Washington Foreign Press Center Briefing on “The State of Religious Freedom around the Globe”


MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us this morning
at the Washington Foreign Press Center. Our speaker today is Ambassador at Large for International
Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback. The topic of today’s briefing is the state of religious
freedom around the globe. Ambassador Brownback will start with some
opening remarks and then take your questions. Ambassador. AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Thank you very much
for being here today and thank you for joining us. Tomorrow we celebrate International Religious
Freedom Day. It is a recognition of an act, commemorating the International Religious
Freedom Act that was first passed 21 years ago. So it’s been 21 years since we’ve
had an International Religious Freedom Act that created this job, that created the U.S.
Commission on International Religious Freedom, that created a series of laws and entities
and actions to push for international religious freedom. We think, particularly recently,
we’ve created some real momentum in this space. Over the past two years, we’ve had two ministerials
on religious freedom where we brought together foreign ministers from around the world and
civil society activists to talk about religious freedom, the state of it, the need for more
governmental and civil society action in this space. This last ministerial we had this year
was the largest human rights event ever held at State Department. It was the largest religious
freedom event ever held in the world, had over a thousand activists at it, we had over
a hundred governments. And we’re continuing to get a number of governments and civil society
activists both saying we’ve really got to address this area of religious freedom if
we’re going to really have a strong opportunity for the expansion of peace and the engagement
of civilizations in a peaceful way around the world. This year at the UN General Assembly, for
the first time ever, a state – the United States held an event on religious freedom
at the General Assembly. The President, President Trump hosted that event. As I mentioned, it’s
the first time this has ever happened at the UN General Assembly. We had a number of heads
of state of different countries who were at that event. At the event, the President announced
$25 million that the U.S. would put in for security of religious sites and the preservation
and – preservation and enhancement of religious heritage sites around the world. He also announced, as the Secretary had earlier,
an international religious freedom alliance, that the United States was going to recruit
together like-minded nations from around the world to push on this topic of international
religious freedom. Those nations have started to accumulate. We’ve had a number of meetings
with different nations now about joining this alliance. This would be a group that would
establish some basic protocols on religious freedom and push this topic as a concerted
effort around the world. There’s also, on the civil society area,
another issue that’s moving forward aggressively: the creation of religious freedom roundtables
around the world, that a number of nations are establishing these roundtables. And what
they are is government and civil society religious actors all coming together around the topic
of religious freedom, that everybody is entitled to religious freedom all the time no matter
where they are, and that this is a right that individuals have whether they’re in the
majority faith, minority faith, or no faith at all, that they have this right inherent
as an individual. About 20 of these roundtables have been established now in various countries
and venues around the world. Our effort is going to be – their effort is going to be
to establish 100 of these in various countries and places throughout the world, and so that’s
well on its way. I meet weekly here, when I’m in town, with the religious freedom
roundtable that we have here. It meets every Tuesday, 11:00 to noon, normally on Capitol
Hill. And we’re getting a strong attendance and a lot of interest of how to move forward
with these topics, both here and then around the world. So this – we think we’ve got some real
momentum. We need momentum in this space. The most recent Pew research says that 80
percent of the world’s population lives in countries with high or severe restrictions
on religious freedom. And we believe a government, a nation, a people can never reach their full
potential as individuals if within their borders religious individuals are marginalized or
oppressed. It’s by embracing and protecting religious freedom that countries can achieve
their economic aspirations, ensure their security, eradicate terrorism. And so we reaffirm our
commitment as a nation to the rights of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including
the freedom of one’s – to change one’s religion or belief. So as we look at this
21st celebration of the act that created the office that I’m in, of International Religious
Freedom Day coming up, I think there’s a real sense of hope and optimism that you’re
going to see some major things start to move in this space with all of the energy and the
effort now with some galvanizing of world commitments in this space. Often – and I’ll just conclude on this
thought – the biggest problem in policy making is to establish common thought and
to get people to start pulling together towards that. I think the common thought has been
established that we’ve got way too much religious persecution, that we’ve got too
much carnage, killing, people being locked up simply for peacefully practicing their
faith, and that we’re not going to achieve what we need to as civilized societies without
religious freedom, and so that there’s a coming together of governments and of civil
society and religious groups that we need to address this. And so you’re starting
to see those taking place, particularly with the alliance and these roundtables, and I
look for, really, action to start ratcheting up at even a much higher and a more aggressive
level as we get these in place. With that, let me open up and attempt to take
questions that people might have. MODERATOR: Great. And just a reminder to please
state your name and your organization and wait for me to call on you. And we’ll start
with the gentleman in the back. QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ambassador.
My name is Shun Ishibe with NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation. European congress yesterday announced
they awarded – the Sakharov award goes to Professor Ilham Tohti of Xinjiang, China.
He is detained in China. So what is your view this award, and do you know his – anything
about his latest situation, and how do you approach to Chinese Government to release
him? AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Yeah, I don’t have
more current information on his latest situation. As you know, the U.S. has been raising the
issue and the situation in Xinjiang for some time. We held a sidebar event at the UN just
on Xinjiang and the persecution of the Uighur people that was taking place there, and this
– the terrible – the million people that are in a concentration camp, the number of
people that are missing, the number of people that have died in concentration camps in Xinjiang,
and that that – in some press reports – is starting to expand to other Muslim populations
in China as well. So we’ve raised this as an extraordinary
concern and as a terrible situation, and it’s something that China shouldn’t do. And it’s
against the individual’s rights under the UN Charter of Human Rights. It’s against
the people of China’s rights under their own constitution to be able to practice freedom
of religion themselves. So we’ve continued to call on the Chinese Government to lift
these oppressive measures, to let the people out of these concentration camps, and let
the people freely and peacefully practice their faith and not be at war with faith.
And we’ll continue to call on that. MODERATOR: We’ll go to the – the middle. QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Emel Akan
from the Epoch Times. I would like to ask you about another question on China. White
House Economic Advisor Mr. Kudlow said that China’s human rights violations as well
as protests in Hong Kong are key parts of the ongoing trade negotiations with Beijing,
and he said human rights is a very important part and President Trump has made that very
clear. I am wondering how much progress has been made with respect to human rights issues
in China during the talks with Chinese delegation, and are you part of these talks? AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: The – I – I was
talking with Mr. Kudlow yesterday about this, and I’m very pleased that the human rights
issues are being brought up with China. I think it’s important that these be brought
up and that they be put forward. There is not a formal set of talks like there are a
formal set of trade talks going on, but the issues are being surfaced and put forward
strongly by the United States and will continue to be put forward strongly in any venues that
we have a chance to do. Just yesterday the Vice President gave another major address
about China and the issues of human rights and religious freedom that are lacking in
China. So these issues, we’re going to continue
to press them forward, and we’re going to press them in venues any chance we get, like
we just did at the UN General Assembly. And I – it’s my hope that we’re going to
be able to – that the Chinese will agree at some point in time to start directly addressing
with us and with other communities around the world their horrific record on religious
freedom, on religious persecution that they’re doing. And it’s not just Xinjiang and the
Muslims; it’s house church, it’s Tibetan Buddhist, it’s Falun Gong, it’s the entire,
really, faith community. MODERATOR: Pakistan in the back. QUESTION: Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan.
Sir, I have two questions actually for you. The first is: Sir, nearly 2 million people
have been removed from the list of citizens in Indian state of Assam. Republican – the
legislative (inaudible) also raised some concerns on that. Sir, (inaudible) reports that it
is being done on the basis of religion. Is it a matter of concern for you? AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Well, any time a group
of people are identified and then excluded based on faith is a matter of concern to us,
and I think to the global religious freedom community. And now the particular case you’re
raising I think one would – I would want to, and I have been, looking more factually
into it. So I want to know completely what the set of facts are with it. But I’ve raised
many of these cases in different settings around the world, any time you’re excluding
a group of people based on faith that are peaceful practitioners of their faith. But
I want to know specifically more in cases like that, and that’s what we are looking
factually into it today. QUESTION: Sir, there is a concerning situation
in Indian-held Kashmir, too. People are not allowed to practice their faith for the last
many, many months, as there is a curfew and lockdown in the – on the (inaudible) in
the Kashmir Valley. Sir, if you would like to also comment on that? AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Yeah. And it’s the
same situation. We believe people should be allowed to freely practice their faith wherever
they are, whoever they are, as long as they’re peacefully practicing their faith. And that
applies everywhere all the time. And I’ll be raising these issues – again, these are
things that we try to get all the factual setting, and then try to raise them in constructive
ways whenever we can and however we can. And we will do that. MODERATOR: Thank you. Let’s go in the back. QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Ambassador. My
question is: As we know for years, Chinese Communist Party has been trying to export
its religious persecution overseas through its influence operation. Recently people have
just found that when they – for example, when you search on the Google website for
what is Falun Gong, what automatically pop up on the top recommended by the Google are
the website controlled by Chinese Government, a government website. So just wondering, what
do you think about – like, how can we hold these American firms also accountable to stand
up for our values, and not become part of the Chinese persecution? AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: (Inaudible) you’re
following, there’s a robust debate in the country right now. Whether it’s the tech
companies or it’s sport entities, this is a big, robust debate, and it should be. These
issues should be brought up, and it should be discussed. We stand for freedom of speech.
We stand for freedom of religion. We believe these are rights that people are entitled
to everywhere and all the time, that they’re inherent with being an individual, that they’re
rights that governments should protect. And certainly applies to our citizens and people
that are here. There are then individuals and companies – they say, well, I’m looking
at it this way, I’m considering that, but I think it’s important that we constantly
have this discussion, and that we have it in a robust way as a way of really defending
and continuing to educate and talk with people about what these rights are. I’ve been involved in this space for 20
years. There’s – these things constantly come up, and they come up on factual settings.
You’ve got a major principle, and you come up, okay, what about in this case? And then
that’s where you have a robust public discussion about it. Sometimes the Congress gets involved,
sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the administration gets involved, sometimes it doesn’t. But
I think that the important thing is there’s constantly really a reaffirmation of these
basic principles that people are entitled to, and that they’re entitled to in practice
not just in theory, and that – then they have to be determined at each in a specific
type of setting. But I think we’re always at our best as a nation when we stand on fundamental
principles, and we stand there regardless of who’s on the other side, but we stand
for these basics: religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly – that these
are your rights as individuals, and they apply all the time. MODERATOR: Let’s go to Egypt. QUESTION: Thank you, sir. I mean, I’m Thomas
Gorguissian for Al Ahram Weekly, Egypt. I will try to talk more about the forest than
the trees. And I followed you almost for 20 years in your religious freedom or this career
that you have in different places, and you – it seems that over years, the religious
freedom has not improved as a matter of fact. I mean, we all – my respect of the people
who are trying to say different thing – how do you see that this can be handled in a better
way or in a way that is become more practical and people face their – what they are doing
and what they are not doing in regarding – I mean, you mentioned the roundtable discussions.
I mean, what – from your perspective, what is the obstacle that others are facing or
we are facing here in the United States in talking to each other frankly and – about
everything related to religious freedom, even though – I mean, I’m not sure if religious
freedom include those who are not even believing in religious, which is a factor important
in this time in 2019 and in any time. So can you reflect a little bit out of your experience
regarding this bigger question that I am trying to raise instead of being geographically here
or there, or this country or that country, or that religion or that religion? Thank you. AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Yeah. No, I think it’s
a fair question, and I – you look at the raw numbers and you’d say the situation’s
gotten worse; it’s not gotten better. And I think that’s accurate if I look at the
raw numbers. I do think there has been a momentum shift within the past year, and particularly
that the number of Western countries are now starting to say we’ve got to go at this
issue. I think for a long time the West wanted to just not deal with the issue of religion
and just hope it kind of went away over time, but that now they’re – look, we have to
deal with this. There’s just so much carnage and death and
people that are being locked up. And you can go to many countries and see it. You can see
it in the United States. You can see it in New Zealand at Christchurch. You can see it
in Sri Lanka. You can see it in Egypt. You can – but we have to. And so my hope is
then that you’re seeing some momentum shift taking place. You have the first ever freedom
of religion event at the UN General Assembly. You’ve had the first ever ministerial, and
now a second one on this topic. You’ve got this alliance coming together that hasn’t
existed before. This will be the first one of the biggest new human rights pushes in
organizations that have happened in the last several decades. Now, these aren’t panaceas,
but they are showing that there is more global focus on it than there’s been, and you can’t
just ignore a problem and just hope it gets – hope it gets better. One final point I’d make to you is a gentleman
who was of a minority religion. It was a gentleman that was a Baha’i, and I was saying to him
in a speech I was giving and said we just haven’t – it hasn’t gotten better. And
he said: I want to give you a different spin on that. He lived – most Baha’i in one
country that he was aware of, and I’m not going to name it right now, but he said: The
authorities know where we all live. We’ve got about 250,000 of us in this country, and
authorities know where we are. If you guys hadn’t been pushing for religious freedom,
we’d all been killed by now. We’re not. Now, we don’t get to participate in the
society like we like; we’d like to go to the schools that we’d want to go to; we’d
like to get better healthcare than we’re getting. But we’re not dead. And if you
guys hadn’t been pushing this, we probably all would have been killed. So you’ve done
good in that sense. And I was going, well, all right, if we’ve done that, yes, then
that is a very good thing. It’s kind of a low bar, but it is something, and it’s
a substantial something. And I just – I do hope we’re at a moment
where you’re going to start actually seeing the situation substantially improve in places
and that there’s this momentum. Because I – as you noted, I’ve been around this
topic a long time. I’ve not seen this kind of momentum before. I’ve never seen an administration
like this one lean into the topic like this one is, the Trump administration, and you’re
starting to get some Western partners – the Brits are leaning into it more. The Hungarians
are leaning into it more. You’re starting to see Middle Eastern countries saying, “This
is not good for our long-term growth that we’ve become this purified monoculture,
one brand of Islam. This doesn’t serve us well as a nation to grow in the future if
we exclude everybody else.” The leaders are saying that. So I – that’s why I continue
to soldier on, and I believe we’re really at an era where things are going to start
moving back a better way. Thanks for that question. I’m going to end
on that because I think that’s a good place to cap it. Thank you very much. MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us.

5 thoughts on “Washington Foreign Press Center Briefing on “The State of Religious Freedom around the Globe”

  • Thank you lord for you Protección for every one Cristian people Thank you holy holy blessing your name all time

  • Religious freedom in America is not going well..the schools are still pushing islamic ideology on the children and being backed up by the courts..this must be stopped !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No school should be allowed to indoctrinate and no court should be allowed to ok that ..ever..this is a direct attack on freedom of religion for Christians in a none islamic country..thus far..until they've gone unchecked for long enough to make it one…like Britain and so many other countries..Canada is being taken over too..

  • so everyone is aware things are not all good, my family and I have been robbed of a great wealth illegally by pirates cowards and enemies of the American people. until they are held to account then justice has not been met, they owe me money and they are well aware of that fact and its best that they pay it or they will be put in prison and banned from all internet access. I know true law and the supreme court is no longer the supreme judge on this land. the civilian reservast judge ultimus maxymus justly bested them all in real true American law and has cast back at all who have destroyed there federal misappropriations are no federal workers at that. they disgraced themselves and the federal father who ended slavery and left a legacy of power that the name federal held true under his service. those who claim federal anxd are stealing from the people are piratal slave traders hiding under the false flag that is not true federal but just a mask, true federal was the good. false federal are thieves using a good name to mask their shamed faces that hide behind but have no real link to federal but in their delusions. they have not earned the rights to claim that name. stop raping Jacob coxs memory. he built the strong foundation you have aimed to rape , you got caught, true federal has got you afraid. the slap of godsmack wont be church but more then just state. it will be the return of good works that you will be wise not to stand against or youl fall into waste just unsure how they managed to wear out your veil of bullshit that marks you the shit beast of the idle idol eyedoll smiling as you rape until allah makes your tears rain. the day you hopefully become a man so you don't force yourself to hang. I pray that I find you with works before you spring your own tiger trap as you offend when attention was here to be paid. truth is the only thing that matters in the end. the deceivers are the enemy of the muslim and the quran served as a warning not a guide to be liar but to notice its traits. that's why you know not of the human allah who is no illusion but who recognizes bits shallow face and heart soon to break. ive been this good since I was five except a few errors as childhood was my right to learn as I am all man;. im here to do many things. but my aim is still towards the fine chicks so they can find confidence when they finally get to meet a real man and are shocked by puritan goodness that's alive and available. inspections are most ways.

  • What about the religious freedom in the Saudi kingdom? You guys are such hypocrites. The USA is the biggest scam ever perpetuated. For corporate greed, by corporate greed. Consider me an enemy combatent. I want no part in this shit show of a country.

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