Good evening, everyone.  It is wonderful to see so many from across the world gathered here tonight. 

First, thank you to Ambassador Sabet, Ambassador Hussain, and Embassy Prague colleagues for hosting us this evening; and to our Czech colleagues for organizing the Ministerial. I would especially like to recognize Ambassador Robert Rehak, who played an instrumental role in this year’s Ministerial and is joining us this evening. 

Four years ago, the nations in this room came together to form the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, with the idea that more must be done to protect members of religious minority groups and combat discrimination and persecution around the globe.  

In these first few years, members of our alliance have effected concrete change—advocating for wrongfully imprisoned advocates, believers, or nonbelievers; promoting more inclusive laws to ensure all individuals are able to express their views and beliefs; speaking out against intolerance and hostility; and protecting space for civil society to grow. Across these lines of effort, we have proven that working together achieves results.

Although we have made great progress, we also recognize there’s much more we need to do to protect and promote respect for freedom of religion or belief. 

This year’s ministerial theme – freedom of religion or belief under authoritarian regimes – could not come at a more critical time, as authoritarian governments around the globe increasingly seek to undermine and co-opt the ability of different communities to express their beliefs freely.

As we gather this week, I look forward to working with all of you to discuss concrete actions to further our shared goals to advance respect for freedom of religion or belief globally and build a freer and more just world for all. Every one of us in this room is essential to this effort. 

Finally, on behalf of the United States, I would like to extend our deepest thanks to Fiona Bruce and the United Kingdom for their exceptional leadership over the past year, overseeing an ever-expanding group of governments and civil society organizations devoted to collaborative action to advance long-term change. 

We look forward to welcoming the Czech Republic as IRFBA chair in January, and we thank our Czech friends for your longstanding support and partnership in advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms. 
Again, thank you to our hosts and to all of you who have joined us tonight. Now, over to my good friend and colleague, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain. 

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future