Tuesday, August 16, 2016

State Department Issues 2015 International Religious Freedom Report

Last week, the U.S. State Department issued its 2015 Annual Report on International Freedom.  In an August 10 press conference presenting the report, Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken (full text of remarks) said in part:
[T]he purpose of this annual report is not to lecture; it is to inform, to encourage, and ultimately, to persuade. Bigotry and intolerance can be found in every part of the world, including the United States. But every country has an obligation to respect religious liberty and freedom of conscience; we encourage every country to do so. This report, which is based on a wealth of objective research, is one of many ways we give life to that advocacy....
This past March, Secretary Kerry made clear his judgment that Daesh is responsible for genocide against religious communities in areas under its control.... They’ve not only killed, they’ve sought to erase the memory of those they’ve killed, destroying centuries-old religious cultural sites.
Naming these crimes is important, but our goal is to stop them. That’s why President Obama has mobilized a coalition of more than 65 partners from every corner of the world to combat and ultimately defeat Daesh.
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein also spoke at the press conference and answered reporters' questions. (Full text of remarks.) He said in part:
While the report touches on all manner of restrictions to religious freedom, I want to highlight this year the chilling, sometimes deadly effect of blasphemy and apostasy laws in many places of the world, as well as laws that purport to protect religious sentiments from defamation. Roughly a quarter of the world’s countries have blasphemy laws, and more than one in 10 have laws or policies penalizing apostasy, and the existence of these laws has been used by governments in too many cases to intimidate, repress religious minorities, and governments have too often failed to take appropriate steps to prevent societal violence sparked by accusations of blasphemy and apostasy. And when these claims turn out to be blatantly false accusations made to pursue other agendas, governments will often fail to act to hold perpetrators accountable. These government failures weaken trust in the rule of law, creating an atmosphere of impunity for those who would resort to violence or make false claims of blasphemy.
UPDATE: In connection with the State Department report, the White House issued a Fact Sheet: Promoting and Protecting Religious Freedom Around the Globe. Also the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a press release welcoming the State Department's report and urging additional actions under the International Religious Freedom Act.