U.S. Statement on the Adoption of an International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence based on Religion or Belief

Austin Smith, Acting Representative of the United States to the United Nations Economic and Social Council
New York City
May 28, 2019


The United States thanks Poland and other members of the core group for their leadership and spirit of cooperation in establishing an international day to commemorate the victims of violence based on religion or belief.We are pleased to offer our support to this timely initiative.

Recent tragic events, such as the bombings of Christian churches in Colombo, the killings at mosques in Christchurch, the attack at Poway Synagogue in San Diego, the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, the execution of Sunni Kurds in Iran, and past atrocities like the genocide of Yezidis and Christians in areas controlled by ISIS, these all underscore the need for the establishment of this day. There is an urgent need for the international community to come together to condemn violence based on religion or belief and remember the many innocent victims of these heinous acts.

Countries must work across borders to advocate for the rights of members of religious minority communities, and to protect freedom of religion or belief wherever it is threatened.

The United States is proud of our long history of promoting freedom of religion or belief, domestically and globally, for all — without regard to a specific religion or group of people.Religious freedom is enshrined in our constitution and we are committed to building a world in which no one fears violence or persecution due to his or her beliefs.

In July 2018, the United States convened the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, bringing together civil society, government officials, international organizations, and religious leaders to facilitate dialogue and establish areas of mutual cooperation for future action.The Potomac Plan of Action, issued by Secretary Pompeo at the conclusion of the Ministerial, called for the creation of the international day we are now establishing.

This summer, we will build upon the momentum established in 2018 by convening a second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington.

In addition, we are encouraging regional follow-up conferences.The United Arab Emirates and Taiwan have already hosted events, and we thank them again for doing so. We also continue to support the Istanbul Process, designed to combat intolerance and discriminatory actions through open dialogue between governments, civil society, and religious leaders with full respect for freedoms of religion or belief and freedom of expression.We encourage member states to consider hosting Istanbul Process meetings and workshops to demonstrate their own commitment to upholding freedom of religion or belief.

Let me reiterate our gratitude for Poland’s leadership on this effort.

Your Excellency, this resolution reminds the world that people continue to suffer because of their faith.We continue to call attention to one of the world’s most horrific denials of freedom of religion or belief: In the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, more than one million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other members of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang have been arbitrarily detained in camps since April 2017. There are disturbing reports of forced labor, torture, and deaths in these camps.


Chinese authorities are restricting religious freedom by labeling peaceful religious practices as manifestations of “religious extremism and terrorism.” We call upon all member states to speak out against the egregious human rights abuses and religious persecution by the People’s Republic of China.China’s repressive campaign in Xinjiang is not about terrorism and follows a long history of religious, linguistic, and cultural oppression.The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding. This repression has intensified under the current policy of “Sinicizing” religion.

We call on member states to press the Chinese government to close its camps and respect the rights of Muslims in Xinjiang, as well as the rights of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners.

Bilaterally and multilaterally, the United States looks forward to continuing to work with member states in 2019 and beyond to advance international religious freedom.The United States stands ready to support member states in improving their own record of religious freedom, and we will not hesitate to press countries to reform oppressive laws and policies. It is our goal that individuals from all walks of life and all parts of the world are free to practice, or not practice, a religion or belief of their choosing, without fear of interference, intimidation, or violence.