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Home / Press Release / Human Rights First Urges the Obama Administration to Make International Religious Freedom a Policy Priority
July 30, 2014

Human Rights First Urges the Obama Administration to Make International Religious Freedom a Policy Priority

Washington, D.C. –  Human Rights First today said that following the nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein for Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, the Obama Administration should refocus efforts to make protecting religious freedom a key foreign policy priority. If confirmed, Saperstein will lead the administration’s efforts to advocate for the human rights of religious minorities around the world, a key component of U.S. global leadership and diplomacy.

"At a time when escalating sectarianism and violence against religious minorities is rampant in many parts of the world,  we are pleased to see someone of Rabbi Saperstein’s experience and expertise nominated for this important position," said Human Rights First's Robyn Lieberman. "We urge the Senate to continue to prioritize the protection of the freedom of religion and move swiftly to consider Rabbi Saperstein’s nomination.” 

The 2013 Religious Freedom Report, which was released Monday, highlights the urgency of strengthening U.S. foreign policy objectives to meet the rising need for greater protection of religious minorities and basic religious freedoms. Recent events in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, and Nigeria underscore that denying religious freedom increases conflict and hostility, leads to restrictions on civil and political rights, hinders democracy and stability, and breeds violent extremism. Making international religious freedom a U.S. policy priority is key to protecting long term national security interests by promoting greater stability in bilateral relationships.

Following the confirmation of the new State Department Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Human Rights First urges the Obama Administration to: 

  • Punish and deter foreign government officials responsible for violence targeting individuals or communities on the basis of religion by imposing travel bans and asset freezes. Authority to do this already exists in Section 604 of the International Religious Freedom Act, 8 U.S.C. 1182 (a)(2)(G), and other statutes, but has rarely been invoked. 
  • Encourage foreign governments to prevent and punish violence and discrimination on the basis of religion. 
  • Support foreign governments to denounce and take other steps to prevent incitement to religious hatred, discrimination, and violence by government officials. This should include disciplining or dismissing government officials, including government-sponsored clerics, who incite violence, or seek to limit the rights an freedoms of individuals on the basis of their religion or belief.
  • Create and execute programs that create public space, including on the internet, for religious and civic leaders and organizations to discuss and advocate religious freedom and other democratic principles, and offer an alternative narrative to religious extremism and ideologies of intolerance and violence, including that reflected in state-sponsored education. 
  • Work with foreign governments to end impunity for communal, sectarian, religiously-motivated, and related violence by condemning such violence, investigating and prosecuting incidents, working with affected communities to provide protection and encourage cooperation with public security officials, and condemning hatred without restricting speech. 
  • Advocate for the inclusion of religious leaders and faith-based civil society organizations in conflict prevention frameworks and strategies, and ensure that the religious factors of conflict are integrated into both prevention and response strategies. 
  • Direct resources for programs that develop inter- religious networks and coalitions in both country- specific and regional settings that are designed to promote peace and respond to both religious and nonreligious causes of conflict and destabilizing violence. 

For more information or to speak with Lieberman, contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org or 212-845-5269.

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