U.S. Statement at Human Rights Council Side Event on Freedom of Religion and Belief

As delivered by Knox Thames, U.S. Department of State Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia.

At Human Rights Council Side Event on Freedom of Religion and Belief
Geneva, March 6, 2018

I want to thank Canada and Article 19 for initiating this side-event on protecting freedom of expression and religion for all. The United States was pleased to be a cosponsor. I want to thank the panelists for their insights. I am always impressed by the courage and expertise of advocates like you working on the ground. Thank you.

Persecution, repression, and discrimination are a daily reality for members of religious minority communities in too many countries around the world. Believers and non-believers alike are targeted for violence; their human rights are limited or sometimes entirely restricted. In response, the United States is advocating for the rights of members of religious minority communities, so that they may fully enjoy religious freedom, expression and other related human rights.

The U.S. National Security Strategy, released in December 2017, emphasized the importance of promoting religious freedom and protecting religious minorities. The U.S. government is working bilaterally, and in concert with our friends and allies, to push back against persecution targeting religious minorities, to fight against discrimination, and to promote religious freedom and expression for all. Our partnership with Canada in the International Contact Group for Freedom if Religion or Belief and our work with OIC members on the Istanbul Process are but two examples. In addition, the State Department has undertaken numerous efforts to prevent persecution and to foster space for diversity of thought and belief.

And yet challenges continue to emerge against religious diversity. Groups like ISIS and al-Qa’ida continue to commit targeted acts of violence around the world. ISIS has launched genocidal attacks on Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in both Syria and Iraq. ISIS also strikes out at Sunnis brave enough to denounce its violent and intolerant ideology. In addition, terrorists have repeatedly attacked members of two seemingly unrelated minority groups- converts and atheists – for their personal decision to choose a different belief system. And with these new challenges we cannot forget how governments and authoritarian regimes continue their daily practices of egregious repression. Restrictive laws limit the freedoms of religion and expression.

In response, we must stay committed to emphasizing the universal importance of these fundamental freedoms. Based on my almost 20 years of experience, we can achieve lasting results by building and protecting environments where everyone can enjoy freedom of religion or belief and share those views peacefully. That is the surest way to secure a peaceful future where people of all faith and none can live in safety and security. Working together in joint advocacy or in joint efforts like the Istanbul Process, we can and will make progress.