Even though it’s an early Friday morning, this is such an important topic. It’s not only an important topic for the Administration – the Vice President has really taken to the point that this needs to be addressed. And so I want to congratulate you, Katalin, on a very well-attended and good event. This is something that we need to see, because freedom of religion – it’s going away. We’re seeing that. It’s not getting better; it’s getting worse. And that’s what the concerning part is. And so I think whether we look at Christians, which the Vice President’s really trying to focus on, the UN money, and making sure that Christian Minorities get that, or whether it’s on any other minority that needs help with freedom of religion, we believe that our voice needs to be heard and it needs to be loud.
So I am very honored to be here. And religious freedom is a priority for the American people. Mike Pompeo’s first ministerial as Secretary of State in July was devoted to advancing religious freedom and fighting persecution of religious minorities. And Foreign Minister Szijjarto was there, and we were happy to have you. And it’s great to see you again today as well. And thank you for Hungary’s longstanding support for religious freedom.
As the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, I have encountered a whole new world of people who need and deserve to find the power of their voice. I’ve met them and talked to them in refugee camps and on the street in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Turkey, and Jordan.
Every week in the Security Council, we deal with the threats of peace and security that come from governments that deny the human rights and the voices of their people. Governments in China, Russia, Iran, and Burma. Governments that persecute their own religious minorities also have no problem violating the rights of their people. And governments that forcibly “cleanse” their territory of people of certain religions breeds radicalism and resentment. They sow the seeds of violence that inevitably spill over their borders into neighboring countries and even across the world.
Denying religious freedom is a fundamental human rights issue, and it’s wrong.
America was founded on the revolutionary idea that our rights don’t come from government, but they come from God. That means that government can’t legitimately deny any of our rights without due process of the law. So when a government decides it can control when and how we worship, all of our rights are up for grabs. There is no true freedom without religious freedom.
The tragedy is that many on the UN Security Council don’t consider religious liberty – along with other human rights – to be an appropriate subject for its consideration. Until the United States’ last presidency in April of 2017, the Security Council had never had a session focused on only human rights. The thinking was that peace and security are the Council’s business and human rights should be left to other UN agencies. The United States has long tried to change that.
Limiting or denying religious freedom is a way for governments to exert control over their people. The former Soviet-bloc countries of Eastern and Central Europe know this better than anyone. Authoritarian governments see independent religious communities as a threat to their power and even their existence.
The seeds of the freedom revolution that swept through Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s were nurtured by the Catholics and other people of faith in Poland and in other countries. Russian leaders haven’t forgotten this. Religious intolerance and authoritarianism have risen in tandem in post-Soviet Russia.
In China, the government has sent hundreds of thousands of Muslim minority Uighurs to “re-education” camps to combat a perceived threat to its rule.
We’re all familiar with the campaign of ethnic cleansing that occurred in Burma against the Rohingya. A recent UN report of first-hand accounts of the atrocities is genuinely stomach turning. Innocent people were raped, murdered, and burned alive. The root of the crisis in Burma goes deep into the culture of how they view the Rohingya as second class citizens. The Burmese authorities vilify and discriminate against Rohingya primarily because of their religious and ethnic identity. Earlier this week the British and French called a group together of world leaders to address this crisis, particularly the desperate need for food, medicine, and shelter for displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh and Burma. The United States pledged another $185 million to help. But real progress will not occur until the violence ends and there is free humanitarian and press access in Burma. And there will not be justice until there is accountability for the Burmese military and police forces who perpetrate the overwhelming majority of the violence.
Today, we shine a spotlight on persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East. Hungary has provided an example for all of us in the work it has done to support persecuted minorities, including Christians and Yazidis.
Hungary is on the ground, doing the hard work of caring for a too often overlooked population. Hungary is helping rebuild homes, hospitals, schools, and churches in Iraq, Lebanon, and other parts of the Middle East. And they’re taking the long view in helping protect and preserve religious pluralism in the Middle East. Its scholarship program for Christians from conflict-affected countries is giving persecuted minorities a high-quality education that they can take back home and use it to rebuild their communities. We all should be grateful for Hungary’s leadership on this issue. This is good and honorable work – not just because so many people are denied their right to worship, but because defending that right makes for a safer and more peaceful world for all of us.
Every country should stop and ask the question, “What are we doing to support religious freedom in the world?” There is no cause that better serves the dignity and the peace of all mankind than religious freedom. It’s about time the international community took more seriously the voices of religious minorities – and recognized the damage to peace and security that occurs when these voices are silenced. Together, we must underscore religious freedom’s central role in peace and security. It will require every country to do their part.