Promoting religious freedom is a central objective of American foreign policy. It is grounded in our commitment to advance respect for fundamental freedoms around the world. Freedom to hold or not hold religious beliefs without government interference is a basic human right. This principle has played a vital role in American history and culture, as well as those of nations throughout the globe. Indeed, it is articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
To better inform its policies toward other nations, the U.S. State Department annually prepares a report on the status of religious freedom. Its focus is to recognize government actions that protect and promote religious freedom, and to cite those that contribute to religious repression or intolerance.
In Eritrea, the nation's 1997 constitution provides for religious freedom, but the government there has yet to implement it in its entirety. Only four religious groups have been registered under Eritrea's laws and the government has a substantial say over their activities. Meanwhile, members of unapproved sects and denominations have been harassed and even arrested during services. Credible reports indicate there are more than 2,000 members of unregistered groups being held in prison. Some detainees have been tortured in jail and others died because of harsh conditions. Others have been forced to recant their beliefs as a condition of their release.
The U.S. government has made repeated efforts to express its concerns over religious liberties with the Eritrean government, but the government authorities responsible for religious affairs have refused to meet with U.S. embassy officials. Last year, Eritrea was re-designated as a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act for its particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
This year's religious freedom report reaffirms the U.S. government's engagement with faith-based groups around the world to address the issues that affect them. Our embassies will continue to support interfaith dialogue and will work with religious groups across a full range of issues. We will also continue to speak out against the curtailing of religious liberty wherever and whenever it occurs.