Excerpts of Ambassador Brownback’s Special Briefing on Religious Freedom Designations

U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, D.C.
December 11, 2018

Samuel D. Brownback
Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom
Via Teleconference

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… Religious freedom is a key foreign policy initiative and issue for the Trump administration. We are serious about it. We hosted the first-ever ministerial on religious freedom earlier this year. We will do another one this next year. We’re working with a series of countries around the world to push religious freedom issues in regional meetings as well.

Earlier today, the Secretary – Secretary Pompeo – publicly announced his designation of Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act. Countries of Particular Concern are those nations that have allowed or conducted severe, ongoing, egregious, systematic violations of religious freedom. The list this year includes Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. The Secretary also placed Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan on a special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

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Religious freedom needs to move forward in the world. Unfortunately, 80 percent of the world’s population lives in a country where there’s some type of religious freedom restrictions, in some cases very significant. The ones – the countries we’ve listed today are the most egregious violators of religious freedom around the world.

It’s also important to note that most countries have signed on to the UN Charter Declaration of Human Rights, which turns 70 this year. And in that charter, it provides for religious freedom, and the countries that signed on to that charter signed on to guarantee religious freedom. And yet most people in the world live in countries where there’s significant religious freedom restrictions.

We cite the worst violators today. We are hopeful that people around the world, governments around the world, will work more aggressively to provide religious freedom for their people, and we are committed as the Trump administration to see this on through.

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Regarding China, this is one of the just really worst human rights situations in the world, what’s happening to the Uighurs. And latest reports I read in one of the international newspapers was seeing it spread to adjacent provinces. But it’s a very bad situation for a religious community. Just yesterday, the Early Rain Church – news was coming out in Chengdu – it was raided, a number of people arrested. Put out strong statements about that. The treatments of Muslims, of Christians, of the Buddhists, over a long period of time in Tibet – have been persecuted to the point where a number of Tibetan Buddhists have self-immolated. And Falun Gong practitioners have been persecuted systemically for a long period of time. So for all those reasons – this is one of the obvious ones – we’ve kept China on a Country of Particular Concern.

My particular concern now for China is they’ve increased these actions of persecution against faith community. Reports of 800,000, up to 2 million detentions in the western part of China of Uighurs, but also ethnic Kazakhs and other ethnic groups in the region that have generally a Muslim-based population. China isn’t backing away from the religious persecution; it seems to be expanding. This is obviously very troubling to the administration.

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And I think really us pushing this issue of religious freedom and what happens to religious prisoners in North Korea can help effect change in North Korea. We had a lady that got out of North Korea, spoke at our religious freedom summit or ministerial that we had. She had powerful testimony of – she was put in prison because she had a Bible. She was given a forced abortion as well without anesthesia. And she had powerful testimony, and that testimony went global. And as those stories get out of people, then others around the world look at it and say, what is going on here that they are doing this to people, particularly people of faith. Often if you are North Korean and you have contact with somebody of a religious organization, you’re put in a prison camp and given the harshest treatment, is what our reports have been told – what we’ve been told that we put in our reports. I think as you shine light on that, it does help. It helped in the former Soviet Union era during the refuseniks time period, and I think that shining of light will help change North Korea.

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Read more: Statement by Secretary Pompeo on Religious Freedom Designations