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Ambassador Harper: Too Many Across the Globe Live Under Threat Because of their Religion
September 18, 2015

Agenda Item 3 General Debate

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
As Delivered by Ambassador Keith Harper

 30th Session of the Human Rights Council
September 18, 2015

Geneva, Switzerland

Ambassador Keith Harper

Thank you, Mr. President.

The United States recognizes the critical role that freedom of religion or belief plays in the daily lives of the vast majority of the world’s citizens.

Far too many people across the globe live under threat because of their religion or face heavy restrictions on their exercise of religious freedom. Historic Christian, Yezidi, and other communities in Iraq are being devastated. Their Syrian brethren face similar challenges, but have also been left exposed by a government that no longer protects them. Bahais in Iran, Tibetan Buddhists in China, Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and Rohingya Muslims in Burma are all victims of governmental or societal discrimination, harassment, persecution or physical attacks. Meanwhile in Western Europe, we are witnessing an increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim discourse and violence.

We are very concerned about government restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, such as blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws in Pakistan, apostasy laws across the Middle East and North Africa, and other laws around the world that broadly restrict speech or professions of faith states deem offensive toward certain religions.

Governments and societies that respect freedom of religion or belief are more likely to experience peace, stability, and economic prosperity. The opposite also holds true. When governments restrict the free exercise of religious freedom, the result is often unrest and violent extremism.

United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 provides a framework for promoting both freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression. The United States has contributed to implementation of Resolution 16/18 worldwide by facilitating bilateral exchanges among experts to discuss best practices in this area. Our embassies around the world have reached out to their host governments to encourage their participation in these exchanges. We encourage every country to consider this opportunity and to focus our collective attention on effectively implementing Resolution 16/18.

Severe violations and abuses of religious freedom are, in part, driving many of the violent conflicts we are witnessing today. It is incumbent upon us to prioritize the protection of freedom of religion or belief in our efforts to promote peace and security. This will require our collective attention and cooperation, and the United States stands ready to offer our assistance.