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55. Statement, Robert A. Seiple, Ambassador-at-Large for International Freedom, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, regarding religious freedom (October 6, 1999)


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[106th Congress House Hearings]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office via GPO Access]
[DOCID: f:64167.wais]


THE FIRST ANNUAL STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS
FREEDOM

=======================================================================

HEARING

BEFORE THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON
INTERNATIONAL OPERATIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

OF THE

COMMITTEE ON
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

ONE HUNDRED SIXTH CONGRESS

FIRST SESSION

__________

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 6, 1999

__________

Serial No. 106-97

__________

Printed for the use of the Committee on International Relations


U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
64-167 CC WASHINGTON : 2000



COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

BENJAMIN A. GILMAN, New York, Chairman
WILLIAM F. GOODLING, Pennsylvania SAM GEJDENSON, Connecticut
JAMES A. LEACH, Iowa TOM LANTOS, California
HENRY J. HYDE, Illinois HOWARD L. BERMAN, California
DOUG BEREUTER, Nebraska GARY L. ACKERMAN, New York
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American
DAN BURTON, Indiana Samoa
ELTON GALLEGLY, California MATTHEW G. MARTINEZ, California
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida DONALD M. PAYNE, New Jersey
CASS BALLENGER, North Carolina ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey
DANA ROHRABACHER, California SHERROD BROWN, Ohio
DONALD A. MANZULLO, Illinois CYNTHIA A. McKINNEY, Georgia
EDWARD R. ROYCE, California ALCEE L. HASTINGS, Florida
PETER T. KING, New York PAT DANNER, Missouri
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio EARL F. HILLIARD, Alabama
MARSHALL ``MARK'' SANFORD, South BRAD SHERMAN, California
Carolina ROBERT WEXLER, Florida
MATT SALMON, Arizona STEVEN R. ROTHMAN, New Jersey
AMO HOUGHTON, New York JIM DAVIS, Florida
TOM CAMPBELL, California EARL POMEROY, North Dakota
JOHN M. McHUGH, New York WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts
KEVIN BRADY, Texas GREGORY W. MEEKS, New York
RICHARD BURR, North Carolina BARBARA LEE, California
PAUL E. GILLMOR, Ohio JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
GEORGE P. RADANOVICH, California JOSEPH M. HOEFFEL, Pennsylvania
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
THOMAS G. TANCREDO, Colorado
Richard J. Garon, Chief of Staff
Kathleen Bertelsen Moazed, Democratic Chief of Staff
------

Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights

CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey, Chairman
WILLIAM F. GOODLING, Pennsylvania CYNTHIA A. MCKINNEY, Georgia
HENRY J. HYDE, Illinois ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American
DAN BURTON, Indiana Samoa
CASS BALLENGER, North Carolina EARL F. HILLIARD, Alabama
PETER T. KING, New York BRAD SHERMAN, California
MATT SALMON, Arizona WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts
THOMAS G. TANCREDO, Colorado GREGORY W. MEEKS, New York
Grover Joseph Rees, Subcommittee Staff Director
Douglas C. Anderson, Counsel
Gary Stephen Cox, Democratic Staff Director
Nicolle A. Sestric, Staff Associate


C O N T E N T S

----------
Page

WITNESSES

Honorable Robert Seiple, Ambassador-at-Large for International
Religious Freedom, U.S. Department of State.................... 7
Ms. Nina Shea, Member, U.S. Commission on International Religious
Freedom........................................................ 26
Mr. Stephen Rickard, Director, Washington Office, Amnesty
International USA.............................................. 29
Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom,
Freedom House.................................................. 35
Rev. Nguyen Huu Le, Executive Director, Committee for Religious
Freedom in Vietnam, Former Religious Prisoner in Vietnam....... 38
Mr. Abdughuphur Kadirhaji, Uighur Muslim from Urumqi City,
Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Regon, China........................ 40

APPENDIX

Prepared statements:
Honorable Christopher H. Smith, a U.S. Representative in Congress
from the State of New Jersey, Chairman, Subcommittee on
International Operations and Human Rights...................... 52
Honorable Dan Burton, a U.S. Representative in Congress from the
State of Indiana............................................... 57
Ambassador Seiple................................................ 58
Ms. Shea......................................................... 73
Mr. Rickard...................................................... 77
Dr. Marshall..................................................... 85
Rev. Le.......................................................... 92
Mr. Kadirhaji.................................................... 96
Additional material submitted for the record:
List of Names of Sikh victims, submitted by Rep. Burton.......... 100
List of Confiscated Church Properties, submitted by Reverend Le.. 121



THE FIRST ANNUAL STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS
FREEDOM

----------


WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 6, 1999

House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on International,
Operations and Human Rights,
Committee on International Relations,
Washington, D.C.
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2 p.m. In Room
2172, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Christopher H. Smith
(Chairman of the Subcommittee) Presiding.
Mr. Smith. The Subcommittee will come to order.
Good afternoon. Today's hearing is the latest in a series
of Subcommittee hearings focusing on religious persecution
around the world. Over the last 5 years, we have heard from
numerous government officials, experts, eyewitnesses and
victims at a dozen hearings focusing on various aspects of the
problem including worldwide anti-Semitism, the persecution of
Christians around the world, the 1995 massacre of Bosnian
Muslims in Srebrenica, the enslavement of black Christians in
the Sudan, and the use of torture against religious believers
and other prisoners of conscience.
Last year, this Subcommittee marked up H.R. 2415,
Congressman Frank Wolf's landmark legislation on the problem of
international religious persecution. In November, an amended
version of the Wolf bill was enacted into law as the
International Religious Freedom Act of 1999. Among the most
important provisions of that act were an Annual Report on
International Religious Freedom, a Special Ambassador for
Religious Freedom, and we are very happy to have here today an
independent bipartisan Commission on International Religious
Freedom.
Today we will hear testimony on the first annual report
provided to Congress pursuant to the Religious Freedom Act, and
among our witnesses are Ambassador Robert Seiple and
Commissioner Nina Shea, whose offices were created by the act.
So today's hearing is living proof that the United States has
taken some important steps toward helping millions of people
around the world who are persecuted simply because they are
people of faith.
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. The first
Annual Report exhibits some of the strengths but also some of
the weaknesses of the State Department's annual Country Reports
on Human Rights Practices, which address a broader range of
human rights violations. As we learn year after year in our
hearings on the Country Reports, the production of an honest
and effective report on human rights violences entails a series
of struggles.
First, it is necessary to get as many facts as possible and
to get them right. Then it is important to state the facts
clearly and honestly. It is important to avoid sensationalism,
but it is at least as important to avoid hiding the facts
behind exculpatory introductions or obfuscatory conclusions.
Finally, and most difficult of all, it is necessary to
translate a clear understanding of the facts about religious
persecution into a coherent policy for ending it.
In general, I believe the first Annual Report on
International Religious Freedom succeeds in getting the facts
straight. There are some important omissions, such as the
Indonesia report's failure to examine the evidence of anti-
Catholicism that has played an important role in the repression
of the people of East Timor by elements of the Indonesian
military.
I would note parenthetically we just spent all of last week
working on a 1-day hearing looking at the problem there, and we
were very pleased to have Jose Ramos-Horta as well as Xanana
Gusmao as two of our lead witnesses, in addition to Julia Taft
and Howard Koh. So that is one thing that we had in here.
But I am impressed with the extent to which the report
states hard facts even about governments with which the United
States enjoys friendly relations. For instance, the reports on
France, Austria, and Belgium detail the recent official
harassment and/or discrimination by the governments of these
countries against certain minority religions such as Jehovah's
Witnesses and some Evangelical and Pentecostal denominations.
Even more impressive is the first sentence of the report on
Saudi Arabia. It is a simple declarative sentence, and I quote,
``Freedom of religion does not exist.''
Unfortunately, in some places, the report could not seem to
resist trying to mitigate the unpleasant appearances of the
hard facts by surrounding them with weasel words. In several
reports on Communist countries, the government's failure to
enforce anti-religion laws uniformly--which is typically due to
inefficiency, favoritism or corruption--is reported in words
that suggest the possibility of secret first amendment
sympathies on the part of local or central governments. We are
told, for example, that the Cuban government's efforts to
control religion, quote, ``do not affect all denominations at
all times.''
The report on Laos even makes the remarkable assertion that
the central government was, and I quote, ``was unable to
control'' harsh measures taken against Christians by local and
provincial authorities, although these measures were fully
consistent with Communism party doctrine and previous actions
by the central government.
Ambassador Seiple, in calling attention to these
transparent attempts to sugar-coat the facts with meaningless
and/or misleading editorial comment, I do not want to detract
from the very good work that your office and the Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights and Labor have done on this report. On
the contrary, these nonsequiturs and disconnects are strong
evidence that there was a struggle within the administration
between human rights workers who tried to tell it exactly like
it is and some of our embassies or regional bureaus who were
carrying water for their odious clients. In general, the good
guys appear to have won.
Despite these important victories that have led to this
strong, honest, and thorough report, I am deeply concerned that
it might not result in the necessary changes in U.S. policy.
This is particularly sad because the International Religious
Freedom Act provided an important mechanism for bringing about
such changes. Specifically, the law provides that on or before
September 1st of each year, the same day the annual report is
due, the President shall review the status of religious freedom
in each foreign country to determine which governments have
``engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of
religious freedom'' during the proceeding 12 months.
These countries are to be designated as countries of
particular concern for religious freedom, and the President
then must either impose diplomatic, political or economic
sanction against the governments of these countries or issue a
waiver of such action. This year, however, the President did
not designate any countries of particular concern until late
last night, about 5 weeks beyond the statutory deadline.
Ambassador Seiple, I want to congratulate you for prying
that list loose from wherever it was in the Federal bureaucracy
in time for today's hearing. Unfortunately, this designates
only five countries along with two de facto authorities that
are not recognized by the U.S. as natural governments.
In choosing these seven regimes--Burma, China, Iran, Iraq,
Sudan, Serbia, and the Taliban--the President made only the
easy choices. Six of them are pariah regimes, already under
severe sanctions for reasons other than religious persecution.
The seventh, China, must have generated a warm debate within
the administration, not because the evidence is unclear about
the atrocities the Chinese government commits every day against
Roman Catholics, house church Protestants, Uighur Muslims,
Tibetan Buddhists, and other believers, but because a
designation of China as a country of particular concern might
be bad for the relationship.
Ambassador Seiple, I am glad the forces of light prevailed
when it came to designating China. But where is Vietnam, which
brutally suppresses Buddhists, Protestants and others who will
not join official churches run by the government itself and
which attempts to control the Catholic Church through a
Catholic Patriotic Association modeled closely after the
Chinese institution of the same name? Where is North Korea,
whose government imprisons evangelists and then treats them as
insane? Where are Laos and Cuba, which engage in similar brutal
practices? Where is Saudi Arabia in which, and again I quote,
``freedom of religion does not exist?''
Does the administration really believe these governments
have not engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations
of religious freedom? Or were the President and his advisers
more worried about injuring the relationship or interfering
with ongoing efforts to improve the relationship than with
giving the honest assessment required by the plain language of
the statute?
Mr. Ambassador, as you know, the Executive Summary of the
report contains a description of U.S. actions to promote
religious freedom abroad. Among other things, it states, ``the
most productive work often is done behind the scenes. It
happens when an ambassador, after discussing with his senior
official his country's important strategic relationship with
the U.S., raises one more thing, access to the imprisoned mufti
or information on a missionary who has disappeared.''
Unfortunately, this description tends to confirm rather
than dispel some of the most frequent criticisms of this
administration's treatment of religious liberty issues in its
conduct of U.S. foreign policy: First, that the administration
is squeamish about holding governments publicly accountable for
their repression; second, that the administration focuses on
specific high-profile cases rather than pressing for systemic
improvements; and, third, that the administration too often
treats religious liberty as ``one more thing,'' an addendum to
other policy discussions, rather than mainstreaming it into
other larger deliberations concerning economic, trade, aid,
security policies and the like, those things that might provide
concrete incentives for repressive regimes to change their
actions.
Mr. Ambassador, we need to convince, I believe, repressive
governments that religious freedom is not just ``one more
thing.'' Totalitarian regimes often come down harder on
religious believers than on anyone else. This is because
nothing threatens such regimes more than faith. In the modern
world, in which the rhetoric of cultural relativism and moral
equivalence is so often used to make the difference between
totalitarianism and freedom seem just like just a matter of
opinion, the strongest foundation for the absolute and
indivisible nature of human rights is the belief that these
rights are not bestowed by governments or international
organizations but by God. People who are secure in their
relationship with God do not intimidate easily.
So we must remind ourselves, and then we must remind our
government, that human rights policy is not just a subset of
trade policy, and refugee protection is not just an
inconvenient branch of immigration policy. On the contrary,
these policies are about recognizing that good and evil really
exist in the world. They are also about recognizing that we are
all brothers and sisters, and we are our brothers' and sisters'
keepers.
Mr. Ambassador, this report is a good first step toward
restoring these human rights policies to the place they deserve
as a top priority in American foreign policy, and I am very,
very grateful to have you here.
I would like to yield to my colleagues before introducing
our very distinguished guests.
The Chairman of the Full Committee, Mr. Gilman.
Mr. Gilman. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to thank our distinguished Chairman of the Committee
and ranking minority Member of the Subcommittee on
International Operations and Human Rights, the gentleman from
New Jersey, Mr. Smith, and the gentlelady from Georgia, Ms.
McKinney, for holding this important hearing today. I see we
are joined by Congressman Lantos, who has been a staunch
supporter of religious freedom, and I want to especially
commend Congressman Frank Wolf, the gentleman from Virginia,
for his leadership on the important International Religious
Freedom Act. Although we regrettably had to accept some
weakening amendments to the bill from the Senate at the time we
adopted it, his leadership ensured the strong bipartisan
measure to final adoption.
In response to section 102 of the International Religious
Freedom Act of 1998, the State Department 1 month ago released
its first Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for
1999; and while the report can be criticized for its lack of
depth in many areas, I want to thank our good Ambassador who is
here with us today for focusing resources in the right
direction.
Ambassador Seiple has done an outstanding job as our first
Ambassador on our international religious freedom issues.
Besides the mandate to provide detailed information with
respect to religious freedom around the world, the
International Religious Freedom Act also requires that the
President or his designees, in this case the Secretary of
State, to determine which countries should be designated as
countries of particular concern.
I am informed that the list is made of up of Burma,
People's Republic of China, Sudan, Iran, Iraq and the Taliban
in Afghanistan. While there are many other nations that could
be mentioned, I was concerned to learn that Vietnam, Laos, Cuba
and Saudi Arabia were not designated. Vietnam and Laos have the
same restrictive policies on unapproved and unregistered
religious institutions as the People's Republic of China.
According to the Country Report on Human Rights Practices,
Saudi Arabia has a systematic discrimination based on religion,
and that is built into their law. Cuba imprisons and tortures
Protestant evangelists who refuse to work with denominations by
the government. Despite the opening of the talks that came
about through the Pope's recent visit, they turned out to be
just that, talk.
We hope that the administration will not be reluctant to
list Vietnam and Laos as countries of particular concern
because it is trying to ensure that these repressive regimes
obtain most favored nations trading status. Our Nation's
foreign policy must never be to ensure that business comes
before the right to freely practice one's religion and the
freedom of assembly.
We look forward to hearing from our distinguished
witnesses; and I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for conducting this
hearing.
Mr. Smith. Thank you very much, Chairman Gilman.
Mr. Lantos.
Mr. Lantos. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Let me at the outset commend my friend from Virginia, Frank
Wolf, who emphatically pursued this goal, and we are all here
to celebrate what in fact is a victory for religious freedom in
no small measure, thanks to his commitments and his efforts.
I also want to pay tribute to you and to Chairman Gilman
for your unfailing support of religious freedom. I want to
welcome our distinguished Ambassador and look forward to many
annual reports over the coming years.
I want to congratulate both you and the administration on
this report. I agree with my colleagues that the list of seven
could easily be expanded, and I hope that in coming years it
will either be expanded or the performance of these countries
will change so that they will not have to be included in this
infamous listing of countries that deny religious freedom.
I particularly want to commend the administration for
including China in the list. It is important for all of us in
Congress to recognize that we have a far greater degree of
freedom as individual Members of Congress to express our views
since it is not our responsibility to conduct official
diplomatic relations with other countries.
It is far easier for a Member of Congress to recommend that
China be on the list than it is for an administration which has
a tremendous variety of relationships with China to include
China. So I commend you, Mr. Ambassador, and Secretary Albright
and the President and the Vice President for having the courage
to include China in this list because China surely belongs on
that list.
I also agree with my colleagues that a number of countries,
ranging from Saudi Arabia to Vietnam to Cuba, should be
included on the basis of their performance; and I hope that in
subsequent reports, they either will be included or their
improved performance will qualify them not to be included.
But I think it is easy to nitpick the first historic report
on religious freedom globally. The United States is the only
country on the face of this planet--I want to repeat this--the
United States is the only country on the face of this planet
which has an annual report prepared by its administration and
submitted to its Congress on this most important subject.
I think it is very important to underscore the positive.
This is a major legislative achievement and a major
accomplishment by the administration. The report is extensive,
impressive, accurate and overwhelmingly depressing. It is
depressing because this fundamental human right, the right of
religious freedom, is so little observed in so many countries
of this world; and religious hatred and bigotry still permeate
the official public policy of large numbers of countries on the
face of this planet.
I think it is extremely important that we rejoice in our
combined and joint efforts as Republicans and Democrats and as
a Congress and as an administration; and I look forward to
working with you, Mr. Ambassador, and your staff, for years to
come, hopefully, to improve the cause of religious freedom
globally.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Smith. Thank you very much, Mr. Lantos. I think you
pointed out so well that we do work in a bipartisan way on
human rights in a town that seems to have partisanship written
all over it. At least this is one area where we can come
together and promote the common welfare for people across the
planet. So thank you very much for your comments.
Mr. Pitts.
Mr. Pitts. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for holding
this hearing. Your efforts on behalf of religious freedom have
positively affected numerous people around the world, and I am
honored to work with you and commend especially Congressman
Wolf and Congressman Lantos, Chairman Gilman, to work on behalf
of promoting human rights and religious liberty around the
world.
I also want to commend Ambassador Seiple and the numerous
individuals in the State Department who spent, I am sure, a
tremendous amount of time and effort in the report that we are
examining today.
As a newly appointed member of the Helsinki Commission, I
have concerns regarding the state of religious freedom in
Europe and Central Asia and the Caucasus, concerns about how
the 1997 Russian religious law is being implemented.
The 1998 Uzbek law, which I think is the most restrictive
law in the OSCE region, criminalizes unregistered religious
activities. It penalizes free religious expression. Over 200
individuals have been imprisoned in Uzbekistan this year for
their religious practices. In countries such as Hungary and
Bulgaria and Ukraine and Romania, new laws restricting
religious freedom are in various stages of legislative process.
In Azerbaijan, the raid of the Baptist Church on September 5th
and last Sunday's raid of the German Lutheran Church underscore
the price that religious believers pay for their faith.
Because of time limitations, I won't go into detail. But,
like the Chairman, I am very concerned about the religious
liberty violations in the People's Republic of China, Sudan,
Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Burma, Egypt,
Iran, and others.
I am very disappointed that Vietnam and Pakistan were not
designated as countries of particular concern, despite
widespread religious liberty violations in both of these
countries.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for holding this hearing. I
look forward to working with all of you, all of us together on
behalf of religious liberty around the world.
Mr. Smith. Thank you very much, Mr. Pitts.
Mr. Wolf?
Mr. Wolf. No opening statement. That is OK.
Mr. Smith. The prime sponsor of the bill has nothing to
say.
Mr. Smith. Let me introduce our distinguished witness,
Ambassador Robert Seiple, who was confirmed as the State
Department's first Ambassador-at-Large for International
Religious Freedom on May 5th of this year. For the last 11
years, he has served as president of World Vision, the largest
privately funded relief and developmental agency in the world.
A former Marine and recipient of the distinguished Flying Cross
and numerous other awards for his service in Vietnam,
Ambassador Seiple previously served as president of Eastern
College and Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Mr. Ambassador, welcome to the Subcommittee. We look
forward to your statement.

STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE ROBERT A. SEIPLE, AMBASSADOR-AT-LARGE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Mr. Seiple. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and Members
of Congress. With your permission, I will, in the interest of
time, read a shortened version of my prepared text and ask that
the entire text be entered into the record.
Mr. Smith. Without objection, the full text will be made a
part of the record.
Mr. Seiple. It is a pleasure to be here today to testify
about the Department of State's first Annual Report on
International Religious Freedom. I consider it an honor to
appear before you, knowing as I do the key role you played in
the Committee in promoting religious freedom and in creating
the International Religious Freedom Act.
We share a common vision, a simple but profound vision. It
is to help people who suffer because of their religious faith.
Such people live literally around the globe, and they number in
the millions. They live in fear, afraid to speak of what they
believe. They worship underground in 21st century catacombs,
lest authorities discover and punish their devotion to an
authority beyond the state. They languish in prisons and suffer
torture, simply because they love God in their own way.
They are children stolen from their parents, sold into
slavery and forced to convert to another religion. They are
Christian mothers searching for their missing sons. They are
Buddhist monks in reeducation camps, Jews imprisoned on
trumped-up charges of espionage, Muslims butchered for being
the wrong kinds of Muslims. They hail from every region and
race, and their blood cries out to us. Not for vengeance, but
for hope and for help and for redress.
Nor should we speak of human suffering merely in terms of
numbers. Suffering has a face. You will forgive me if I repeat
a story I told elsewhere. But in my office there is a lovely
watercolor painting of a house and a garden. The painted scene
is one of peace, which reflects the forgiveness in the artist's
heart. But that painting has its origins in hatred.
The artist is a young Lebanese woman named Mary, who at the
age of 18, was fleeing her village after it was overrun by
militia. Mary was caught by a militiamen who demanded with his
gun that she renounce her faith or die.
She refused to renounce her faith. The bullet was fired,
severed her spinal cord. Today Mary paints her paintings of
forgiveness with a paintbrush braced in her right hand. She
represents both the painful consequences of religious
persecution and the best fruits of religion. Mary is filled
with physical suffering, yet she forgives. In so doing, she
points the way to an enduring answer to religious persecution
and that is, of course, reconciliation.
In order to have forgiveness and reconciliation, we must
elevate the notion of universal human dignity, the idea that
every human being has an inherent and inviolable worth. Lest we
forget the face of suffering, or of forgiveness, I have
dedicated the first Annual Report on International Religious
Freedom to Mary.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, you are to be
commended for your work on this issue and for calling this
hearing. Together with the International Religious Freedom Act
and our own new Report on International Religious Freedom, this
hearing will sharpen the focus for those of us who may be in a
position to help, while at the same time it will provide hope
to believers in every place where hope is in short supply and
where each day brings fear of more persecution.
We are all aware that religious liberty is the first
freedom of our Bill of Rights and is cherished by many
Americans as the most precious of those rights granted by God
and to be protected by governments. This Congress was wise in
recognizing that freedom of religion and--in a religious
context--freedom of conscience, expression and association are
also among the founding principles of international human
rights covenants.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the
International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, as well
as other human rights instruments, grant citizens of the world
the right to freedom of religion. As a consequence, when we go
to officials of foreign governments to urge them to protect
religious freedom, we are not asking them to do it our way. We
are asking them to live up to their commitments that they have
made, both to their own people and to the world.
Mr. Chairman and Members, as you well know, on October 27th
of last year, President Clinton signed into law the
International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Section 102 of
that bill calls for the submission to Congress of an Annual
Report on International Religious Freedom to supplement the
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by providing
additional detailed information with respect to matters
involving international religious freedom.
On September 9th, we submitted to Congress the first
International Religious Freedom report. It is this. This is
1,100 pages long. It covers 194 countries and focuses
exclusively on the status of religious freedom in each. I would
like publicly to thank the hundreds of Foreign Service Officers
worldwide who helped research, draft, corroborate and edit this
new report.
I want to extend a special thanks to officers in the Bureau
for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in particular, the staff
of the Office of Country Reports and Asylum Affairs. These
dedicated officers worked overtime, literally and figuratively,
in order to meet the deadline and to produce the best possible
product.
Finally, I wish to thank my own staff in the Office of
International Religious Freedom, not only for their hard work
but for their love of their work. They are proud to say, as you
do in the International Religious Freedom Act, that the United
States stands with the persecuted.
The report applies to all religions and beliefs. It targets
no particular country or religion, and it seeks to promote no
religion over another. It does, however, recognize the
intrinsic value of religion, even as it acknowledges that
religious freedom includes the right not to believe or to
practice. Integrity has been our goal as we sought to ascertain
and report the status of religious freedom in all countries
around the globe.
The report includes an introduction, an Executive Summary,
and a separate section on each of the 194 countries. The
introduction lays the philosophical groundwork for promoting
religious freedom. While noting there is more than one
understanding of the source of the human dignity, it also
acknowledges a religious understanding of that source, namely,
the idea that every human being possesses an intrinsic and
inviolable worth that has a devine origin and is part of the
natural order of things.
So understood, religious freedom can provide support for
all other human rights. When the dignity of the human person is
destroyed, it is not simply a practical rule that is being
violated, but the nature of the world itself.
Mr. Chairman, I am sure you will agree that if the idea of
human dignity is viewed merely as a utilitarian matter, solely
the product of legislation or treaties, it becomes perishable.
Any national or international standard that reflects only the
norms of a given cultural or historical period can be abolished
for the convenience of the powerful.
Drawing from the individual reports, the Executive Summary
provides a brief description of barriers to religious freedom
in some 35 countries, grouped around five themes ranging from
discrimination to harsh persecution. As required by the act,
the Executive Summary includes, but is not limited to, those
countries that may be designated countries of particular
concern.
Each of the 194 Country Reports begins with the statement
about applicable laws and outlines whether the country requires
registration of religious groups. It then provides----
Mr. Smith. Mr. Ambassador, I think your microphone just
went out. Thank you.
Mr. Seiple. Each of the 194 Country Reports begins with a
statement about applicable laws and outlines whether the
country requires registration of religious groups. It then
provides a demographic overview of the population by religious
affiliation, outlines problems encountered by various religious
groups, describes societal attitudes and finishes with an
overview of U.S. policies.
The drafting process was similar to that used in preparing
the Human Rights Reports. We worked diligently to include as
much factual information as possible, relying not only on our
other sources but also on material from experts in the
academia, nongovernmental organizations and the media. Our
guiding principle was to ensure that all relevant information
was assessed objectively, thoroughly and fairly as possible. We
hope that Congress finds the report to be an objective and
comprehensive resource.
The International Religious Freedom Act also requires that
the President, or in this case his designee, the Secretary of
State, review the status of religious freedom throughout the
world in order to determine which countries should be
designated as countries of particular concern. As the Chairman
and the Committee Members know, we have delayed the
designations in order to give the Secretary ample time to
consider all the relevant data, as well as my own
recommendations.
She has been reading relevant parts of the report itself,
which was not completed until September 8th. Designations must
be based on those reports, as well as on the Country Reports on
Human Rights Practices, and all other information available to
us.
I am pleased to tell you that the Secretary has completed
her review. We will shortly send to the Congress an official
letter of notification in which we will detail the Secretary's
decision with respect to any additional actions to be taken.
While I am not prepared today to discuss those actions, I do
wish to announce the countries that the Secretary intends to
designate under the act as countries of particular concern.
They are Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan.
The Secretary also intends to identify the Taliban in
Afghanistan, which we do not recognize as a government, and
Serbia, which is not a country, as particularly severe
violators of religious freedom. I will be happy to take your
questions about the restrictions on the exercise of religious
freedom in all of these areas.
I would also note that there are many other countries that
our report discusses where religious freedoms appear to be
suppressed. In some instances, like Saudi Arabia, those
countries are beginning to take steps to address the problem.
In some countries, such as North Korea, religious freedoms may
be suppressed, but we lack the data to make an informed
assessment. We will continue to look at these cases and collect
information so that, if a country merits designation under the
act, we will so designate it in the future.
Let me turn briefly to the subject of U.S. actions to
promote religious freedom abroad.
Secretary Albright has said that our commitment to
religious liberty is even more than the expression of American
ideals. It is a fundamental source of our strength in the
world. The President, the Secretary of State and many senior
U.S. officials have addressed the issue of freedom in venues
throughout the world. Secretary Albright some time ago issued
formal instructions to all U.S. diplomatic posts to give more
attention to religious freedom both in reporting and in
advocacy.
During the period covered by this report, all of 1998 and
the first 6 months of 1999, the U.S. engaged in a variety of
efforts to promote the right of religious freedom and to oppose
violations of that right. As prescribed in the International
Religious Freedom Act, the Executive Summary describes U.S.
actions to actively promote religious freedom.
Drawing on the individual reports, it describes certain
activities by U.S. Ambassadors, other embassy officials and
other high-level U.S. officials, including the President, the
Secretary, Members of Congress, as well as the activities of my
own office.
Our staff has visited some 15 countries in the last several
months, including China, Egypt, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Serbia,
Russia, Indonesia, Laos, Kazakhstan, Israel, Saudi Arabia,
France, Germany, Austria, and Belgium. We have met with
hundreds of officials, NGO's, human rights groups, religious
organizations and journalists, here and abroad. I am delighted
to report to you that our office has become a clearing house
for people with information about religious persecution and
discrimination and for the persecuted themselves. By fax,
telephone, E-mail and direct visits they tell us their stories.
We listen, record, and, when appropriate, we act.
At the very least, we believe we have created a process by
which their stories can be verified and integrated into our
annual report. With persistence and faith, perhaps our efforts
will lead to a reduction in persecution and an increase in
religious freedom.
Mr. Chairman, I have provided in my written statement a
description of U.S. efforts in three countries, China,
Uzbekistan, and Russia, where Congress has shown particular
interest and in which we have expended considerable diplomatic
effort.
In China, our collective efforts on behalf of persecuted
minorities, and I include Members of Congress in that
collective, have been persistent and intense, but have
unfortunately had little effect on the behavior of the Chinese
Government.
In Uzbekistan, our efforts have met with some success,
although it certainly is too soon to discern long-term or
systemic change for the better.
In Russia, our interventions with the Russian government
have apparently blunted the effects of a bad religion law.
Again, I am willing to discuss with you any country about
which you have concerns.
Let me close, Mr. Chairman, by thanking you for your
leadership in the promotion of international religious freedom
and the entire Committee for its willingness to hold this
hearing. As I said at the outset, we share a common vision. It
is of a world in which people of all religions are free from
persecution. To create such a world, we seek to change the
behavior of those regimes which engage in or tolerate abuses of
religious freedom and to signal persecutors and persecuted
alike that they will not be forgotten.
But, Mr. Chairman and Members of Congress, there is a
profoundly important point that I believe is sometimes missed
in our discussions of religious freedom, a point I briefly made
earlier and one with which I am certain you will agree. Let me
return to it in closing. To protect freedom of religion is not
simply to shield religious belief and worship. It is that, but
it is more. When we defend religious freedom, we defend every
human being who is viewed as an object or a product to be used
or eliminated according to the purposes of those with power.
I believe that to guard religious freedom is to lift high
the noblest of ideas, indeed the idea that is the seed bed of
our own democracy. It is a religious understanding of human
dignity, the conviction that every person, of whatever social,
economic, religious or political status of whatever race, creed
or location, is endowed by God, with a value which does not
rise or fall with income or productivity, with status or
position, with power or weakness.
Mr. Chairman, let us together renew our determination to
combat religious persecution and to promote religious freedom.
By so doing, we hold out hope for those who live in fear
because of what they believe and how they worship. By so doing,
we give pause to those who contemplate tormenting others
because of their religious beliefs. By so doing, we strengthen
the very heart of human rights.
Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Seiple appears in the
appendix.]



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