Happy New Year! 2013, especially in the last 30 days, saw many human rights victories! These include Burma’s pledge to release the rest of its political prisoners and the release of Pussy Riot. What victories will we see in 2014? Hopefully, we’ll see a human rights victory or two in international religious freedom and the Obama administration’s engagement of religious leaders. This is the focus of part 7 of our exploration of President Obama’s leadership on international human rights.
International Religious Freedom and Religious Leader Engagement
The Department of State manages approximately $10 million in foreign assistance programs to promote religious freedom, which includes current efforts to remove discriminatory and hateful material from Middle Eastern textbooks, promote greater awareness of intolerance and the plight of religious minorities globally, and hold discussions with the Pakistan government, civil society, and the religious community on issues such as curriculum reform in the public and madrassa education systems. The State Department also implements programs to support the Human Rights Council resolution on combating discrimination and religious intolerance, while protecting the freedoms of religion and expression. The program assists governments in training local officials on cultural awareness regarding religious minorities and on enforcing non-discrimination laws. The training, shaped by the needs of the host country, includes topics such as legislative reform; best practice models; prosecuting violent crimes motivated by religious hatred; metrics; and discrimination in employment, housing and other areas.
U.S. officials press foreign governments at all levels to advance religious freedom, including through advocacy on specific cases, such as the case of Saeed Abedini – an Iranian-American pastor imprisoned in Iran – and Rimsha Masih – a Christian child accused of blasphemy in Pakistan.
Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement
Given the critical role of religious actors in their communities, the United States has developed a strategy that encourages U.S. government officials to develop and deepen their relationships with religious leaders and faith communities as they carry out their foreign policy responsibilities. Specifically, the strategy seeks to advance the following objectives through more robust engagement with religious leaders and faith communities, as part of a broader effort to reach out to a diverse set of civil society actors: promote sustainable development and more effective humanitarian assistance; advance pluralism and human rights, including the protection of religious freedom; and prevent, mitigate, and resolve violent conflict and contribute to local and regional stability and security.