Ambassador Brownback: Religious persecution remains a persistent problem

Far too many people around the world face persecution for their religious beliefs.

At a September 25 meeting on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, Uyghur American Ziba Murat said that her mother was taken to an internment camp in China’s western region of Xinjiang two years ago.

“All of the normal practices of our religions are outlawed and being called illegal religious activities,” she said. “Innocents are being abducted.”

During the event, “Answering the Call to Protect Religious Freedom: A Year in Review,” speakers highlighted the work of the international community — in partnership with the United States — to advance freedom of religion or belief globally, including the efforts of representatives from Canada, Estonia, Poland and the Netherlands.

U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told the online audience that, despite some recent successes combatting religious persecution, cases like Murat’s are far too common.

The People’s Republic of China has interned more than 1 million Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minorities in camps where they are forced to renounce their religious identities and swear allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party.

Religious persecution is also happening in other countries. A Rohingya Muslim refugee told the event that he was among those who fled Burma in 2017, fearing for his life. The Burmese military and vigilantes launched abhorrent attacks on Rohingya in August of that year that constitute ethnic cleansing and drove more than 700,000 from their homes into neighboring Bangladesh.

Burma is 90 percent Buddhist. Rohingya, most of whom are Muslim, are not recognized as one of the country’s ethnic minorities.

The United States is committed to the protection of religious freedom around the world. Since February, 31 countries have joined the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, an initiative launched by U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, and committed to opposing all abuses or violations of religious freedom.

Brownback noted some recent success in advancing religious freedom, including Sudan’s repeal of its apostasy law, which had made renouncing Islam punishable by death.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of State removed both Sudan and Uzbekistan from its list of Countries of Particular Concern — where they had been placed for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom — and placed them on the less-severe special watch list.

“There are still too many instances where the right to freedom of religion or belief is violated around the world,” Brownback said.

He said the United States and its partners would continue to fight for religious freedom worldwide, noting that religious liberty is in the best interest of everyone.

“Where the right to freedom of religion is promoted, economic opportunity grows, security increases and people flourish,” Brownback said.

It is a “foreign policy and national security priority” for the United States “to promote and protect this right everywhere for everybody all the time,” he said.