State Department, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; second, an Annual Report covering every foreign country; and, third, a separate, independent, bipartisan U.S. commission to make independent recommendations. The Act's purpose was emphatically not to impose American values on the world or to defend any particular religion but, rather, to promote and defend the right of every individual on this planet to honor his or her own chosen beliefs. As President Clinton noted when he signed the Act, the law "proclaim[s] the fundamental right of all peoples to believe and worship according to their own conscience, to affirm their beliefs openly and freely, and to practice their faith without fear of intimidation."
Shortly thereafter, the President nominated, and the Senate confirmed, my close friend and colleague Bob Seiple to serve as America's first Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Over the past two years, I have worked daily with Bob and with Tom Farr, the Director of his office, and their fine staff at their offices within our Bureau. Our close working relationship has only reinforced my view of the deep interconnectedness of our work on international religious freedom and international human rights policy. When we promote religious freedom, we promote all human rights, for the right to think and believe freely undergirds the right of free expression, free association, free assembly, and democratic participation.
The report before you pays tribute to the remarkable work that Bob has done in two short years to bring the religious freedom statute to life. And it is particularly fitting that we present this report here in New York on the eve of the Millennium Summit, when all UN member states are gathering both to celebrate the diversity of their political, religious and cultural traditions, as well as to reaffirm the universality of our commitment to international human rights.
Preparing any human rights report requires tens of thousands of hours of data collection, on-the-ground observation, and challenging analysis by State Department employees, NGO activists and religious groups and communities of conscience around the world. Preparing a new report means not only gathering data but designing a new methodology. As impressive as last year's initial report was, we think this year's report is an even more comprehensive document with more detail, more context, better organization, and fuller recognition of both the progress that countries have made as well as the problems that remain. For that result, let me give the highest praise not just to Bob and his office but also to the splendid staff of my Bureau's Office of Country Reports and Asylum Affairs, led by their Director Marc Susser and Deputy Director Jeannette Dubrow, for the countless careful hours they have given to ensure the comprehensiveness and accuracy of these reports.
So without further ado, let me turn over the podium to Ambassador Bob Seiple.
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: Thank you, Harold, for those kind remarks. As I depart the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, I want to publicly thank you as well for your creative and effective advocacy for all human rights, and for your commitment specifically to the promotion of international religious freedom. I want to acknowledge as well the professionalism of the Country Reports staff under its director, Marc Susser, and the extraordinary dedication of my own staff in the Office of International Religious Freedom under its Director and my Deputy, Tom Farr.
I too want to thank Secretary Albright for her commitment to human rights, and to religious freedom in particular. Her personal support for me and the work of my office has been critical to our success in integrating religious freedom into the mainstream of U.S. foreign policy.
One year ago, we announced the issuance of the First Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. We noted that it was a small, measured step that we were taking on behalf of the millions suffering for their faith around the world, but an important step. Today, with the presentation of the Second Annual Report, we take another significant step. Like its predecessor, this Report covers 194 countries and contains an Introduction and Executive Summary. But it also contains some changes that I would like to highlight.
First of all, the country chapters have been reorganized to make them more "user-friendly." Each now begins with an "Introduction and Overview," and then moves to a discussion of the "Legal and Policy Framework" within which the government approaches issues of religious freedom.
Next comes a section on "Religious Demography." Here we explore the landscape of religious traditions within each country. As I peruse the reports, I am struck by the incredible richness of these traditions around the globe. Almost every country in the world has an abundance of religions. One purpose of this Report is to encourage nations to see this abundance not as a source of division, but as a source of strength. And I'll have more to say on this in a moment.
After the section on religious demography, some reports turn to an analysis of government restrictions and abuses of religious freedom. These parts of the reports often present grim reading, as the Secretary has noted. It is here that we shine the spotlight on violations of religious freedom. We don't pull any punches. No one can read of these restrictions and abuses without being sobered.
This year's Executive Summary has something new as well. It is a section entitled "Improvements in Respect for Religious Freedom." Here we catalogue a few improvements in religious freedom that have been significant, and more that have been noteworthy. It is, of course, important to recognize that human rights abuses continue in most of these countries. But it is also important to acknowledge when something goes right -- even when the improvements are incremental or modest in scope. This is consistent with the approach that we have taken in my two years at this position: our methodology has centered on the promotion of religious freedom, not on punishment.
Finally, the Introduction to this year's report provides a brief history of how this office -- the Office of International Religious Freedom -- came to be. It concludes with an analysis of the contributions of religious freedom to democracy. I believe this kind of analysis is important to our goal of promoting religious freedom. We want to emphasize that the legitimate religions of the world are not something to be feared, but are a source of social and cultural strength.
In last year's report the Introduction explored what we termed "a religious conception of human dignity." Its theme was that religion, often the cause and source of conflict when exploited by corrupt people for their own purposes, has also been and can continue to be a source of reconciliation and hope, of unity and respect.
This year's Introduction makes a similar point in describing the contributions of freedom of religion and conscience to the functioning of a healthy democracy. Free expression of religiously-informed conviction plays an important role in debates over public policy. Each religious tradition has a moral code, a way of understanding who we are and how we ought to order our lives together. The articulation of these understandings in the public square is not something to be feared by any government, especially those aspiring to democratic governance. Rather, such expression makes a vital contribution to the development of sound public policy.
Let me conclude with a few words on how far we have come. Next week I will depart the State Department after two years as the first Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. I am a realist. I did not expect my office to "reverse the tide" of religious persecution and discrimination in only two years. Indeed, what I said from this podium last year remains true: millions of people around the world continue to suffer for what they believe and how they worship.
But, again speaking as a realist, I believe we have laid the groundwork for U.S. foreign policy to make a substantial and sustained contribution toward the promotion of religious freedom and the reduction of persecution and discrimination internationally. We have done so by fully integrating this issue into the mainstream of U.S. foreign policy. The very process of producing the Annual Report, involving hundreds of foreign service and civil service officers, has made it part of the foreign policy landscape. The Report shines a spotlight on abuses of religious freedom. It has been praised for its comprehensiveness and objectivity.
We have traveled to 26 countries abroad -- many of them the worst abusers of religious freedom -- to begin a dialogue on this issue. We have not told them, "Do it the American way." Had we done so, we could not expect the dialogue to continue. We have said to them, "You are obligated to maintain the international standards of religious freedom, such as those in the UN Declaration, which you yourselves have accepted." When necessary, we have invoked the sanctions sections of the Act, and named countries such as China and Sudan as "countries of particular concern."
We have begun a program of outreach to American Muslims in order to deepen our understanding of Islam. This program has been well received and we will expand it to other religions. We are sponsoring a series of conferences on religious freedom as part of the traditions of the great world religions. We are supporting reconciliation programs -- such as in Lebanon and Indonesia -- to get more at the root causes of persecution and discrimination, something we can and should do more of. And we will.
Finally, I am grateful that we have had an impact on the lives of people. These little victories -- a few religious prisoners released, some bad laws changed, some refugee families removed from their distress -- have been too few. But they have occurred frequently enough that, as my staff loves to say, "It makes you want to come to work in the morning." We have come to work in the last two years in the morning. We worked hard on this report. We will be delighted to answer any questions that you might have at this time.
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: If I could ask, please identify yourself and your organization, and if you could just wait for a moment while I bring you the microphone.
QUESTION: Thank you. Andrea Koppel with CNN. Ambassador Seiple, if you could please, sir, some us only got the full report about a half an hour ago. We had the Executive Summary a little bit before that. So if you could, perhaps, fill in the blanks.
Is it correct at our very cursory reading of the report that China is one of the most -- it certainly is one of the most flagrant violators, but is it the most flagrant violator? You used strong language when you say that the religious atmosphere there has deteriorated markedly. Are we being unfair in highlighting China as being such a country of concern?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: First of all, we have not looked at one country with respect to another. We look at every country with respect to the legislation that we have. So we don't rank them ourselves. I don't think that would be a good exercise. We haven't done that in this case.
You're also correct to point out the marked deterioration of religious freedom in China. It was a tough year last year in China. We saw, about this time a year ago, the beginning of the attacks on the Falun Gong. We saw a legislation - or the implementation act in October that essentially identified 14 different groups, including Falun Gong, that gave enormous power to local and state officials to crack down not only on this particular movement, but on the house church, the unofficial church, the non-registered church. We saw in the last few weeks one of those churches that were targeted under that legislation, the Fang Chung Church -- 130 people arrested, 80 of them are now in jail. There were three American citizens there. This is a difficult year for China.
Let me give you just one example. A Falun Gong woman was arrested and she died in prison. And her daughter was asked to come and pick up the body. Her body was totally covered with bruises. She had dried blood in the ears, the eyes, the nose. She had all of her teeth broken. We have one credible report that says she was made to run outside, in the snow, with her shoes off until she dropped. She's a 60-year-old woman.
I don't know what the right words are to describe what kind of inhumane brutal treatment of people on the basis of faith. But as we say in the report and we detail in a number of these instances, that's a marked deterioration from a year ago.
QUESTION: Excuse me. I'm Matthew Lee from AFP. I've got a question about two countries. First of all, in the section on Cuba, at least in the Executive Summary, it says: "Some observers have noted greater acceptance of religion in Cuba in recent years." And yet there's no indication that you actually adhere to this as well. Is that correct? You do not believe what these observers have said, that there has been an increase in religious freedom in Cuba in recent years?
And, secondly, why is Iran not included in the first section of totalitarian or authoritarian attempts to control religious belief or practice? It's only listed as having state hostility. It seems to me that the U.S. and others made quite a big stink about the case of the Iranian Jews and came very, very close to saying that this was organized persecution of one faith. So I'm curious as to why Iran is kind of in this lower category.
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: Well, I'm not sure it's a lower category. And, please, those first couple of categories, there's enough abuses there that we could all shudder over. A year ago we designated Iran as country of particular concern, one of five countries and then additional to the Taliban and Serbia. So Iran has not gotten a bye at all. We looked at how they treated the Bahais, primarily. This is state supported. This is more than discrimination; this is persecution. And the report spells that out.
In terms of Cuba, you are again there asking a stylistic question. If we can confirm the reports, we would say that. If we can't confirm the reports, but we think they're credible, we'll say that. If we have reports that we can't substantiate but they are persistent enough, we'll also make that differentiation.
So this is not to say that we feel good about Cuba. We had better expectations coming out of the Pope's visit of a year ago that things would improve, that visa requirements would change in a positive way, that there would be more building permits issued for various faiths. None of that has really happened. And so they are kind of where they were in our categorization.
QUESTION: Just to make it very short, so, in other words, you disagree with the comments of these observers?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: No, I didn't say that. I said that if -- the fact that they're there means they ought it to be reported. The fact that we cannot independently confirm something, we put it in that kind of language.
QUESTION: David Jones from The Washington Times. Mr. Ambassador, could you elaborate a little bit on the symbolism of this report being released here in New York as the heads of all these states you comment on are arriving in town? Was this, first of all, deliberate or coincidental? And in any case, what is the impact of that on the gathering? Does it give this report extra impact, in your view?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: Well, it's deliberate in the sense that we wanted the Secretary to do it and everybody is in New York. It makes it symbolically important, I think, from the standpoint of a universal right, a universal freedom. I think we have this opportunity to do this at this pre-Millennial Summit time. It's a plus for us that all these things have come together.
But I think mainly that we're talking about a right that we want people to hear about, to know about, to respond to. We do, indeed, feel it's not simply an American ideal. It's something we feel strongly about, but it's a universal right that ought to be talked about in these kinds of forums.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: And in a technical sense, the fact that they happened at the same time is because Congress mandated that the report be submitted on September 1st every year. And every year, I guess, it's the third week of September is the UN General Assembly. So the Millennium Summit was held this week, which is before that. So that's one reason why they happen to come together.
I do think the symbolism -- as I suggested in my statement -- that, on the one hand, the reports demonstrate the diversity of the world's religions. And that's one thing that we'll be seeing this week in New York: the diversity of the world leaders coming together at the same time and focusing on the universality of human rights, and particularly of this particular human right.
QUESTION: John Diamond, with the Chicago Tribune. If last year is any model for how things were perceived, do expect that some of the details will get put into President Clinton's paperwork as he goes into some of the meetings with heads of state this week; for example China, I think on Friday? Do you anticipate that some of these will be in front of him and --
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: Absolutely, absolutely. This is part of the foreign policy of the United States. This is part of our national interest. We make no bones about it. All those bilaterals, on-the-sides, in-the-margin types of meetings that are being held, if there's a reason, because there's a problem in the area of religious freedom and this particular human right, if there's a reason to bring it up, it will be brought it. That goes throughout the year, as well. We are responsible for some of the talking points that go into these meetings.
QUESTION: Elise Simon, CNN. Ambassador, could you tell us, there are some countries where they listed or report that the United States has good bilateral relations with. And obviously this would come into some of these meetings as you just said. But, in any event, you're still conducting relations on other matters with these countries despite numerous human rights abuses and religious freedoms that you've cited. In addition, countries like Burma where the United States cut off aid and significant limited exports as a result of some of these religious freedom violations.
Is the United States limited as to how effective its policy can be in terms of citing these abuses, pointing them out? And is there anything more that the United States can do, other than -- as you said in the report -- bringing it up in bilateral meetings, holding conferences to try to reach out to religions? How firm can U.S. policy be in terms of religious freedom?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: Well, first of all, I think it's probably true of any country, whether its an ally or a friendly country or an unfriendly country, that there are limits to what the United States can do. And, ultimately, change does take place from within those countries. But it's very important for us to make sure that we keep faith with people in those countries who this day have no voice, who this day are being marginalized or discriminated against or persecuted because of how they believe, who they believe, why they believe, or they don't believe. And I think that has to be a constant.
Again, we wish that more countries would take this same approach. Some of them do, but they do it much more quietly than we do. But we have this forum. We have this ability. We have this podium and we have this mandate from the Congress, which was an essentially unanimous vote in 1998 for this legislation. So we'll do what we can do and hope that others can do what they can do, as well.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: Just to put it into the context of our general human rights policy. We have always acknowledged that human rights change more often comes from the inside, bottom-up than from -- imposed from the outside, top-down. That doesn't mean, though, that we should not apply a policy of principled, purposeful engagement with those countries with whom we do maintain diplomatic relations.
And there will be areas on which we agree and areas on which we very strongly disagree. And by talking about the mainstreaming of these ideas, it means that in the same meeting in which you would be having a discussion on one issue, on which there might be a high degree of agreement; on another issue, this particular issue, we would be raising these points and concerns and asking the government to respond.
QUESTION: Jennifer -- (inaudible) -- with the Central News Agency. Ambassador, you mentioned earlier about the Friday meeting between President Clinton and President Jiang Zemin is probably going to touch on the Chinese religious freedom. Will you elaborate more? Is there any specific proposals President Clinton is probably going to bring with him into the talk?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: No, I don't want to elaborate any more. I think the question was: do these things happen in these meetings? And the answer is: most definitely, they do. In terms of how they are brought up and what their response is, I think it would be inappropriate for me to talk about that prospectively. But, again, assure you that in this meeting and all the other meetings that the President will have is the issue, one of the issues, is the human rights issue. That is part of our national dialogue with that country.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- Russia. Ambassador, what do you think about this process, I mean, with religious freedom in Russia and whether these problems will be discussed during the meeting between Clinton and our President Putin?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: Well, again, I can assure you that these things will be brought up in those bilateral meetings. Our situation with Russia, as you know, we had hoped that you had stayed with the 1990 legislation on religious freedom. You made a change in 1997. We think that was a giant step backward. And we've had accountability tools put into place on the part of the American Congress, the Smith Amendment, as an example. Would this hurt minority faiths?
We see an ambiguous, unpredictable, nontransparent and unevenly implemented piece of legislation in the midst of a country that has gone through major, major changes, continues to go through economic, political changes of some magnitude. So we are very concerned what's going on in Russia, and we follow Russia very, very closely. And when issues come up that we think need addressing, they are addressed at all levels.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: And I should just add that, as with our Country Reports on Human Rights, these are not one-day-a-year reports that are issued a certain day for the purpose of a meeting that is being held in the same week. They are a snapshot of what the human rights conditions or religious freedom conditions are at a particular point in time, to be used in all engagement between our country and the other government over the course of the next year.
QUESTION: Jean (Inaudible) -- from -- (inaudible) -- French Radio. Something I still don't really understand. What makes you so sure that the opinion of the U.S. Government on religion around the world is relevant?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: First of all, it's not the opinion of the United States on religious freedom. If you read the religious freedom legislation, the preamble of that legislation is all about the international covenants. The language of the preamble is the language of the international covenants that in excess of 150 countries have signed. People say that these are things they believe. Nations say that these are things they believe. And in the international covenants, there is the inherent concept of mutual accountability. Now, all those things are true, whether it starts with America or starts with France, and so we feel very justified.
Now, this is also a country that has been knee-deep in global affairs basically since its inception. We are involved in global military peacekeeping operations; we are involved in economic contract; we are involved in anti-drugs. It would be ironic at the extreme if we can involve ourselves and be accepted for a country in all of those areas and somehow not be accepted, not be listened to, not be respected, in the area of human rights, especially when that is part of the international covenants that our countries have mutually signed.
QUESTION: I could just add that some in our country might be so bold to claim that liberte, egalitie and fraternitie is an American concept, but we are not among them. We believe it is a universal concept. The liberte that is mentioned includes religious liberte, and that's in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was signed by every country in the world, and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which was signed by 144 countries.
QUESTION: Islamic Turkish Daily -- (inaudible): Mr. Ambassador, in Turkey there is an ongoing witch-hunt with McCarthyesque tactics against major Muslim religious groups, communities and individuals. Other than reporting the facts, do you have any concerns of that? And is this going to be an issue in Turkish-American bilateral relations?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: Well, you have biased the question somewhat by a strong personal point of view. What we try to do in the report is present a matter-of-fact writing of what goes on in Turkey. In Turkey there are things like the head scarf issue. We treat that in the report. There have been situations in Izmir in this past year involving Christian minorities. We talk about that precisely and matter of factly in the report. There has also been some good news items to report in terms of Turkey and the foundation allowing for the creation of a Protestant Church, which I think is a first in Turkey to do it formally through the foundation process. We list that.
When there are violations, we bring them up, when they are clear violations. When we think there are violations and the Turkish Government does not, we bring them up. We have a discussion with them. The head scarf issue, as an example, is one that is very politicized, very politicized inside Turkey. You can't get someone to talk to you about this from a religious freedom devotee of the faith perspective. It just has been so politicized and you have people on all sides. We have a point of view in this country. We have given them that point of view. The American Muslim community has a point of view. They have heard that point of view. Whether that will change, probably not in the foreseeable future, although I will say that in Turkey things have gotten easier and better in this past year than we have had before in terms of religious freedom issues.
QUESTION: Hello, I am Marilyn Henry from the Jerusalem Post. In your Country Reports the division is legal policy and also societal attitudes. When you meet with different governments to discuss issues of human rights and religious freedom, you are focusing, I assume, primarily on the legal policy aspects? And what do you expect governments to do about the social attitudes that have an impact on religious freedom?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: Part of the legislation, the rhetoric of the legislation, talks about a government that engages in or tolerates. If the government knows what's going on, there is an accountability to act on that knowledge. We may be the ones that bring it to their attention, but probably not; they know about it already and maybe they don't even want to hear about it. But we feel that they have to act on that.
When they don't act on that, the real potential is an environment of impunity where people feel they can get away with things. And we have a couple of countries in the world where societal attitudes are extremely strong and the governments have not always been effective and timely in meeting those. They are very problematic, very problematic in terms of human rights in general, about religious freedom specifically.
We would be very clear about that. We would try to be helpful. We would try to find a way to work together and promote something other than simply sitting back on one's hands when something doesn't have to get out of hand.
QUESTION: You seem to single out a couple - sorry, I am (inaudible) -- from -- (inaudible) -- Switzerland. You seem to single out a couple of countries in Europe as -- (inaudible) -- some churches as being sects. But is the U.S. -- are the U.S. actually willing to recognize that some of those churches are, indeed, harmful to their followers?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: That's a very good question and it's a major issue in Europe - all of Europe right now, but in France and in Germany, Austria and Belgium especially, maybe even migrating up to Poland the same issue.
Religion is not a shield to protect the government from harmful acts or unlawful acts. And we should never allow people to hide behind religion that way. And, yes, there are -- we've all had cults that have been harmful to people and destructive to themselves. We're not talking about that. We're talking about lists of 173 different groups, which we have in France; 189 different groups, which we have in Belgium, that include the YMCA, that include the Southern Baptists, that include San Gideo*. And, unfortunately, they were put on those lists by commissions that were formed and there's a putative connotation of being on that list. The commission now dissolved but you can't get off the list because the commission is no longer there, and then you create a ministerium against sects or the battle against sects. So the taint of this broad-brush approach to looking at all cults or people or organizations or religions that are not as well known, or newly formed religions, we think is very dangerous. And one should look very carefully at that.
Again, the problem is once you're on one of those lists, discrimination follows. And there are a lot of good organizations, faith-based organizations on each of the lists that I reference that never should be there. I would say as many as two-thirds of them should not be there.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: And the last two questions raise really a question of human rights law. On the one hand, there's a well known distinction between discrimination as a matter of a law, de jure discrimination. And when those laws are removed, there may still be de facto discrimination. And the efforts of a society and a government have to go into eliminating all forms of discrimination, whether by law or as a matter of fact.
I think the point that the Executive Summary makes about cults or sects is not that there is not a legitimate basis for restricting groups that conduct dangerous activities to the state. That's not the point. But the point is that you cannot simply label a group as a cult or a sect and thereby declare them to be engaged in illegitimate criminal activity. You have to make a showing that their active religious belief or worship is having manifestations which are actually threatening to public order or to the state. It's not enough to simply call them a cult or a sect and thereby put them on a bad guy list.
QUESTION: If I could just follow up to my earlier question, why do you think this has been a bad year in China? What is it that is going through the Chinese leadership collective mind to make them feel that they want to crack down on those various religions?
Also you had five states of concern. How did the other four do? Are they still-- are there still only five states of concern, as far as Secretary Albright is concerned? Does it do any good to be pointed out as states of concern?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: Good questions. Let me work from the back forward. In terms of being pointed out, you know that's a failure of diplomacy when you have to sanction a country. That should be the very last thing that happens. You should not have to do that. I mean, if you believe in your profession, you should find ways to carry the ball -- the diplomatic ball -- forward.
So when you do have to designate a country and sanction a country, that does say that something along the line has failed. You have been unable to have a meaningful dialogue credible enough that helps people who this day are suffering because of their faith.
Now, you asked me two other questions and I should have started from the beginning, not the back. Okay, you mentioned five countries. Are there more?
QUESTION: Right. But also on China why you think --
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: Let me answer the five. And then if I forget, remind for the third time. We will break that news with Congress for the first time on Thursday. That's the way it should be. That's the way it's legislated, mandated to be. So we don't have any more of a comment on that today except the report that's been put out.
In terms of China, we can all speculate what goes through people's minds. But let me tell you what I know for sure. What I know for sure is that the China Government is concerned about things they don't understand, things they can't control, and things that have an external influence. They'll talk about it in terms of stability, but it's basically control. Religion, whether it's a Pope that exists in Rome as opposed to Beijing, whether it's a house church that refuses to render under Caesar so much that they have to render under Caesar to become part of the three cell for the patriotic church movement. These are the things that concern the government a great deal.
They were surprised by the Falun Gong, by all - everything that people have said and we can all read. They were very surprised that it was so well organized, that there are so many people involved with it, that even members of the party were involved with it. And so they got very nervous. And the things happening in China that a government -- any government -- should be concerned about.
Remember, it only took one year for Suharto to fall from power because he couldn't manufacture an 8 percent GNP growth. Well, you have a number of factors in China -- from famine, to labor unrest, an increasing number of people living below the poverty line. Lots of things could go wrong there if you're a Communist government official. So I can't tell you precisely what they talk about, what they think about at the highest levels, but I can say for certain that it's all about control. How do you create enough control to maintain the stability that's needed for folks to keep their jobs?
QUESTION: Ambassador, when I look into the Executive Summary, under Section Two, Improvements in International Religious Freedom, and Taiwan is one country that's listed. Will you elaborate more? Does that mean Taiwan already meets your standard, or there is any other room for Taiwan to improve?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: It just means that in that particular area that's highlighted is an area that's been changed in the course of the reporting period, which ended 30 June, 2000, a year reporting period, that we felt was noteworthy and positive.
We have all the ability to point fingers and to beat our chest and to lecture folks and to sanction folks and to designate folks. It only makes sense that when we have an opportunity to point out where there's been positive growth -- and in some cases significant breakthrough -- we ought to lift those up as well.
This does not say any broad-based bottom-line statement about where Taiwan is or where any other country is. These are specific things that happen in the country or in the case of significant improvements -- very significant breakthroughs that took place in Azerbaijan and Laos.
QUESTION: Robert McMann, Radio Free Europe. Mr. Ambassador, Azerbaijan is singled out as a country of progress. And the executive's report seems to indicate that it was a conversation that the Ambassador had with Mr. Aliyev that might have changed things. Was it really that simple? Or was there some back-and-forth before -- or some pressure that was brought to bear before Azerbaijan changed some of its religious discrimination?
AMBASSADOR SEIPLE: No, you got it pretty much right. It was the Ambassador. We also sent someone from my office. Last November, there were a number of things happening that were going in the wrong direction. People were being discriminated against because of their faith. People were losing jobs because of their faith. People were being deported because of their faith.
And there was a very candid discussion with essentially a friend -- and a friendly voice on the other side- - about these issues and how they relate to the international covenants that Azerbaijan has signed. And the president stood up and said, we're going to change this.
He reinstated -- they were Jehovah's Witnesses-- he reinstated them. He reprimanded the people who caused the problem in the first place. He liberated the registration process and the visa process for people coming into the country. Now, that's a major, major happening in a country that essentially is less than a decade old, and we thought it was significant enough to put it in that section.
Thank you, all.
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