Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on Religion, Belief, and Conflict

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 19, 2021


Thank you. And let me start by thanking the briefers for sharing your valuable perspectives and insights. And I want to thank the United Kingdom for organizing today’s important and timely event.

Religious freedom, including choosing not to practice or believe, is a fundamental freedom, and it’s one that we have enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. We hold it among our highest values.

No one should fear violence, or persecution, for their beliefs. But today, this basic right is threatened in so many places around the world – including Iraq and Syria, Ethiopia, Burma, China, and Nigeria, just to name a few.

In Iraq and Syria, ISIS has perpetrated atrocities against Yezidis, Christians, Muslims. This violence has forced millions to flee their homes. ISIS has killed, maimed, and tortured others, and forced more than 3,000 Yezidi women and girls into sexual slavery.

The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria recently reported that militant groups continue to kill, kidnap, unlawfully detain, and torture members of religious and ethnic minorities in Syria. They are also vandalizing and desecrating minority religious and cultural sites, including the Yezidi religious sites.

The United States is committed to alleviating the humanitarian crisis facing Iraqi and Syrian survivors of these atrocities and is supporting efforts to hold those responsible accountable.

We also support initiatives to promote the safe and voluntary return of displaced Iraqis to their home communities. We must all work together to achieve justice and dignity for these religious and ethnic minority communities.

In Ethiopia’s Tigray region, we remain deeply concerned by the ongoing humanitarian and human rights crisis. Reports indicate many of the forces operating in Tigray, including Eritrean troops, are committing abuses in Axum. Axum is Ethiopia’s holiest city and home to Ethiopia’s most sacred Orthodox church.

We call for a full independent investigation into all reports of atrocities. And we also call for the departure of Eritrean troops from the Tigray region, and accountability for the victims of these and other attacks during this conflict.

And in Nigeria, the situation continues to concern us. Long-standing economic clashes, corruption, and ethnic tensions are fueling more conflict. While religion plays a factor in these tensions, too often it is weaponized by malignant actors to justify secular goals.

We also remain deeply concerned about abuses and persecution of members of religious communities outside of conflict settings.

In Iran, we reiterate our strong opposition to the government’s severe violations and abuses of religious freedom. Members of unrecognized religious minority groups, including Baha’i and Christian converts, are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, and unjust imprisonment.

In Burma, those who led the military coups are many of the same individuals responsible for abuses against members of Burma’s religious and ethnic minority groups, including atrocities against the Rohingyas.

We have also seen worrisome signs of the Burmese military specifically targeting Muslim members of the National League for Democracy, as part of its broader crackdown on civil society leaders and activists.

In China, the Chinese Communist Party actively suppress the ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious identities of its citizens belonging to religious minority groups, including and particularly Muslims in Xinjiang.

Among their many abuses, Chinese government authorities have detained more than one million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of their ethnic and religious minorities inside of internment camps. There, authorities beat, torture, and forcibly sterilize detainees and force them to renounce Islam.

In all of these countries we are seeing tragedy instead of tolerance. We must work to protect the rights of religious minorities at every turn. Especially because, in the best cases, religions can be a unifying force for peace. Religious and faith-based organizations often play vital roles in the delivery of health care and education in communities.

Religious actors are close to their communities; they are often trusted and have local credibility. They can create positive change, and we support them in efforts to do so. And they deserve to be able to pursue those peaceful ends without fearing for their safety.

We appreciate the opportunity to discuss this important issue today, and we hope that the Security Council will continue to consider ways to advocate for the rights of members of religious minority communities. It is up to us to protect freedom of religion or belief wherever it is threatened.

Thank you, Madam President.