Remarks at a UN Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on Advancing the Safety and Security of Religious Minorities in Armed Conflict

Ambassador Samuel Brownback
Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
August 22, 2019


Minister Czaputowicz, Representatives, and High Commissioner Bachelet – I want to thank Poland for organizing this meeting to mark the first International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

The International Day was a recommendation from the Potomac Plan of Action after the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom convened in Washington. We appreciate Poland elevating this day during its UN Security Council Presidency and seeing this day established by the General Assembly. We were happy to support this effort with many others in this chamber. In addition to what’s happening here, we are marking this solemn day at the State Department, and we have also directed our embassies around the world to do likewise.

Today the international community pauses to remember the victims of religious persecution. The Pew Forum reports that 83% of the global community live in countries with high or very high restrictions on the free practice of faith. And it’s getting worse, not better. But to truly pay our respects, we must do more than just remember. We must act.

Religious freedom is essential for achieving peace and stability within nations and among nations. Where religious freedom is protected, other freedoms – like the freedom of expression, the freedom of association, and the freedom of peaceful assembly – can flourish. Where it is absent, we find conflict, instability, and very often, terrorism.
We see these truths playing out is some of the worst violators around the world.

In Myanmar, we are appalled by the horrific acts of violence and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State. We are also troubled by the widespread reports of human right violations committed by the military in Kachin and Shan States affecting Christians and other minorities. We call for the equitable treatment of all regardless of religion or ethnicity, and urge Burmese authorities to hold accountable perpetrators of abuses, to provide unhindered humanitarian access to all in need, and to ensure equal protection for all under the law.

In Pakistan, religious minorities continue to suffer from persecution, either at the hands of non-state actors or through discriminatory laws and policies. We appreciate Poland inviting Naveed Walter to speak today about the challenges to religious freedom in Pakistan. He has been a courageous advocate for the persecuted, whether Christian, Ahmadi, Hindu, or others.

It is important to note that the presence of conflict is not the only context for the oppression of religious minorities. We remain deeply concerned about the Chinese government’s escalating, widespread, and undue restrictions on religious freedom in China, and we urge the Chinese government to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of everyone. Many members of religious groups in China – including ethnic Uighur, Kazakh and other Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Falun Gong – face severe persecution and repression, and we call on the Chinese government to end its war on faith and to respect religious freedom for all.

I respectfully urge all countries, including those in Muslim majority countries, to join our calls for better treatment of Muslims and others in China.

We also strongly oppose the Iranian government’s severe violations and abuses of religious freedom. Blasphemy, apostasy from Islam, and proselytization of Muslims are crimes punishable by death. This is unconscionable. Unrecognized religious minorities, including Baha’is and Christian converts, are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, and unjust imprisonment.

Terrorists and violent extremists also commit abuses based on religion or belief. The whole world witnessed ISIS target many of Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups, such as Iraqi Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Turkmen for atrocity crimes.

The United States is a strong supporter of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL. We contributed $2 million in support of UNITAD’s first exhumation of mass grave sites in the Yezidi region of Sinjar earlier this year and thank our Iraqi and international partners for their unwavering support for UNITAD to ensure justice is never beyond reach for ISIS’s victims of all faiths.

Elsewhere, Boko Haram has kidnapped and killed innocent civilians in northeast Nigeria, and attacked both mosques and churches.

It is because of the millions of individuals persecuted for their faith that we honor this day. It is because of them that Secretary Pompeo convened two Ministerials to engage with the international community about how to promote and protect religious freedom.

The second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, held just last month, demonstrated the United States’ commitment to work with likeminded partners to meet the challenge of persecution. A broad range of stakeholders, including over 100 governments and international organization representatives, and over 1,000 members of civil society organizations and religious leaders came together to identify concrete ways to combat religious persecution and discrimination.

Secretary Pompeo announced our intention to create the International Religious Freedom Alliance – the first-ever international body devoted to religious freedom – to coordinate efforts among likeminded countries and organizations to promote and protect international religious freedom.

Ladies and gentlemen, all of our countries have a responsibility to act. We must find the collective will and resolve to meet this challenge head on, or countless millions will continue to suffer. We can wait no longer. We must not be silent. We must act. I look forward to our continued collaboration towards these goals.