Bahai News - Bold Steps Proposed to Curb Religious Persecution in China and Sudan

Bold Steps Proposed to Curb Religious Persecution in China and Sudan

By Justin Torres
CNS Senior Staff Writer
01 May, 2000

Washington ( -A religious rights monitoring commission has called for concrete new steps to end religious persecution in the Sudan and China.

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 priorities.

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 headquarters.

Commissioner Elliot Abrams, head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former State Department official, told 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 month.

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 prisoners.

China has not responded to the Commission's request for visas to allow investigations of allegations of religious persecution, according to Saperstein.

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 states.

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 imprisonment.

"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 channels.

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

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