Working Session 7: Fundamental freedoms 1, including: Freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief
As prepared for delivery by Ambassador Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom,
Warsaw, September 13, 2018
Promoting and defending international religious freedom is a fundamental issue for the United States. This July, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo hosted the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. Following the Ministerial, the United States issued the Potomac Declaration and the Potomac Plan of Action. The Declaration reaffirms the fundamental freedom of religion or belief. The Plan of Action provides concrete ways to defend it. Separately, we thank Armenia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo, Lithuania, Poland, and the United Kingdom for signing on to one or more of the statements of concern issued at the Ministerial, including on “Counterterrorism as a False Pretext for Religious Freedom Repression,” “Religious Freedom Repression by Non-State Actors, including Terrorist Groups,” and “Blasphemy/Apostasy Laws.” The statements remain open for endorsement, and we invite all countries to join.
During the Ministerial, the United States highlighted one country for its recent progress: Uzbekistan. President Mirziyoyev and his government have taken significant positive steps including: easing registration requirements for religious organizations; registering the Presbyterian church “Light of the World”; permitting children to attend mosques; removing 23,000 names from a list of so-called “extremists”; releasing hundreds of prisoners held for their religious beliefs; and passing a “road map” to implement the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
Uzbekistan has more to do to institutionalize these reforms and protect religious freedom for all, consistent with Uzbekistan’s international obligations and commitments. We encourage Uzbekistan to work with the OSCE, the UN Special Rapporteur for Religion or Belief, and other international experts as it drafts new laws and pursues new policies. We urge the government to release the remaining prisoners arrested for practicing their religion. We also urge authorities to cease violating the rights of individuals to freely and peacefully gather and express their religious views publicly. The government should continue to honor its public statements to register peaceful religious congregations without a cumbersome, multi-tier bureaucratic practice.
Unfortunately, a number of OSCE participating states are not taking actions to promote religious freedom; instead they are violating this human right. The Russian Federation continues to cloak its restrictive laws and legal rulings in trappings of combating so-called “extremism”. Russian law enforcement agencies have escalated targeted raids, detentions, arrests, criminal prosecutions, and imprisonments of Jehovah’s Witnesses on absurd “extremism” grounds. Other members of peaceful religious groups, including some Muslims, have similarly been targeted as “extremists.” According to credible NGO accounts, Russia currently imprisons over 130 people for their peaceful religious practice.