The U.S. State Department recently issued its annual International Religious Freedom Report. The report gives voice to countless individuals around the world who have been killed, beaten, threatened, harassed, or jailed for seeking to exercise their beliefs in accordance with the dictates of their conscience.
Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain highlighted three key themes in the report:
“First, too many governments use discriminatory laws and policies and abuse their own people. We have seen two genocides of religious minority communities in recent years –- in China and in Burma.”
Following its designation as a Country of Particular Concern for the first-time last year, Russia has doubled down on its violations of religious freedom rather than reverse course, said Ambassador Hussain. Russian courts regularly reach new milestones for excessive prison sentences against individuals who exercise their religious freedom, and Russian authorities carry out hundreds of home raids against suspected extremists that frequently include violence.
The second theme in the report is rising societal intolerance and hatred that are fueling violence and conflict around the world. “Governments must not sit silent or stand idly by in the face of such oppression,” declared Ambassador Hussain:
“Anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, and xenophobia are on the rise in many countries. Democratic backsliding and the rise of nationalism and nativist rhetoric and policies have been used to justify violence towards members of ethnic or religious minority groups and historically marginalized peoples.”
But on a positive note, the third theme cited in the report is that collaboration among civil society, governments, and multilateral partners has led to some progress and offers hope in addressing these complex challenges, said Ambassador Hussain.
“Independent and strong civil societies help governments solve problems and better serve their people by shining a light on the issues that matter most,” said Ambassador Hussain. “Where civil society thrives, governments operate with more transparency and accountability, creating a tangible impact on the lives of everyday citizens.”
“Our greatest hope,” declared Ambassador Hussain, “is that together we can unite our efforts to ensure respect for freedom of religion or belief for all people around the globe, and we continue to stand in solidarity with all people seeking to exercise their beliefs.”