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November 17, 2010
10:44 AM

CONTACT: Human Rights First

Brenda Bowser Soder
O -202/370-3323, C – 301/906-4460

Religious Freedom Report Comes at Crucial Moment

WASHINGTON - November 17 - Today, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will release the 2010 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, an annual examination of "the legal status of religious freedom as well as the attitudes towards it, in almost 200 countries and territories around the world." Human Rights First is urging the administration to use the report to strengthen efforts to protect religious minorities around the world – such as the Iraqi Christians – and to combat defamation of religion laws that are used to silence debate and dissent and persecute religious minorities.

"Freedom of religion is a basic human right," said Human Rights First's Tad Stahnke. "It's also a value on which this country was founded. President Obama has been clear that protecting religious freedom is a priority for his administration, continuing a commitment to human rights that has animated American foreign policy for decades. Today's report should provide a roadmap for the State Department and other agencies to put this commitment into action in the coming years."

Last year in Cairo, President Obama stressed the importance for religions to respect their differences – a theme that will likely be reflected in today's report. In those remarks, he noted, "Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. … Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster."

Earlier this month in Jakarta, President Obama referenced his remarks in Cairo, stating, "I said then, and I will repeat now, that no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust. But I believed then, and I believe today, that we have a choice. We can choose to be defined by our differences, and give in to a future of suspicion and mistrust. Or we can choose to do the hard work of forging common ground, and commit ourselves to the steady pursuit of progress. And I can promise you – no matter what setbacks may come, the United States is committed to human progress. That is who we are. That is what we have done. That is what we will do."

Human Rights First notes that President Obama's Jakarta speech and today's State Department report come at crucial time for religious tolerance. In Iraq, the Christian community has recently been targeted for brutal attack. This fall, the United Nations General Assembly will engage in a debate over a contentious "defamation of religions" resolution. Human Rights First has found that defamation laws are frequently used to target individuals for the peaceful expression of political or religious views. A recent report issued by the organization, Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing "Defamation of Religions," details more than 50 recent cases from 15 countries that provide a window into how national blasphemy laws are abused by governments. The real-life stories in this report document how time and again, accusations of blasphemy have resulted in arrests and arbitrary detentions and have sparked assaults, murders and mob attacks.

As the State Department releases today's report, Human Rights First is urging the administration to maintain its position against such a measure at the United Nations and to urge other nations to join in opposing its passage.

It is also urging the administration to respond to a series of recent attacks targeting Christians in Iraq. Among the group's key recommendations are the following:

  • The United States should continue to support the protection of Iraqi refugees and displaced people, by leading the international community in providing assistance for Iraqis who have been displaced by the violence in Iraq and by encouraging other states to join more robustly in this effort.
  • The Department of State, with other relevant agencies, should take additional steps to improve the pace of resettlement for Iraqi refugees – at present, they can wait a year or more for their applications to be processed – so that refugees are not left stranded in difficult or dangerous circumstances for extended periods of time;
  • The Department of State, with other relevant agencies, should enhance capacity to expedite the resettlement of refugees who face imminent harm by developing a transparent and formal expedited procedure for refugees who face an imminent risk of harm; and
  • The Department of State, working with the Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies, should improve the staffing, coordination, and timeliness of the security clearance process so that Iraqi refugees are not left stranded in difficult and dangerous situations.

"In many parts of the world, people are in danger because of how they choose to worship. The United States must fulfill its promise to protect those fleeing persecution," Stahnke concluded.

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.


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