The largely underreported assaults on the religious freedoms of Christians around the globe were the topic of a congressional hearing Tuesday chaired by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees global human rights issues.
“This subcommittee has and will continue to highlight the suffering of religious minorities around the globe, be they Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, Ba’hai in Iran, Buddhists in occupied Tibet, Yazidis in Iraq or the Muslim Royhinga people in Burma,” Smith said. “Christians, however, remain the most persecuted religious group the world over, and thus deserve the special attention that today’s hearing will give them. As one of today’s witnesses, the distinguished journalist John Allen has written: “Christians today indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often their martyrs suffer in silence.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks.
“The Worldwide Persecution of Christians” hearing was held before the House subcommittee on global human rights. Speaking before the House panel was the Most Reverend Francis A. Chullikatt, Archbishop and Permanent Observer, of The Holy See Mission at the United Nations. He said U.S. Constitution captures what the Holy See also asserts: that freedom of faith is also the “first freedom,” a fundamental human right from which other rights flow, and which must always be protected, defended, and promoted.
“Flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages in the Middle East even as we meet,” the Archbishop said. “No Christian is exempt, whether or not he or she is Arab. Arab Christians, a small but significant community, find themselves the target of constant harassment for no reason other than their religious faith. This tragedy is all the more egregious when one pauses to consider that these men and women of faith are loyal sons and daughters of the countries in which they are full citizens and in which they have been living at peace with their neighbors and fellow citizens for untold generations.” (Click here to read Chullikatt)
Elliott Abrams, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), told the congressional panel that religious freedom is enshrined with other rights in international treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“Freedom of religion or belief also encompasses other freedoms, including expression, association, and assembly,” Abrams said. “As it often is the first right taken away, religious freedom serves as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, warning us that denial of other liberties almost surely will follow.”
Abrams testimony included focus on Christians targeted in Iran, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Vietnam, Sudan, Central Africa Republic, North Korea, Egypt, Indonesia, Burma, Nigeria and other countries where persecution is common and justice scarce for persecuted Christian minorities.
The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton created UCSIRF and mandated the promotion and protection of religious freedom around the world as a central element of American foreign policy. The Act put into place several mechanisms to counter religious persecution abroad, including an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom within the Department of State and the bipartisan and independent USCIRF.
“The Ambassador-at-Large position at State is now vacant,” Abrams said. “The USCIRF urges the Administration to offer a nomination speedily, as the President suggested he would in his remarks last week at the National Prayer Breakfast. The Ambassador-at-Large is supposed to be the key official inside the U.S. government for coordinating and developing U.S. international religious freedom policy. However, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) dramatically reduced the rank of the Ambassador-at-Large. This reduction in rank constitutes a major change in the structure IRFA established and a thwarting of congressional intent.”
Other witnesses were,John Allen, associate editor at The Boston Globe; Tehmina Arora, attorney at Alliance Defending Freedom-India; Benedict Rogers, Team Leader for East Asia for Christian Solidarity Worldwide; Jorge Lee Galindo, Director, Impulso 18; Dr. Khataza Gondwe, Team Leader for Africa and the Middle East at Christian Solidarity Worldwide. (Click on names above to read testimonies)