SAN FRANCISCO (Nov. 21, 2010) — Entering into the holiday season, on Nov. 17, 2010, United States’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the release of a new report on religious freedom and human rights.
“With this report, we hope to give governments, NGOs and citizens around the world valuable information about the status of religious freedom and a call to action for all of us to work together more effectively to protect it.”
According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2010, the United States indicates that eight very different countries comprise the central list of those demonstrating minimal commitment to religious freedom and human rights: Burma, China, Eritrea, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
Announced in a relatively relaxed diplomatic environment, one would not have guessed that the issue of religious “freedom” defined both loosely and with deadening precision rode for many weeks this past summer at the forefront of national discourse in the United States.
Drawn into the loud and cantankerous exchanges during that period, issues of freedom of speech, of religious freedom, and thus by extension the issue of human rights itself tumbled about - demonstrating the tensions religious freedom can attract and release.
Such freedoms, manifested in an environment devoted to a baseline of protected speech, carry heavy responsibility.
Thus, while appearing to be a strictly academic exercise in releasing baseline measurement for another year of diplomatic advocacy and interaction, Clinton took pains to affirm the importance of this kind of report for American foreign policy.
She offered that such fundamental information would be used in a variety of ways in the coming diplomatic year.
Although none of the reporters asked Clinton to elaborate upon why the report does not assess, in fact, freedom of religion in the United States, Clinton offered before others asked that the United States was not included in the almost 200 state report. She thus explained that The Department of Justice works within the U.S. to measure religious freedom and issues reports about domestic religious freedom.
Based upon research and data accumulated from July 2009 through June 2010, the report attempts to assess almost 200 countries worldwide, using varied measures and methodologies, but applying similarly universal standards.
At the outset of the press conference, Clinton remarked, “Because we believe in religious freedom and because we are committed to the right of all people everywhere to live according to their beliefs without government interference and with government protection, we are troubled by what we see happening in many, many places. Religious freedom is under threat from authoritarian regimes that abuse their own citizens.”
“It is under threat from violent extremist groups that exploit and inflame sectarian tensions. It is under threat from the quiet but persistent harm caused by intolerance and mistrust which can leave minority religious groups vulnerable and marginalized.”
She continued, “During the past year, al-Qaeda issued calls for further violence against religious minorities in the Middle East. Sufi, Shia, and Ahmadiyya holy sites in Pakistan have been attacked. So was a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad just a few weeks ago. We received reports from China of government harassment of Tibetan Buddhists, house church Christians, and Uighur Muslims. In addition, several European countries have placed harsh restrictions on religious expression.”
“[Such] infringements on religious freedom strain the bonds that sustain democratic societies. With this report, we hope to give governments, NGOs, and citizens around the world valuable information about the status of religious freedom and a call to action for all of us to work together more effectively to protect it.”
Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, took the podium as Clinton left.
He underscored the pivotal list of eight nations the U.S. considers most “at risk” for an inability to foster or guarantee religious freedom to its citizenry.
Further, he emphasized that diplomacy and the call for human rights must be applied in a country-by-country manner.
For example, because relations between the U.S. and a nation like North Korea are so very strained, the U.S. typically outlines expectations and hopes for improvement.
In other countries, such as Egypt (to which he has traveled twice this year alone), Posner suggested that conversations are far more open and the U.S. looks for results.
Allison Addicott is a professional writer, and serves as an editor at The Washington Times Communities. She offers her services as a professional editor and social media consultant, in addition to corporate visioning and planning. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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