Bahai News - Bold Steps Proposed to Curb Religious Persecution in China and Sudan
Bold Steps Proposed to Curb Religious Persecution in China
By Justin Torres
CNS Senior Staff Writer
01 May, 2000
Washington (CNSNews.com) -A religious rights monitoring commission has
called for concrete new steps to end religious persecution in the Sudan and
The U.S. Commission on International
Religious Freedom, chartered by Congress, released Monday its annual
report on religious freedom around the world. Steps being urged include the
supply of non-lethal aid to the Sudanese rebels and a delay in extending
Permanent Normal Trade Relations status to ChinaE
The Commission calls tactics used by the northern Islamic government in
Khartoum in its prosecution of the war against the largely Christian and
animist south "appalling." The Commission recommended a 12-month plan to
pressure Sudan into ending human rights violations.
That plan includes humanitarian aid to the south for infrastructure
improvements, closing U.S. capital markets to foreign companies that are
developing oil fields in northern Sudan, and placing the negotiating process
in the Sudan, known as IGAD, at the top of the State Department's diplomatic
After 12 months, if religious persecution has not ceased, the Commission
recommends providing "non-lethal aid to the people of the South to help
defend themselves," said Rabbi David Saperstein, chair of the Commission.
Sudan is in the midst of a 17-year-old civil war, in which the hard-line
Islamic Khartoum regime is accused of attempting to starve large numbers of
Christians and animists in the South. Recently, aid workers in Sudan reported
that the government has stepped up its attacks against civilian targets in
the south, including churches, hospitals, refugee camps and relief agency
Commissioner Elliot Abrams, head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and
a former State Department official, told CNSNews.com that he believes
that pressure from the U.S. could force the Khartoum regime to accept a
negotiated settlement in the war.
"Our view is that pressure can work," said Abrams. "We're hoping that the
administration will put some muscle behind the IGAD process."
The report, released today under congressional mandate, focused on three
areas: Sudan, China and Russia.
USCIRF recommended in its report that Permanent Normal Trade Relations not
be extended to China until it takes steps to ensure that religious
persecution has halted. Congress is scheduled to debate PNTR later this
Commission Vice Chair Michael Young, dean of the George Washington School
of Law, said that while the Commission in general supported free trade, it
concluded that "for Congress to simply grant China PNTR at this moment, with
no significant improvement in the state of religious freedom, would be to
send Beijing a signal that [its] awful, inexcusable, inhumane policies did
not require an immediate response."
Among the criteria recommended by the Commission for judging progress on
religious freedom in China, the Commission recommended opening a high-level
dialogue on religious freedom between the U.S. and Beijing, asking China to
ratify the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, giving
Commission members and other human rights observers access to the country to
investigate religious persecution allegations and releasing all religious
China has not responded to the Commission's request for visas to allow
investigations of allegations of religious persecution, according to
In the past year, China has stepped up attacks on the Falun Gong spiritual
movement and its persecution of Protestant and Catholic "house churches,"
according to the report.
The Commission stressed that the religious situation in Russia was not as
dire as in Sudan or China, but included the country in its report because of
its importance to global politics and its influence over its former satellite
USCIRF is especially concerned that a religious registration law, which would
require all religious groups to register with the Russian government, could
cause thousands of religious groups to cease their activities or face
"Thousands . . . of religious groups could face 'liquidation' under the
registration law, which means their activities would be illegal," said
Commissioner Firuz Kazemzadeh, secretary for external affairs of the National
Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States.
Congress created USCIRF after it unanimously passed the International
Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The administration had originally opposed the
creation of the Commission, and the commissioners today indicated that they
have been denied access to State Department information and communications
Saperstein told reporters that while the administration has been
"extraordinarily cooperative on many levels," he expected that the White
House would not support all of its recommendations.
"It is clear [the administration] will have significant differences with some
of our policy recommendations," said Saperstein. "Still, the report is an
affirmation of the importance of religious liberty in our foreign policy. The
administration is comfortable with that."
©Copyright 2000, CNS
Page last updated/revised 021501
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page