Bahai News - 2000 Annual Report for International Religious Freedom
||2000 Annual Report on International
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Department of State, September 5, 2000
There are no good reasons for any government to violate religious
freedom or to tolerate those within its warrant who do. However, there
are many good reasons to promote religious freedom. To that end, this
Executive Summary identifies some of the barriers to religious freedom
that exist and provides examples of countries where those barriers are
in place. It also catalogs some of the improvements in religious
freedom that occurred during the period of this report. Finally, it
describes actions that the United States has taken, is taking, and will
continue to take as a means of fulfilling its responsibilities under its
own law and to the human family of which it is a part.
This Executive Summary is divided into three sections:
I. Barriers to International Religious Freedom
II. Improvements in International Religious Freedom
III. U.S. Actions to Promote International Religious Freedom
PART I: BARRIERS TO INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The vast majority of the world's governments have committed themselves
to respect religious freedom. Indeed, most have accepted one or more of
the international instruments that explicitly protect that right. For
example, 144 countries are parties to the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, which acknowledges the right of every human
being "to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice"
and "either individually or in community with others and in public
or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance,
practice and teaching." All have pledged "not to discriminate
on the basis of religion."
Notwithstanding the existence of this and other broadly accepted
international instruments protecting religious freedom, there remains in
some countries a substantial difference between promise and practice.
Much of the world's population lives in countries in which the right to
religious freedom is restricted or prohibited. This gap between word
and deed has several causes and can be analyzed in various ways. While
no analysis is perfect, a system of categorization follows that we
believe is useful for understanding religious persecution and
Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes are characterized by a
determination to control religious belief and practice. The
result--inevitably--is persecution. Other regimes are hostile to
minority or unapproved religions. Some tolerate, and thereby encourage,
persecution or discrimination. Although acts of violence against
religious minorities may have several causes--for example, ethnicity, or
a perceived security threat--multicausality does not diminish
necessarily the significance of religion.
Still other governments--often either democratic or aspirants to
democracy--have adopted discriminatory legislation or policies that give
preferences to favored religions while disadvantaging others, in
contravention of international instruments. Some democratic states have
undertaken policies resulting in the stigmatization of minority
religions--the result of identifying them indiscriminately and
inaccurately with dangerous "sects" or "cults."
Occasionally a nation's policy on religious freedom can be understood
better in the context of its history, culture, and tradition--a
particular religion may have dominated the life of a nation for
centuries, making more difficult the acceptance of new faiths that offer
challenges in both cultural and theological terms. However, tradition
and culture should not be used as a pretext for legislation or policies
that restrict genuine religious belief or its legitimate manifestations.
Legal restrictions on religious practice--permitted under international
covenants for the protection of public safety, order, health, morals, or
the fundamental rights and freedoms of others--should be applied
scrupulously and fairly, in as limited a way as possible, without
discriminating among religions. The practice of requiring religious
groups to register before they can engage in activities such as worship
is, by its nature, subject to abuse by local jurisdictions, even in
cases where it is designed by central authorities to be applied in a
nondiscriminatory fashion. Nor should a legitimate concern over the
destructive and unlawful behavior of a small number of groups be
employed so indiscriminately that new or minority religions--perhaps
poorly understood or controversial but nevertheless posing no danger to
public safety, health, or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms
of others--are wrongfully stigmatized.
In the end, every nation should meet the standards on religious freedom
established by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other
international instruments and covenants that they have accepted. Each
nation is accountable to the international community for its failure to
meet these standards. The United States acknowledges and accepts its
responsibility to meet these standards in the safeguarding and
protection of religious liberty.
Totalitarian or Authoritarian Attempts to Control Religious Belief or
Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes are defined by the degree to
which they seek to control thought and expression, especially dissent.
It is not uncommon for such regimes to regard minority religious groups
as enemies of the state because of the content of the religion, the fact
that the very practice of religion threatens the dominant ideology
(often by diverting loyalties of adherents toward something beyond the
state), the ethnic character of the religious group, or a mixture of all
three. When this association occurs, the result is often religious
persecution directed by the regime.
Afghanistan. Afghanistan still does not have a recognized
government, and most of the country remains under the control of the
Taliban, which has engaged in persecution and killing. The Afghan Shi'a
minority has been the victim of Taliban abuses, in significant part
because of their religious beliefs. As in previous years, the Taliban
enforced its strict interpretation of Islamic Shari'a law and, according
to reports, public executions, floggings, and amputations took place
weekly against those who violated the law. In September 1999, the
Taliban issued decrees aimed at the small non-Muslim minority
population, forbidding them from building places of worship, banning
them from criticizing Muslims, ordering them to identify their houses,
precluding them from living in the same residence as Muslims, and
requiring non-Muslim women to wear special identifying clothing.
Burma. The Government of Burma continued to repress
systematically members of both minority faiths and the majority Buddhist
population. Buddhist monks who promoted human and political rights were
arrested, and some Buddhist monasteries were destroyed. Government
security forces frequently employed coercion to induce Christian members
of the Chin ethnic minority to convert to Buddhism. Chin Christians
were conscripted for forced labor, required to desecrate their own
churches and graveyards, and were subjected to government
discrimination. Members of various faiths reported harassment of
religious leaders by government authorities.
China. Government respect for religious freedom in China
deteriorated over the reporting period as the persecution of several
religious minorities increased. While membership in many faiths grew
rapidly and government supervision of religious activity was minimal in
some regions, government officials in other regions imposed tight
regulations, closed houses of worship, and actively persecuted members
of some unregistered religious groups. Members of such groups were
subject to harassment, extortion, prolonged detention, physical abuse,
and incarceration in prison or in "reeducation through labor"
camps. There were credible reports of religious detainees being beaten
and tortured. The Government increased restrictions on members of many
minority groups, including Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uyghurs, members of
Falun Gong and other "heretical cults," and Protestants and
Roman Catholics not belonging to the official churches.
Cuba. While some observers have noted a greater acceptance of
religion in Cuba in recent years, the Government continued to engage in
active efforts to monitor and control religious institutions, including
the surveillance, infiltration, and harassment of clergy and church
members. The Government has refused to register new denominations,
thereby making them vulnerable to charges of illegal association.
Laos. The Government attempted to supervise and limit religious
freedom among the majority Buddhist population, imposing mandatory
Marxist-Leninist training for monks. In some instances, local and
provincial authorities used harsh, extraconstitutional measures against
minority religious groups, including detentions without charge and, in
the case of hundreds of Christians, forced renunciations of faith.
North Korea. Religious adherents in North Korea deemed
unacceptable to the regime are treated harshly; many were imprisoned and
some reportedly executed. (However, these reports cannot be confirmed
or disproved, given the tight control the regime exercises over
information. Also, these reported executions appear to have involved
Christians with links to missionary groups active along the Chinese
border. The Government suspects such groups of attempting to overthrow
the regime.) Unauthorized religious activity, especially when occurring
near sensitive border areas, sometimes was subject to severe repression
by North Korean officials. Credible reports indicate that some
prisoners were beaten and treated as if they were insane because of
Vietnam. The Government uses a registration process to control
and monitor religious activity, severely restricting any practice by
groups other than officially sanctioned organizations. The Government
allows only one organization per religious denomination, and members of
nonregistered organizations may face arbitrary harassment and arrest.
Clergy from many religious groups, including Cao Dai, Buddhist, Hoa Hao,
Protestant, and Roman Catholic organizations were detained arbitrarily
without charge. According to credible reports, at least 20 persons
remain detained or imprisoned because of their religious beliefs.
State Hostility Toward Minority or Nonapproved Religions
Some governments, while not necessarily determined to implement a
program of control over minority religions, nevertheless are hostile to
certain religions or to elements of religious groups identified as
"security threats." These governments implement policies
designed to intimidate certain religious groups, cause their adherents
to convert to another religion, or cause their members to flee.
Iran. The Government continued to abuse the religious freedom of
minority groups. The country's religious minorities, including Baha'is,
Jews, Christians, and Sunni Muslims, reported intimidation, harassment,
and imprisonment on account of their beliefs. Persecution remains a
problem. Baha'is are singled out by the Government, and at least 11
Baha'is were imprisoned. On July 1, 2000, 10 Jewish and 2 Muslim
defendants were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 4
to 13 years on charges of spying. The Revolutionary Court deprived the
accused of almost all legitimate means of defense, and its conduct
worsened societal attitudes toward the Jewish community.
Iraq. The Government for decades has conducted a brutal campaign
of murder, summary execution, and protracted arbitrary detention against
the religious leaders and adherents of the majority Shi'a Muslim
population. Security forces murdered senior Shi'a clerics, desecrated
mosques and holy sites, arrested tens of thousands of Shi'a, and
forcibly prevented Shi'a from practicing their religion. The Government
also targeted the country's Christian Assyrians and Chaldeans by denying
members their political rights and forcibly removing them from certain
areas of the country.
Pakistan. In spite of promised improvements following the October
12, 1999, military coup, the Government continued to enforce
discriminatory legislation. Some of the legislation directly targeted
Ahmadis, who also face severe societal discrimination. Christians,
Hindus, Zikris, and other religious minorities also are subject to
widespread discrimination and harassment. The so-called blasphemy laws
have been used by authorities and private citizens to threaten and
intimidate both members of religious minorities and members of the
Muslim majority. Sectarian violence, mostly between rival Sunni and
Shi'a Muslim groups, frequently occurred. The Government did not
encourage violence; however, there were instances in which the
Government failed to intervene in cases of sectarian violence.
Saudi Arabia. The Government supports the Sunni majority, and
members of the Shi'a minority are subject to officially sanctioned
political and economic discrimination. In some cases, they have
experienced arbitrary detention and other more severe forms of
discrimination. Religious freedom does not exist in the country, and
non-Muslims may not worship publicly. However, they may engage in
nonpublic worship if they do so discretely. Any attempt to convert
Muslims to a non-Muslim religion is a criminal offense. In particular,
Catholics and Protestants from Asia have been subject to discrimination
and deportation for violating the Government's strict religious
Serbia. Slobodan Milosevic continued to exploit ethnic,
religious, and political divisions to maintain his rule. While religion
and ethnicity in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia are intertwined
closely, the Government continued to suppress religious minorities and
provide preferential treatment to the Serbian Orthodox Church. In
Serbia's sister republic, Montenegro, tensions between the
ecclesiastically unofficial Montenegrin Orthodox Church and the
officially recognized Serbian Orthodox Church worsened and were
politicized by the opposing political factions.
Sudan. Against the backdrop of an ongoing civil war, the
Muslim-dominated regime continued to persecute members of religious
minorities. Christians, practitioners of traditional indigenous
religious, and Muslims who deviate from the Government's interpretation
of Islam were subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, threats,
violence, and forced conversion to Islam. The Government's support of
slavery and its continued military action in villages in the Nuba
mountains, which resulted in numerous deaths, are due in part to the
victims' religious beliefs.
Turkmenistan. The Government places significant limits on
freedom of religion and religious organizations by requiring that
religious groups have 500 members before they may be registered with the
Government. Only Sunni Muslims and Russian Orthodox Christians have
enough members to be registered officially, and all other religious
groups, including Baha'is, Baptists, Hare Krishnas, Seventh-Day
Adventists, some Muslims, and Pentecostals, face official harassment.
Government interference in unregistered religious activity increased, as
officials harassed group members, deported foreigners, denied visa
renewals, confiscated religious materials, demolished a Hare Krisha
temple and a Seventh Day Adventist church, and allegedly tortured some
Uzbekistan. The Government continued a harsh campaign against
unauthorized Islamic groups, often failing to distinguish between
Islamacist terrorist groups that seek to overthrow the Government by
force and other devout Islamic groups, often part of the political
opposition. Labeling them a threat to national security, the Government
indiscriminately arrested hundreds of members of such groups and
sentenced them to lengthy jail terms. Officials frequently used
registration requirements to restrict the activity of various religious
groups, including some Christians and some Muslim groups. Law
enforcement officials harassed and tortured prisoners, including members
of unapproved religious organizations, and manufactured false evidence
State Neglect of the Problem of Discrimination Against, or
Persecution of, Minority or Nonapproved Religions
In some countries, governments have laws or policies to discourage
religious discrimination and persecution but fail to act with sufficient
consistency and vigor against violations of religious freedom by
nongovernmental entities or local law enforcement officials.
Egypt. In Egypt members of the non-Muslim minority generally
worship without interference, but there is some societal and
governmental discrimination. Almost 100 persons, including members of
the Faramawy religious group, were arrested and charged with heresy
against Islam. Some were convicted and sentenced. Violent exchanges
between Christians and Muslims in Al-Kush, culminating in early January
2000, resulted in the death of 21 Christians and 1 Muslim; many more
were wounded. The Government indicted 135 people for the violence and
took steps to compensate the victims. Some members of the Christian
community acknowledge that the Government has become somewhat more
responsive but still argue that, despite improvements, the approval
process for church construction remains slow and cumbersome.
India. Attacks on religious minorities were less intense during
the reporting period but more widespread. They included assaults on
Christian clerics and pilgrims and bomb and arson attacks on churches.
Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh villagers and Hindu pilgrims and laborers were
killed in conjunction with the ongoing conflict in Kashmir. The central
Government condemned the attacks and called for tolerance, but the
response of local law enforcement officials often was inadequate.
Indonesia. Religious intolerance contributed to intercommunal
violence in several regions, particularly in the Maluku provinces (also
known as the Moluccas) and Central Sulawesi. Official statistics record
that over 2,470 persons were killed in the Moluccus strife since
violence erupted in January 1999. The victims were divided about
equally between Christians and Muslims. The Government responded slowly
and ineffectively, and many accuse the military and police forces of
bias (against both Christians and Muslims, respectively) and complicit
in the violence in Maluku.
Churches and other Christian facilities continued to be attacked in
Java, where Muslims are a majority, although not to the extent
experienced in 1996-97.
Nigeria. The new civilian government's ability to enforce
respect for religious freedom and to prevent violence between Muslims
and non-Muslims was tested in January 2000 when some northern states
began formally adopting Islamic law, or Shari'a, as their legal system.
The adoption of Shari'a triggered interreligious violence in February
and March, during which hundreds of Christians and Muslims were killed.
The central Government continued to work with the northern states and
with the various factions to foster religious freedom, but the potential
for further violence remains great.
Discriminatory Legislation or Policies Disadvantaging Certain
Some governments have implemented laws or regulations that favor certain
religions and place others at a disadvantage. Often this circumstance
is the result of the historical predominance of one religion in a
country and may reflect broad social skepticism about new or minority
religions. Sometimes it stems from the emergence of a country from a
long period of Communist rule, in which all religion was prohibited or
at best out of favor. In such countries, skepticism or even the fear of
certain religions or all religions lingers within segments of society.
This circumstance led in some cases to a curtailment of religious
Armenia. The national church in Armenia--the Armenia Apostolic
Church--is not subject to some of the restrictions on religious freedom
that are imposed on other religious organizations that must register
with the Government. Jehovah's Witnesses continue to have their
application for legal recognition rejected because of their
"illegal proselytism." Members report individual acts of
discrimination, although there is no discernable pattern of persecution.
Belarus. The Government openly favors the Belarusian Orthodox
Church (which was designated as an Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox
Church in 1989) and has stepped up its harassment of all other religious
groups. Some of these "nontraditional" religions, including
many Protestant denominations, some Eastern religions, and the
Belarusian Orthodox Autocephalous Church, repeatedly have been denied
registration by the Government, effectively denying them the ability to
obtain property on which to conduct religious services. The Government
promulgates false accusations against some minority faiths through
state-owned newspapers and places restrictions on and regularly
intimidates domestic and foreign religious leaders.
Bulgaria. The attitude of the Government generally has been
positive in encouraging greater religious tolerance since early 1998.
Although religious freedom improved for some nontraditional groups,
others faced official disfavor and persistent government refusal to
grant registration. Some groups also continue to face discrimination and
antipathy from some local governments. The national government has not
taken any action to dissuade local governments from such infringements
of religious freedom. There also was concern about a new law on religion
introduced into the National Assembly, which was in committee in the
summer of 2000. Some religious groups and the U.S. Government have urged
the Bulgarian government to revise those provisions that have the
potential to give the Government excessive control over religious
Eritrea. The Government singled out members of Jehovah's
Witnesses for harsh treatment because of their refusal to participate in
national service and other civic duties. Jehovah's Witnesses and
others, including some Muslims, were subject to imprisonment for
refusing to perform national service; however, only members of
Jehovah's Witnesses are subject to dismissal from the civil service and
often are denied identification cards, exit visas, trading licenses, and
Israel. Most non-Jewish citizens are Arab Muslims, and they are
subject to various forms of discrimination. The Government does not
provide Israeli Arabs with the same quality of education, housing,
employment opportunities, and social services as Jews. Government
spending and financial support are proportionally far lower in
predominatly non-Jewish areas than in Jewish areas. Evangelical
Christians and other religious groups have complained in the past that
the police have been slow to investigate incidents of harassment,
threats, and vandalism directed against their meetings, churches, and
other facilities by two ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups.
Jordan. Government officials in Jordan still have not registered
the Jordan Evangelical (Christian) Theological Seminary. Pending such
registration, authorities suspended the renewal of the residence permits
of all of the seminary's 36 foreign students (who come from 10 foreign
countries), and 2 members of the faculty.
Malaysia. The Government significantly restricts the Shi'a
minority from practicing its faith and places some restrictions on the
activities of political opponents in mosques. It is very difficult for
Muslims legally to change their religion. In April the state of Perlis
passed a Shari'a law subjecting Islamic "deviants" and
apostates to 1 year of "rehabilitation."
Romania. The Government generally does not impede the observance
of religious beliefs. However, several religious groups allege that the
Government delayed or impeded their attempts to acquire property,
building permits, and other documents and to register as a religious
group. According to Jehovah's Witnesses' organization, some local
officials in Romania provided tacit support to Orthodox Christian clergy
intent on barring Jehovah's Witnesses from practicing their faith.
Russia. National and local officials are working to enforce a
restrictive 1997 law on religion that replaced a more liberal 1990 law;
however, there is some confusion regarding the new law, and its
provisions have been applied inconsistently. The 1997 legislation
distinguishes between religious organizations and groups, affording each
a separate legal status that in effect created a hierarchy of religions
and restricted the rights and privileges of newer and small religious
communities. The required registration of religious groups and
organizations at the local level is progressing slowly in some regions.
Moreover, those that have not registered by December 31, 2000, are
subject to organizational liquidation by the Government. Uneven
implementation of the law and contradictory interpretations of the law
and of other federal and local regulations permitted discriminatory
practices by some regional and local governments. Many religious groups
and organizations, both registered and unregistered, face discrimination
and harassment by some government authorities. Federal officials, for
the most part, have not taken sufficient action to address these
concerns. For example, measures were taken to restrict the activities of
a number of foreign missionaries and congregations associated with them.
Four U.S. missionaries were refused visas to return to the country. Dan
Pollard (formerly of the Vanino Baptist Church in the Khabarovsk region)
was banned from receiving a visa on allegations that he violated customs
regulations and evaded property taxes, a questionable charge given the
role of local authorities in preventing him from complying with the law.
Turkey. The Government continued to impose some restrictions on
religious minorities and on religious expression in government offices
and state-run institutions, including universities. A 50-year-old ban
on the wearing of religious head garments in government offices and
other state-run facilities continued to be enforced. Police detained or
stopped Christians holding services in private apartments and those
considered to be proselytizing. The Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary has
remained closed since 1971, when the state nationalized all private
institutions of higher learning.
Stigmatization of Certain Religions by Wrongfully Associating Them
with Dangerous "Cults" or "Sects"
Austria. The Government of Austria intensified its ongoing
information campaign against religious groups that it considers to be
harmful to the interests of individuals and society. A brochure issued
by the Government in September 1999 described several nonrecognized
groups, as well as Jehovah's Witnesses, in decidedly negative terms that
many found offensive.
Belgium. In 1998 the Parliament adopted several recommendations
from a Commission report on government policy toward "sects,"
including the creation of a center that would report on "Harmful
Sectarian Organizations." Even though the word "sect"
has assumed pejorative connotations in modern usage, the report noted
that it employed the term in the traditional sense--a group of organized
persons espousing the same doctrine within a religion.
Czech Republic. In August 2000, the Government approved a
proposal for a new bill on the registration and status of religious
organizations that copies the restrictive Austrian model.
France. A 1996 National Assembly report, as well as a followup
1999 parliamentary report, labeled 173 groups as "sects" (a
more precise English translation of the French in this instance would be
"cults"), actions which contributed to an atmosphere of
intolerance toward minority religions. A few of the groups on the list
are clearly dangerous, but most are merely unfamiliar or unpopular.
Members of some groups that appear on the list continue to allege
government and societal discrimination. Private legislation to update
and toughen existing laws invoked to deal with cults, including a
controversial provision defining the crime of "mental
manipulation," was introduced in the Senate in December 1999 and
passed in amended form on a first reading by the National Assembly in
June 2000. The competing versions of the bill have to be reconciled
before final passage, although this action may not occur before
mid-2001, given the current legislative calendar. The Minister of
Justice further requested that the Senate, when it takes up the bill in
the fall of 2000, consider a parallel reflection on how this legislation
affects the constitutionally protected freedom of belief and the
country's obligations under European and other international human
Germany. Many officials in the Government believe that the
Church of Scientology is a money-making scheme rather than a religion,
and they have continued to investigate the Church and to warn of its
"totalitarian tendencies." The continued official
"observation" of the Church by the Government, without any
resulting legal action, created an environment that encourages
discrimination. Some employers refuse to hire Scientologists, and
government procurement procedures sometimes include so-called sect
filters designed to screen out members of the Church.
Part II: IMPROVEMENTS IN INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The International Religious Freedom Act prescribes a section of the
Executive Summary that identifies foreign countries in which there has
been a "significant improvement in the protection and promotion
of" religious freedom and includes a description of the nature of
the improvement as well as an analysis of the factors contributing to
it. This report identifies two countries in which improvements during
the reporting period have been significant and several others in which
improvements have been noteworthy.
It also should be noted that, as elaborated elsewhere in the Executive
Summary and in the country report chapters, there remain significant
problems of religious discrimination or abuse in some of the countries
in which improvements have occurred. It is our hope that such countries
will intensify the kinds of improvements cited in this section.
Further information on actions by the U.S. Government in these countries
also may be found in the respective country chapters.
Significant Improvements in Respect for Religious Freedom
Two countries have shown "significant" improvements in
religious freedom. In neither of these countries do the improvements
represent a fundamental alteration in what otherwise remains a poor
human rights record. However, in both the improvement has been striking
enough to raise the hope that it represents the first step in a more
systematic change. The improvements for these two countries are
highlighted in order to encourage additional positive steps.
One country where religious freedom made significant improvement
Azerbaijan. Since the end of the Cold War, many countries of the
former Soviet Union sought international integration, while
simultaneously addressing problems of internal and external security.
These countries understand that their goals of democratic and economic
development necessitate not only "membership-in-good-standing"
in such institutions as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe (OSCE), the European Union, and the Council of Europe, but also
adherence to international norms of human rights. These goals are
threatened by government-sanctioned or tolerated abuses of human rights,
including religious freedom. Moreover, in an age of global
communications, where news of arrests, imprisonment, beatings, and
torture are instantaneously communicated around the world, governments
no longer control information. The misdeeds of officials are phoned,
faxed, e-mailed, and sometimes broadcast to an interested foreign and
Unfortunately, such communications continue to be necessary. Some
countries of the former Soviet Union have failed to cut their ties to
antidemocratic institutions and practices inherited from the Soviet
system. In these nations, many local and regional officials tend to be
unimpressed with the value of membership in the international community.
Sometimes real security problems have led to excesses against religious
minorities. However, in some countries the national leadership
increasingly sees the advantages of improvements in religious freedom.
At least some of the elite realizes not only that religious persecution
is incompatible with international norms, but that foreign companies
will not invest where employees and families are at risk of abuse
because of their religious practices. This realization has apparently
led to improvements in some countries, although it has not necessarily
been reflected in improvements in other areas of respect for human
Until the late fall of 1999, the Government of Azerbaijan and local law
enforcement officials frequently used the Law on Religious Freedom and
other laws to restrict religious activity by foreigners and
nontraditional religious groups. For example, in the early fall of
1999, police and security officials detained, imprisoned, and beat
clergy, threatened to deport foreign religious workers, and used the
forum of an assembly at a state factory publicly to humiliate and fire
workers of a nontraditional religion.
The Ambassador and other officials of the U.S. Government and
the international community called this situation to the attention of
President Aliyev and other high-level officials. Aliyev consulted his
ministers and then publicly pledged to improve the status of religious
minorities and to adhere to the country's own constitutional standards
and international commitments. Since the President's announcement in
November 1999, deportation orders and other charges against clergy and
groups of religious minorities have been overturned, many religious
groups have been allowed to register for the first time, the factory
workers were reinstated in their jobs, and respect for religious freedom
has improved. Further, a local law enforcement official was punished
for his role in abuses against a religious minority. Although problems
remain, Azerbaijan's willingness to adhere to its constitutional and
international commitments to respect religious freedom represents a
significant improvement in the status quo.
Laos. After the end of the Vietnam War, the Communist
authorities imposed a repressive regime that severely limited basic
human rights. Because believers of a number of minority faiths
historically had opposed the Communist takeover and sometimes continued
to oppose the Government, such faiths were viewed with suspicion as
security threats. This attitude was true particularly in the case of a
number of minority ethnic groups living in strategically sensitive
border areas. Members of these ethnic groups often belonged
predominantly or significantly to minority religions. Furthermore,
Christianity was viewed as a remnant of the former colonial power and
Christians were considered to be agents of suspect "Western"
influences. These attitudes, coupled with standard Communist
ideological opposition to religion, contributed to widespread oppression
of the religious faithful. Independent religious structures were
suppressed as possible sources of organized opposition to the
More recently, economic stagnation and the fall of Communism in
the Soviet Union encouraged economic liberalization. Longstanding
hostility to the United States began to ebb, and there was increased
interest in attracting economic assistance and private investment from
the West in general and from the United States in particular. Economic
liberalization led to better communications with the outside world,
including via the Internet. Human rights abuses were more apt to be
publicized abroad. Many abuses were committed by local and regional
authorities with varying degrees of independence from the central
Government. Increasingly, the central government was willing to engage
in human rights dialogue with other countries on the basis of
international standards and agreements. All of these forces--economic
liberalization, better communications, human rights dialogue--fostered
improvements in human rights and religious freedom.
The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met during
1999 with high-ranking officials of the Government in Vientianne and
with the Laotian Ambassador in Washington to express concern at the
plight of Christians who were imprisoned because of their faith. Embassy
officers in Laos also held discussions on the matter with their
counterparts. In mid-2000 many of the prisoners were released. While
serious impediments to religious freedom remain in Laos, their release
constitutes a significant improvement and demonstrates a willingness on
the part of the central Government to intervene with local and
provincial authorities when the latter abridge the religious liberties
Noteworthy Improvements in Respect for Religious Freedom
There have been other improvements in religious freedom worldwide which
merit attention. They are as follows:
Bulgaria. The Government officially approved registration of the
Nazarene Church, which had been attempting to register for over 5 years.
Chile. On July 6, 1999, the Senate approved a new religious law
("ley de culto"). Among other provisions, it bestows the same
legal status ("derecho publico") on all other faiths that the
Catholic Church previously enjoyed. The legislation entered into effect
in March 2000. The revision removed the legal possibility of other
faiths having their status challenged administratively.
Croatia. The Government enacted constitutional amendments in May
that added Bosnian Muslims and Albanians to the list of officially
recognized minorities. Muslims were removed from the list by the
previous government in 1998. The newly elected Government has shown an
interest in improving religious freedom, and, to date, religious leaders
are cautiously optimistic.
Czech Republic. A new draft bill on religion was pending in the
legislature of the Czech Republic in mid-2000. The bill, which was
drafted with the input of various church representatives, would
facilitate the ability of religious groups to be recognized legally. It
would lower the number of signatures required to grant a religious
organization legal status from 10,000 to 300.
Dominican Republic. Church leaders report that they have noticed
increased political freedom for religious minorities. In particular the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses
report improved relations with the Government.
Egypt. Egyptian Copts were appointed to senior political party
positions during the reporting period, and some observers noted an
increased representation of Christians in public and political life. A
December 1999 decree by President Hosni Mubarak provided that all places
of worship be subject to the same civil construction code. The decree
has had the effect of facilitating church repairs. The Government's
response to sectarian violence against Christians also improved. After
an outbreak of sectarian violence in the village of Al-Kush over the New
Year, the Government responded quickly to restore order. A criminal
court in Sohag city indicted 135 people for the violence, and the trials
France. The highest administrative court in France, the Council
of State, ruled in June 2000 that Jehovah's Witnesses qualify as a
religion. The ruling exempted Jehovah's Witnesses from property taxes
levied against their houses of worship. The Government also
acknowledged Islam as a state-recognized religion, a status which is
expected, among other things, to lead to the release of state funds for
The Gambia. In contrast to previous years, there were no reports
of persecution against members of the Ahmadis or against any other
Germany. The Government enacted a series of positive legal
reforms. The Federal Administrative Court ruled that the public law
corporation status of a religious community may not be used to deny it
the right to provide religious instruction in public schools, nor
religious chaplaincies in the military, in hospitals, or in prisons.
Ghana. The Government was more active in addressing religious
conflicts than in past years. In addition to outlawing religious
slavery, the Government sponsored an interfaith forum to address
religious conflicts and has taken a more active role in mediating
Greece. In June 2000, the Parliament approved a bill allowing
the construction of the first Islamic cultural center and mosque in
modern times in the Athens area. In July 2000 the Government completed
plans to eliminate references to religious affiliation on official
identification cards, which may help to protect individuals from
Indonesia. In January 2000, President Wahid issued a decree
lifting restrictions in effect since 1967 on the practice of
Confucianism. For the first time in over 30 years,
Confucianists--mainly Indonesians associated with the Chinese
minority--were permitted to celebrate the Chinese New Year publicly and
to practice openly their religious customs.
Iran. The Government announced that couples may register their
marriage without declaring their religious affiliation. This is the
first major step made by the Government toward religious freedom since
the 1979 revolution. Members of the Baha'i community are likely to
benefit most from the change.
Israel. The successful March 2000 visit of the Pope contributed
to increased religious tolerance in Israel. In March the High Court of
Justice ruled that the Government's use of the Jewish National Fund to
develop public land was discriminatory; that organization's bylaws
prohibit the sale or lease of land to non-Jews. In June 2000, the
Government proposed a plan to redress spending for non-Jewish areas,
which was substantially below that in predominantly Jewish areas.
Finally, harassment of Jehovah's Witnesses declined in 2000.
Kuwait. The Government agreed to allow the Vatican to establish
a permanent mission in the country. The Catholic Church views the
approval as a significant development and indicative of increased
tolerance of Christianity by the government of Kuwait.
Latvia. The government effectively has eased visa restrictions
on foreign missionaries. New visa regulations came into effect in July
1999, and the Government has cooperated to resolve several difficult
visa cases in favor of missionary workers.
Malaysia. Charges were dropped against Muslim women who were
arrested for being on premises where liquor is served. While it is an
offense for a Muslim to drink liquor, it is not an offense to be in a
place that serves liquor. The central Government strongly criticized
Netherlands. The Equal Opportunities Committee took several
steps to reduce employment discrimination on the basis of religion. The
Committee ruled in July 1999 that wearing headscarves for religious
reasons may be banned only on serious grounds, such as security
considerations. The Committee also ruled that employers must take
account of reasonable religious demands from their employees, such as
requests by Muslims for leave on Fridays or by Christians for leave on
Philippines. There was enhanced cooperation between Christian
and Muslim leaders in Mindanao. This cooperation gained more publicity
because of the upswing in violent clashes between militant Muslim
insurgent groups and government security forces. Religious leaders hope
to contribute to a climate of peaceful resolution of the underlying
economic and ethnic problems in Mindanao.
Qatar. The construction of the first Christian church in Qatar
was approved. Previously, the Qatar authorities prohibited the public
practice of any religion except the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.
Romania. Foreign religious representatives experienced less
discrimination in the processing of visa extensions. The State
Secretary for Religious Denominations made it much easier for religious
associations and foundations to receive building permits. A government
decree effective May 2000 promises to reduce substantially bureaucratic
hindrances to the registration of religious organizations by removing
minimum requirements for numbers of members necessary to establish
religious associations and foundations. A law was adopted entitling
religious denominations to reclaim by legal means property seized during
the Communist era. Three court rulings upheld the rights of Jehovah's
Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists to build places of worship and
practice their faith. The Government sent a new, restrictive Draft Law
on Religions to Parliament in September 1999. Responding to concerns by
the Department of State and the international community, the Government
formally withdrew the legislation in January 2000. The Government
currently is engaged in discussions with a wide range of religious
representatives to formulate a new law based on democratic principles.
Russia. Responding to concerns by the Department of State, one
of Russia's regional governments decided in November 1999 to allow the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to take part in the official
registration process. This action followed repeated denials of the
church's petition for registration by the regional government. Several
weeks later the Government announced that it would register all
religious groups under their present charters, including the local Roman
Saudi Arabia. Government officials reaffirmed publicly, in
domestic and international forums, e.g., at the 56th session of the U.N.
Committee on Human Rights in April 2000, the right of non-Muslims to
worship privately. These statements, published in the local press,
created a greater societal awareness of the Government's decision to
allow non-Islamic private worship. Observers note that, in spite of
several recent actions by the Government against Christians engaged in
private worship, non-Islamic freedom to worship privately received more
attention and greater respect than in the past.
Slovakia. The Government took modest steps to improve religious
freedom through changes in primary and secondary educational curriculums
designed to combat anti-Semitism and through a national conference on
racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and intolerance.
Sudan. Some religious prisoners and detainees were released,
including Faki Koko, who allegedly was held for apostasy, Father Hillary
Boma, and Father Lino Sebit. The Public Order Courts were abolished,
the enforcement of public order law was relaxed, and women imprisoned
under that law were released. Restrictions on religious visitors and
gatherings were eased. The Government's Committee for the Eradication
of the Abduction of Women and Children identified hundreds of abductees
(mostly Christians or practitioners of traditional indigenous religions)
and returned many of them to their families.
Taiwan. The Government no longer places restrictions on
registering new religions if they meet the legal requirements for civic
organizations. Under the new rules, three religions were registered in
1999. A new law allows a civilian alternative to military service for
those who are conscientious objectors. In the past, Jehovah's Witnesses
and other minority religious adherents were imprisoned for failing to
follow orders while in military service.
Tajikistan. A national referendum amended the Constitution to
allow for religiously oriented political parties. Two representatives
of one such party were elected to the new parliament.
Turkey. In June 2000, Ankara's Supreme Court approved the
establishment of a Christian foundation for a Turkish Protestant church.
Ukraine. The Government revised its visa policy in May 2000,
announcing that invitations are no longer required for visa issuance to
citizens of the United States, Canada, the European Union (EU), and
Japan. While the change greatly simplifies religious tourist travel to
Ukraine, religious workers still must obtain special visas that are
issued only by invitation. The Government continued its plan to return
properties that had been seized during the Communist era to religious
groups. In addition some nontraditional religious organizations
reported an increase in government cooperation, especially in regards to
registration. President Kuchma made a number of symbolic gestures
promoting religious freedom. He spoke frequently and publicly about the
need for ethnic and religious tolerance, spoke out against
anti-Semitism, and attended several high-profile religious services.
Uzbekistan. Until August of 1999, six Christians--in cases
receiving a high profile in the international religious press--were
imprisoned on fabricated narcotics charges because of their religious
activities. Also, some 20 congregations of religious believers were
unable to register because of obstruction by local officials. Moreover,
throughout the reporting period, the Government arrested hundreds of
alleged members of unauthorized Islamic groups. Beginning in August
1999, the Government responded to international diplomatic engagement
and began to make a concerted effort to improve respect for the
religious freedom of Christians and members of other minority religious
groups. However, respect for unauthorized Muslim groups worsened, as
the Government intensified its harsh campaign against such groups, which
it perceived as a continuing security threat. There is little question
that some devout Muslims, identified as dangerous solely because of
their religion, were adversely affected.
In contrast to the government's treatment of unauthorized Muslim groups,
members of most Christian communities reported a significant increase in
government cooperation and tolerance, although there were still reports
of harassment by local officials against some Christian communities.
The President pardoned the six imprisoned Christians. The Government
also registered over 25 non-Muslim religious groups whose applications
were blocked by local officials, including several that were technically
below the required membership level to qualify under the restrictive
religious freedom law. In the latter case, the groups were sought out
and "invited" to register, an unprecedented show of goodwill.
Finally, the Government held an international conference of experts to
examine the shortcomings of the law on religion, indicating its
intention to use this as a basis for corrective legislation based on the
recommendations of the conference. On May 25, the day after the
Ambassador at Large met with Uzbek officials, President Karimov
suggested that the Parliament consider improvement of the religion law.
Vietnam. Most of the serious restrictions of religious freedom
in Vietnam remained in place. However, there was a decrease in official
interference with religious practice, especially for officially
recognized groups, such as Catholics and Buddhists. Most of the
imprisoned 25 Christian Hmong church leaders were released, as were 3
Catholic priests. Officials of the central Government demonstrated some
willingness to investigate reports of abuses by local and provincial
authorities and to take action against those authorities.
Part III: U.S. ACTIONS TO PROMOTE INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
As noted in the 1998-99 report, the promotion of religious freedom
involves far more than public airing of violations. The most productive
work often is done behind the scenes, for a very simple reason: no
government or nation is likely to respond positively when publicly
However, it is sometimes necessary for the United States, and the
international community, to denounce particularly abhorrent behavior by
another nation openly. The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act
mandates certain actions in cases of particularly severe violations of
religious freedom. In October 1999, the Secretary of State (acting
under the authority of the President) designated five countries as
"countries of particular concern" under the Act for having
engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations. They are Burma,
China, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan. In addition the Secretary identified
Serbia and the Taliban regime of Afghanistan (not "countries"
under the Act) as having committed particularly severe violations.
Religious freedom is one of the fundamental human rights provided for in
international covenants. In general the best public method of promoting
religious freedom is to advocate the universal principles--in particular
the inviolable dignity of the human person--that are nourished when
religious freedom is valued and protected. This approach continues to
be integrated into public U.S. foreign policy channels, through
international exchanges, Worldnet and Voice of America broadcasts, a
religious freedom web site in the home page of the Department of State,
conferences, public opinion polling, congressional hearings, and
speeches and press conferences by senior U.S. foreign policy officials.
While U.S. public diplomacy efforts will continue to develop, the
following pages indicate some of the progress that has been made.
Central to the integration of religious freedom into the fabric of U.S.
policy is the training of U.S. officials most likely to encounter those
persecuted because of their religious beliefs: The consular officer in
a U.S. Embassy who interviews a refugee applicant; the U.S. political
officer seeking information on a prisoner; the asylum official at a U.S.
airport hearing the plea of a woman fleeing religious persecution, and
the interpreter who must render her foreign tongue into English with
precision and sympathy; and the U.S. immigration judge who must hear the
case of the alien in danger of being returned to his country, and into
harm's way, because of his religious beliefs.
It is, in part, with these U.S. officials that the success or failure of
our religious freedom policy lies. Some of their efforts are
highlighted in the following pages; others can be found in the
Appendices to this report, which detail efforts of the Departments of
State and Justice to institutionalize training for their personnel in
areas critical to promoting religious freedom abroad.
Finally, it bears repeating that the United States seeks to promote
religious freedom abroad, not simply to criticize, or to make headlines.
There are many paths to this end, some of them involving the difficult
work of scrutinizing legal documents and draft legislation, mastering
the history and culture of diverse societies, and understanding
religious beliefs and practices alien to our own. Some paths involve
risk, particularly when the objective is to liberate the prisoner, to
stop the torture, or to stay the execution. Such vital work usually is
done out of the limelight, often without acknowledgement, and
occasionally without knowing its result.
But the work must, and does, take place. It happens when a Foreign
Service Officer, sometimes at the risk of safety, presses authorities to
know where the priest has been taken and why. It happens when an
ambassador, while discussing with a senior official his country's
important strategic relationship with the United States, seeks access to
the imprisoned mufti or information on the missionary who has
disappeared. It happens when senior U.S. officials, responsible for
balancing and pursuing all of America's vital national interests, make
it clear that a single persecuted human being, perhaps obscure and
insignificant in the grand affairs of state, matters to the world's most
The Year in Review
During the period covered by this report--July 1999 through June
2000--the United States has engaged in a variety of efforts to promote
the right of religious freedom and to oppose violations of that right.
Its front line in pursuing these goals has been our overseas
Missions--the embassies, consulates general, and consulates of the
United States. Frequently the Chief of Mission has led the way, as have
other members of the country team.
U.S. Mission efforts inevitably are centered on human rights officers,
as well as consular officers, who serve as the eyes and ears of the
mission in its search for information and its voice in the advocacy of
religious freedom. Their work is facilitated by the wisdom and
practical knowledge of local national embassy staff colleagues, whose
contributions to international religious freedom frequently advance the
interests of the United States. Public affairs officers coordinate the
vital work of public diplomacy in order to present U.S. policy with
accuracy and thoroughness. This work requires clear explanations both
of the "American approach" (when asked or when useful) to
religious freedom in the United States and of the U.S. practice of
applying only international standards in its assessment of foreign
No less important is the tone and context set by senior U.S. officials
when they speak publicly on the subject of religious freedom, or
privately with foreign heads of government and other policy makers. The
President, the Secretary of State, and many of her senior staff have
addressed the issue in venues throughout the world. Within the United
States, the Department of Justice and the Immigration and Naturalization
Service play a critical role as the agencies responsible for dealing
with refugees and asylum seekers who are fleeing religious persecution.
The Department of State is responsible for training some officials who
interview refugee applicants; the Department of Justice is responsible
for training officials who interview both refugee and asylum applicants
and those who adjudicate their cases (see Appendices).
The fulcrum of the effort to promote religious freedom lies in a State
Department office established in the summer of 1998 and further mandated
by the International Religious Freedom Act--the Office of International
Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
The office is headed by an Ambassador at Large, Robert Seiple, who
serves as the principal advisor to the President and the Secretary of
State on religious freedom. As such the Ambassador at Large recommends
U.S. policies on religious freedom abroad and oversees the
implementation of those policies. The Ambassador has begun the task of
integrating U.S. policy on religious freedom into the mainstream of U.S.
foreign policy, and--at the same time--into the structure of the Foreign
Service and the Department of State.
The Secretary of State, through the Offices of International Religious
Freedom and Country Reports and Asylum Affairs (both in the Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), is responsible for preparing the
annual report to Congress on the status of religious freedom worldwide.
In carrying out this task, the Bureau draws on U.S. mission reporting,
visits by the Ambassador at Large and his staff to individual countries,
participation in multilateral meetings and conferences, and on evidence
provided by religious and human rights nongovernmental organizations
(NGO's), religious organizations and individuals. Monitoring and
reporting are also guided by the recommendations and annual report of
the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)
established in the 1998 Act.
The following section summarizes some of the many efforts undertaken by
various elements of the U.S. Government's foreign policy community to
promote religious freedom. It is by no means exhaustive, but it
endeavors to provide by way of example a realistic portrait of U.S.
actions. Further details may be found in the individual country
The following acronyms are used in the text: IRF, International
Religious Freedom, and USCIRF, U.S. Commission on International
Armenia. In September 1999, embassy officials met with the
Military Prosecutor to discuss, among other topics, hazing of minority
conscripts and the status of Jehovah's Witnesses. The Embassy also
maintains regular contact with traveling regional representatives of
foreign-based religious groups like the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses
and raises their concerns with Armenian officials.
Austria. The Ambassador and other members of the Embassy met
regularly with religious and political leaders to reinforce the U.S.
Government's commitment to religious freedom and tolerance. They have
met repeatedly with the leader of the Jewish community in Austria and
the head of the Lutheran church in Burgenland regarding the threats
against them and their concerns about the new Government. Following
these threats, the Ambassador met with Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel to
convey the concerns of the U.S. Government. The Ambassador also raised
concerns about a government Minister's intentions to enhance the role of
the office on sects. In May 2000, the Ambassador participated in the
annual commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust at Matthausen
concentration camp. She followed this with a speech on diversity and
tolerance at a program for second-generation immigrants. In April the
Ambassador hosted an event at the residence featuring Congressman Tom
Lantos, a Holocaust survivor. This included members of the government,
religious leaders, and other opinion makers. It focused on religious
and racial tolerance, including a screening of a documentary on
holocaust survivors. In February the Ambassador hosted a benefit
conference to raise money for the renovation of St. Stephen's cathedral,
at which she focused on ecumenical partnerships to combat intolerance.
Following a December 1999 unveiling of a statue symbolizing tolerance,
the Ambassador hosted a reception for government officials and
representatives from NGO's concerned with minorities, tolerance, and
issues of genocide prevention.
In addition, in June 2000, Ambassador Seiple testified before
House International Relations Committee about religious freedom issues
in Austria, including concerns about the Government's information
campaign against religious groups that it considers harmful to the
interests of individuals and society.
Afghanistan. In October 1999, the Secretary of State designated
the Taliban regime, which controls most of Afghanistan as a
"country of particular concern" under the International
Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious
Azerbaijan. U.S. engagement was significant in the fall of 1999
in response to a crackdown on religious activity by government
officials. After police broke up a Baptist service in Baku and detained
60 congregants, on September 5, embassy officials were called by local
worshipers to meet with detainees, police, and security officials at the
police station. Throughout the ensuing week, embassy officers attended
court hearings for two Azerbaijani pastors and eight foreigners arrested
as a result of the police action. Other religious groups quickly
reported similar incidents of harassment, and the Embassy carefully
pursued each report with those groups and with the central Government.
Throughout the fall, the Embassy maintained regular contact with
government officials and local religious groups to monitor the situation
and promote a resolution consistent with the country's constitutional
standards of religious freedom. In addition, in October 1999, an IRF
office staff member visited the country to express U.S. concern to the
Government and to the local groups affected by the arrests and
The U.S. Ambassador met with the Ministers of Interior, Justice, and
National Security, as well as the Prosecutor General, to express U.S.
Government concerns over this pattern of incidents, characterizing them
as violations of standards of religious freedom of the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as well as of the Azerbaijani
constitution. On November 3, Ambassador Escudero personally delivered a
letter from several Congressmen to President Aliyev expressing concern
over the incidents. On November 8, President Aliyev publicly reiterated
his country's full commitment to constitutional and OSCE standards of
religious freedom and ordered his government to resolve immediately all
Belarus. On April 13, the Ambassador sent a letter to the
governor of the Brest Oblast and the Ministry of Foreign affairs urging
a resolution of the conflict concerning Catholic priest Zbeigniew
Karoljak, following a meeting in Brest with Karoljak's parishioners.
Belgium. Embassy officers met with high-level government
officials and conducted active measures to assist in resolving
outstanding complaints of religious discrimination. In June 2000,
Ambassador Seiple testified before the House International Relations
Committee about religious freedom issues, including the Belgian
Government's policy towards "sects" and the creation of a
"Center for Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian
Bosnia and Herzegovina. In March 2000, Ambassador Seiple visited
Bosnia and Herzegovina and met with Government officials, NGO's, and
religious leaders to discuss religious freedom issues.
Bulgaria. The Ambassador, embassy officers, and visiting State
Department officials met with a diverse cross-section of relevant
government officials and Members of Parliament to advocate a liberal
approach to religious freedom under a new law on religion. In March an
IRF officer visited Sofia to meet with NGO's and with embassy officers
regarding the draft law. Embassy officers have kept in close touch with
human rights and religious groups to remain attuned to their concerns
about the proposed law. The U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE raised this
point with Bulgaria's OSCE ambassador, and the State Department also
raised this issue in the context of the Stability Pact. Embassy officers
have met with Orthodox clergy from both sides of the schism, with the
chief mufti of the Muslim community, with religious and lay leaders of
the Jewish community, as well as with the leaders of numerous Protestant
Burma. In October 1999, the Secretary of State designated Burma
a country of particular concern under the International Religious
Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
Since 1988 a primary objective of U.S. Government policy has been to
promote increased respect for human rights, including the right to
freedom of religion. The United States discontinued bilateral aid to
the Government, suspended the issuance of licenses to export arms to
Burma, suspended the Generalized System of Preferences for Burma,
suspended tariff preference for imports of Burmese origin, and suspended
Export-Import Bank financial services in support of U.S. exports to
Burma. The U.S. Government also has not provided any Overseas Private
Investment Corporation financial services in support of U.S. investment
in Burma, suspended active promotion of trade with Burma, suspended
issuance of visas to high government officials and their immediate
family members, banned new investment by U.S. firms, opposed all
assistance to the Government by international financial institutions,
and urged the governments of other countries to take similar actions.
The U.S. Government actively supported the decision of the International
Labor Organization (ILO), in June 1999, to suspend the Government of
Burma from participation in ILO programs, based in part on an August
1998 ILO Commission of Inquiry report that the Government systematically
used forced labor for a wide range of civilian and military purposes.
The U.S. Embassy has promoted religious freedom in the overall context
of its promotion of human rights generally in numerous contacts with
government officials (both informally and through repeated formal
demarches), as well as to the public, to representatives of the
governments of other countries and of international organizations, to
international media representatives, to scholars, and to representatives
of U.S. and international businesses. Embassy staff members met
repeatedly with leaders of Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic religious
groups, members of the faculties of schools of theology, and other
religious-affiliated organizations and NGO's as part of their reporting
and public diplomacy activities.
China. In October 1999, the Secretary of State designated China
as a country of particular concern under the International Religious
Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
The U.S. Embassy and consulates collected information about abuses and
maintained contacts in China's religious communities with a wide
spectrum of religious leaders including bishops, priests, ministers of
the official Christian churches, and Taoist and Buddhist leaders.
Embassy officials continued, for example, to seek clarification about
the status of Roman Catholic Bishop Su Zhimin. On numerous occasions,
senior U.S. Government officials in Washington and in China protested
government actions taken against Falun Gong followers, including the
temporary detention of thousands of adherents in July 1999 and the
sentencing of four group leaders later in that year. In May 2000,
senior embassy officers urged the Chinese to release Pastor Xu Yongze,
whose "reeducation through labor" sentence expired in March
2000. Consulate Guangzhou officers also protested to local officials
the detention and harassment of Pastor Li Dexian. State Department
officials met with senior Chinese Embassy officers in Washington to
protest the January detention of Roman Catholic Bishop Yang Shudao.
Diplomatic personnel also traveled to Tibet to monitor conditions,
including the status of religious freedom. Cases raised by the Embassy
include those of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai
Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama; Abbot Chadrel Rinpoche; Ngawang Sangdrol;
and other Tibetan monks and nuns. Other embassy officers raised
specific cases in meetings with officials from the Religious Affairs
Bureau and the United Front Work Department.
The Department of State sent Chinese religious leaders and scholars to
the United States on international visitor programs to see first hand
the role that religion plays in the United States.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom took a number of
actions during the reporting period to express its concerns about
religious freedom in China. These included: A press release noting
increasing religious persecution in China--including cases of
persecution of Muslim Uighurs; public calls on the Chinese Government to
end persecution of Falun Gong adherents; urging Chinese cooperation with
the Vatican in naming Catholic bishops; and testimony before the
Congressional Human Rights Caucus, the House Ways and Means Committee,
the House International Relations Committee, and the Senate Foreign
In October 1999, Ambassador Seiple testified before the House
International Relations Committee and in May 2000 before the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee concerning the religious freedom of Tibetan
Buddhists and the Christian and Muslim communities in China. In March
2000, Ambassador Seiple, accompanied by Rabbi David Saperstein, Chairman
of the Commission on International Religious Freedom, held bilateral
meetings at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, seeking
support for the U.S.-proposed resolution criticizing China's human
rights record, including its religious freedom practices.
Cuba. The U.S. Interests Section supported various religious
leaders and communities in the country and supported NGO initiatives
that aid religious groups. The U.S. Government regularly sought to
facilitate the issuance of licenses for travel by religious persons and
for donated goods and materials. The U.S. Interests Section raised
issues of human rights, including religious discrimination and
harassment, with government officials. However, the government
dismissed these concerns. The Interests Section reported on cases of
religious discrimination and harassment, and the U.S. government
continuously urged international pressure on the Cuban government to
cease its repressive practices.
Czech Republic. The Embassy, the Department of State, and the
U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad
devoted considerable efforts beginning in December 1999 to facilitate a
mutually acceptable settlement of the longstanding dispute over a
medieval Jewish cemetery (believed to be the oldest in the Czech
Republic) in downtown Prague.
Egypt. The U.S. Embassy maintained an active dialog with the
leaders of the Christian and Muslim religious communities, human rights
groups, and other activists and has investigated every complaint of
religious discrimination brought to its attention. The Embassy
discussed religious freedom issues with other groups, including
academics, businessmen, and lower-income citizens. The Embassy worked to
strengthen civil society, including training for nongovernmental groups
that promote religious tolerance and provided training to Egyptian
police in human rights practices and community policing techniques.
In March 2000, an NGO service center funded by the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID) began operating to provide training
and technical assistance to local NGO's. The Embassy nominated
participants interested in advocacy for the International Visitor
Program and invited U.S. specialists in this subject as part of the
State Department's speakers program. Other embassy initiatives included
activities designed to strengthen the rule of law and promote civic
education. The public affairs section of the Embassy supported the
development of materials that encourage tolerance, diversity, and
understanding of others, in both Arabic-language and English-language
USAID, in collaboration with the Children's Television Workshop,
developed an Egyptian version of the television program Sesame Street,
which is designed to reach isolated households and to promote tolerance.
The show was scheduled for airing beginning in the summer of 2000.
USAID also supported private voluntary organizations that are
implementing innovative curriculums in private schools. The public
affairs section of the Embassy spearheaded an effort to increase the
professionalism of the press, with an emphasis on balanced and
responsible coverage. Finally, USAID worked with the Supreme Council of
Antiquities to promote the conservation of cultural antiquities,
including Islamic, Christian, and Jewish historical sites.
Eritrea. The Ambassador and other embassy officers raised the
special case of Jehovah's Witnesses with government officials in the
President's office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the High Court, the
Ministry of Justice, in media interviews, and in the State Department's
human rights report. The Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy,
Human Rights, and Labor also raised the issue with the Eritrean
France. In October 1999, Ambassador Seiple and an IRF
officer visited France and met with government officials, NGO's, and
religious leaders to discuss religious freedom issues. In addition, in
June 2000, Ambassador Seiple testified before the House International
Relations Committee regarding religious freedom issues in France,
including concerns about the creation of the "sect lists."
Germany. The U.S. Government has expressed its concerns over
allegations of infringement of individual rights because of religious
affiliation and over the potential for discrimination in international
trade posed by the screening of foreign firms for possible Scientology
affiliation. U.S. government officials discussed with state and federal
German authorities U.S. concerns about the violation of individual
rights posed by the use of declarations of Scientology affiliation.
U.S. officials frequently made the point that the use of such
"filters" to prevent persons from practicing their
professions, solely based on their beliefs, is an abuse of their rights,
as well as a discriminatory business practice. In June 2000, Ambassador
Seiple testified before the House International Relations Committee
about the treatment of German Scientologists and the use of
India. The U.S. Embassy continued to promote religious freedom
through contact with the country's senior leadership, as well as with
state and local officials. The Embassy and consulates regularly report
on events and trends that affect religious freedom.
During his state visit, President Clinton spoke about the massacre of
Sikhs in Kashmir on March 20, 2000, and called for an end to the
violence. In August and September 1999, the U.S. Consul in Chennai
expressed concern to Kerala state government officials about the status
of Father Anthony Raymond Ceresko's visa application to the chief
secretary of Karnataka and about the the cancellation of the conference
of the Anglican Church (see Section I). In January 2000, Senator Tom
Daschle and his delegation raised the issue of religious minorities with
Home Minister L.K. Advani during a visit to New Delhi. In February a
representative of the State Department discussed minority issues with
the National Human Rights Commission in New Delhi. On June 23, 2000,
the U.S. Ambassador noted to the press that attacks against Christians
are a serious concern.
Embassy officers meet with religious officials to monitor
religious freedom on a regular basis. U.S. embassy officers traveled to
Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh to assess the situation of religious
minorities in those states. Embassy and consulate officials maintained
contact with senior leaders of all minority communities. The Embassy
also maintains contacts with U.S. residents, including those in the NGO
and missionary communities. The NGO community is extremely active with
regard to religious freedom, and embassy officers meet with local NGO's
to obtain information on religious freedom developments.
Indonesia. The U.S. Government publicly expressed concern
regarding the intercommunal violence that occurred in various parts of
the country. U.S. statements urged the Government to take all necessary
measures to prevent bloodshed; to take action against those who initiate
violence, while adhering to international standards for the protection
of human rights; and to resolve their differences through dialog and
With respect to the violence between Christian and Muslim communities in
the Moluccas and elsewhere, President Clinton and other senior
government officials raised their concerns with their Indonesian
counterparts on numerous occasions.
The Ambassador and embassy officers routinely conveyed to government
officials at all levels the U.S. view that religious freedom must be
respected and fostered. In addition the Ambassador and embassy officers
regularly met with leaders of religious communities and traveled widely
throughout the country to keep abreast of developments affecting
The public affairs section of the Embassy funded the travel of several
persons under the International Visitor Program, as well as exchange
visitors, who studied human rights and religion in the United States,
among other topics. They included religious and student leaders and
legal activists from Aceh, Papua, East Timor, and other locations. The
Fulbright Commission in Indonesia funded one senior U.S. scholar to
teach comparative religion at the State Islamic Institute (IAIN) in
Jakarta and a senior U.S. scholar-researcher who studied and taught the
role of women in Koranic verse at the same institution.
The U.S. Government also provided significant funding for NGO's that
implement projects to promote religious tolerance in various parts of
The Commission on International Religious Freedom took a number of
actions during the reporting period to express its concern about
religious freedom in the country. These included publicly calling on
the Government in January 2000 to restore order in the Malukus after
outbreaks of Muslim-Christian strife; Commissioner Archbishop Theodre
McCarrick's visit to East Timor and Jakarta in February; and the
Commission's July public expression of "deep concerns" about
Iran. In October 1999, the Secretary of State designated Iran as
a country of particular concern under the International Religious
Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
President Clinton made a number of statements regarding the treatment of
Iranian religious minorities. The statements included one criticizing
the execution of Ruhollah Rowhani, a member of the Baha'i Faith, in June
1998 and a statement calling on the Government to exonerate 13 members
of the Jewish community arrested in June 1999. The Secretary of State
also called on the Government to release and drop charges against the 13
Jews, 10 of whom were still in prison as of June 2000. In February the
USCIRF publicly called for the nullification of death sentences for
three Baha'is in Mashdad.
Iraq. In October 1999, the Secretary of State designated Iraq as
a country of particular concern under the International Religious
Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
Israel. In December 1999, Ambassador Seiple visited Israel and
met with Government officials, NGO's, religious leaders, and others to
discuss a number of religious freedom issues including allegations of
persecution of Christians, intrareligious conflicts in the Jewish
community, and the concerns of the Islamic community.
Jordan. In February 2000, Congressman Charles Canady forwarded a
letter signed by 63 Members of Congress to King Abdullah, encouraging
the Government to grant Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary's (JETS)
request for registration with the Ministry of Education. In April 2000,
Ambassador Seiple and members of the IRF office traveled to Jordan and
met with religious leaders and officials regarding government delays in
the registration of JETS. Ambassador Seiple also met with Queen Rania,
who heads a new royal Human Rights Commission, and with Prince Hassan to
promote interfaith dialog.
Kazakhstan. In May 2000, Ambassador Seiple visited Kazakhstan
and met with government officials, NGO's and religious leaders.
Government officials were receptive to Ambassador Seiple's offers of
assistance in drafting the drafting of new religious legislation.
Laos. During his second visit in February 2000, Ambassador
Seiple presided at a group meeting of religious leaders and officials
where he emphasized the importance of religious freedom. Although the
presence of government officials did not encourage frank dialog, the
meeting was unprecedented and produced demarches to the Government.
Ambassador Seiple met on several occasions with the Laotian Ambassador.
Lebanon. In April 2000, Ambassador Seiple visited Lebanon and
discussed Islamic-Christian dialog with local lawyers and activists.
Nigeria. In July 2000, the USCIRF expressed publicly its
"deep concerns" about religious violence in the country.
Pakistan. On an informal basis, the Embassy has assisted some
Christian-affiliated relief organizations in guiding paperwork through
government channels. The Embassy also assisted local and international
human rights organizations in following up on specific cases involving
religious minorities. In meetings with cabinet officials and National
Security Council members, the Ambassador raised the issues of the
blasphemy laws, separate electorates for minorities, and the seeming
impunity with which sectarian groups operated. The Embassy assisted with
other high-level visits--including that of four senators led by Senator
Thomas Daschle, a delegation led by Senator Sam Brownback, and a
congressional staff delegation--which raised religious freedom issues
with senior officials.
The Embassy also conducted a number of public diplomacy programs on
religious issues (e.g. "Islam in America" on Worldnet)
designed to promote interfaith harmony and understanding. Expressions
of concern over the blasphemy laws by the Embassy, together with the
human rights community and other U.S. agencies, contributed to
government efforts to implement administrative changes in application of
Ambassador Seiple and an IRF office staff member visited Pakistan during
the reporting period. They met with government officials, NGO's, and
religious leaders to discuss religious freedom issues.
Poland. One embassy officer devotes the vast majority of his
time to questions of Polish/Jewish relations. The Embassy and Consulate
General worked to facilitate the protection and return of former Jewish
cemeteries throughout the country and to play a continuing role in
ongoing efforts to establish an international foundation to oversee
restitution of Jewish communal property.
The public affairs sections of the Embassy and the Consulate in Krakow
provided continuing support for activities designed to promote cultural
and religious tolerance. Such activities included a digital
videoconference linking young Poles with U.S. participants in the March
of the Living; a 2-week voluntary visitor program for senior
administrators at the Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum; and ongoing press
and public affairs support for the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation
and its project to renovate the last remaining synagogue in Oswiecim.
Romania. U.S. embassy officials have lobbied consistently with
government officials for fair treatment on property restitution issues,
including religious and communal properties. The Embassy has a core
group of officers who focus on fostering good ethnic relations,
including relations between religious groups. The Embassy lobbied
against a draft religion bill and encouraged other Western embassies and
religious groups in Romania to do likewise. Secretary Albright also
raised the issue with the Foreign Minister. The bill eventually was
withdrawn in February 2000, following which Ambassador Seiple and USCIRF
Chairman Saperstein visited Bucharest in March 2000 to confirm the
Government's position and discourage attempts to resurrect the law.
Russia. The Ambassador publicly and strongly criticized the
attack on Jewish leader Leopold Kaymovskiy and the attempted bombing of
the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue, calling on the Government to
investigate these crimes vigorously.
The Embassy in Moscow and the Consulates General in Yekaterinburg, St.
Petersburg, and Vladivostok actively investigated reports of violations
of religious freedom, including anti-Semitic incidents. Embassy
officials at the Chief of Mission level discussed religious freedom with
high-ranking officials in the presidential administration, Government,
and Ministry of Foreign Affairs approximately every 6 weeks, raising
specific cases of concern. Federal officials have responded by
investigating those cases and keeping embassy staff informed on issues
they have raised.
Embassy representatives maintained close contact with Jewish leaders
throughout the aftermath of two crises. After the attempted bombing of
a synagogue, the Embassy's regional security officer also visited two
other Lubavitcher synagogues to advise them on physical security. The
Embassy closely followed and reported on the progress of the amendment
to the 1997 religion law and related Constitutional Court rulings. The
Embassy played a role in resolving registration problems of two
religious groups in Samara and in Tatarstan and maintains contact with
Tatarstan authorities in an effort to resolve a third case. As
implementation of the 1997 religion law continues, the Embassy maintains
semiweekly contact with working-level officials at the Ministry of
Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In May 2000, an embassy
official attended a 4-day religion law seminar hosted by the Russian
State Academy for Public Service, consulted with Russian and foreign
religion law experts on the seminar results, and also met with
representatives of religious groups at a subsequent briefing organized
by the Esther Legal Information Center.
The 1997 law on religious freedom was the subject of numerous high-level
communications between members of the U.S. executive branch and the
Russian Government, involving the President, the Vice President, the
Secretary of State, and other senior U.S. officials. For example, at the
U.S.-Russia Summit held in Moscow on June 10-11, 2000, President Clinton
discussed religious freedom in his meetings with President Putin and
other government officials. On September 14, 1999, the Special Advisor
to the Secretary of State for the New Independent States, Ambassador at
Large Stephen Sestanovich, cochaired a roundtable meeting with
representatives of religious communities at the State Department
together with Senator Gordon Smith, Ambassador Seiple, and an National
Security Council (NSC) Senior Director. On April 13, 2000, Ambassador
Sestanovich cochaired another roundtable discussion on religious freedom
in Russia with Senator Smith, Ambassador Seiple, and an NSC Senior
In February 2000, Ambassador Seiple testified before the Helsinki
Commission about the 1997 law. In addition he addressed the harassment
of Muslims stemming from the Caucasus conflict and the case of Reverend
Dan Pollard in Khabarovsk Krai. In May 2000, Ambassador Seiple testified
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressing concerns about
the 1997 law and other religious freedom issues in Russia.
The USCIRF took a number of actions during the reporting period to
express publicly its concern about religious freedom in Russia. These
included: In December 1999, the Commission noted that the war in
Chechnya was fed by religious bigotry; in May 2000, the Commission
testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House
International Relations Committee.
Saudi Arabia. An embassy officer held meetings during October,
November, December, February, and March with Philippine embassy staffers
during the period of detention and deportation of persons suspected of
involvement with Christian proselytizing groups. On March 5 embassy
officers conducted a meeting with and delivered a demarche on religious
freedom to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs official in charge of human
rights, including freedom of religion. In May 2000, senior embassy
officers and the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International
Organizations, David Welch, held a meeting with the Assistant Deputy
Foreign Minister regarding religious freedom and human rights issues.
Also in May, a meeting was held with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal
that included Assistant Secretary Welch and an embassy officer regarding
religious freedom and human rights issues. The Embassy held another
meeting in May with the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs official in
charge of human rights, which included discussions of freedom of
religion. Ambassador Seiple also visited Saudi Arabia during the
reporting period to discuss a range of religious freedom issues with
Serbia-Montenegro. In October 1999, the Secretary of State
designated the Milosevic Government of Serbia as a "country of
particular concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act
for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
In the summer of 1999 and again in February 2000, Secretary of State
Albright met with Bishop Artemije, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church
in Kosovo, who expressed concern about the safety of the Serbs still
living in Kosovo. During visits to Kosovo in July and November 1999,
the Secretary delivered strong messages of ethnic tolerance in Kosovo.
President Clinton also appealed for tolerance in the region on his visit
in November 1999. U.S. Kosovo Force peacekeeping troops have worked to
prevent ethnic and religious violence and have guarded some religious
sites. The U.S. is involved actively in the U.N. Mission in Kosovo, the
interim administration, which is aimed at securing peace, facilitating
refugee return and reconstruction, laying the foundations for democratic
self-government in the province, and fostering respect for human rights
regardless of ethnicity or religion. In Montenegro the U.S. Government
has provided significant support and assistance to the reform-oriented
republic government, which also seeks to ensure respect for human
rights, including religious freedom.
In May 2000, an IRF office staff member visited Kosovo to address
religious freedom issues, including protection of minority populations
and places of worship.
Sudan. In October 1999, the Secretary of State designated Sudan
as a country of particular concern under the International Religious
Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
In May 2000, Ambassador Seiple testified before the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee and expressed concern about the significant
religious dimension of government forces targeting the mostly indigenous
and Christian southern population. The USCIRF took a number of actions
during the reporting period to express publicly its concern about
religious freedom in Sudan. These included: In January 2000,
Commission member Elliot Abrams visited Sudan; in February the
Commission held hearings in Washington; in May the Commission testified
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House
International Relations Committee; and in July the Commission noted
ongoing severe religious freedom violations in Sudan.
Turkey. In December 1999, Ambassador Seiple visited Turkey and
met with Government officials, NGO's, and religious leaders to discuss
religious freedom issues.
Turkmenistan. In May 2000 the Ambassador raised the issue of the
onerous registration requirements with the Deputy Chairman of the
Council on Religious Affairs. In November 1999, the Ambassador and other
embassy officials went to the site of the destruction of the Seventh-Day
Adventist Church to condemn the decision of the Government to tear down
the church. Embassy officials assisted the congregation in removing
some of its religious materials from the church for storage elsewhere.
In July 1999, an embassy officer attempted to attend the trial of
Shageldy Atakov but was not allowed into the courtroom. In September
and December 1999, embassy officers met with the head of President
Niyazov's Institute for Democracy and Human Rights and members of the
Council on Religious Affairs to press for reducing the onerous
registration requirements for minority religions. In the course of a
discussion with the Foreign Minister on U.S.-Turkmen relations in
December 1999, the Charge raised the issue of religious freedom and
prisoners of conscience and urged that the latter be included in an
upcoming presidential amnesty. In October 1999, a USCIRF Commissioner
visited Turkmenistan and in March 2000 testified before the U.S.
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. In May 2000,
Ambassador Seiple and an IRF office staff member met with government
officials and religious leaders to discuss how to make progress in the
registration of religious groups.
Ukraine. Since most religious freedom problems in the country
stem from the relationship between foreign missionaries of nonnative
religions and local authorities, and most of the foreign
missionaries--approximately 55 percent--working in the country today are
U.S. citizens, the Embassy has intervened as necessary to defend their
interests. Responding to complaints by the missionaries that Ukrainian
embassies and consulates were not issuing religious worker visas, the
consular section raised the importance of honoring visa reciprocity in
several 1999-2000 meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These
meetings did not result in tangible improvements in the Government's
visa practices toward prospective religious workers; however, the
Embassy plans to continue to stress the issue with the Ministry of
Foreign affairs. During meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
the Embassy repeatedly recommended eliminating the Soviet-era
requirement for an invitation to receive a Ukrainian visa. As of May
2000, invitations were no longer required for citizens of the U.S.,
Canada, the EU, and Japan, a change that will benefit religious workers.
The U.S. Government also has been active in advocating just restitution
of religious property confiscated by the Nazi and Communist regimes.
Embassy officers raised the issue in a February 2000 meeting at the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ambassador stressed the importance of
a transparent and nondiscriminatory process for property restitution at
the May 2000 meeting of the joint U.S.- Ukraine Cultural Heritage
Commission in Kiev. A U.S. Commissioner and the Deputy Minister of
Culture agreed to cooperate on drafting legislation that would prohibit
construction and privatization on previous and current cemeteries of all
religious denominations. The Embassy assisted in the April 2000 renewal
of the Ukraine-Israel student exchange agreement which governs the
actions of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAI) in the country. An
embassy officer met with the Director General of the JAI, Aaron
Abramovich, in August 1999. The Ambassador raised the issue in a
September 1999 meeting with presidential foreign policy advisor Anatoliy
Orel and Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Chaliy. The Ambassador also
discussed the issue with Abramovich in a January 2000 meeting. The
Ambassador and his deputy raised the issue during meetings with the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Embassy officers discussed the issue
several times with the Israeli Embassy: a meeting was held with the
Israeli Embassy in February 2000 to discuss renewal of the Agreement.
The Embassy places a high priority on monitoring anti-Semitism and
maintaining close relations with local Jewish organizations. In August
1999, the Embassy hosted a meeting of Jewish community leaders with
Senator Arlen Specter. Two embassy officers and a representative of the
State Department's Office of Religious Freedom attended the October 1999
induction ceremony of Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny as the progressive rabbi
of all Ukraine. Embassy officers also attended the March 2000
rededication of the Kiev grand synagogue. An embassy officer held
regular meetings with a variety of Jewish community representatives.
In October 1999, the NSC Director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian
Affairs met with representatives of religious organizations in Kiev to
discuss religious freedom and property restitution. An IRF office staff
member also visited Ukraine to address religious freedom issues.
Uzbekistan. The Ambassador delivered a speech calling for
improved respect for religious freedom at the Ombudsman's February 29
roundtable on amending the religion law. The Ambassador and other
embassy officers raised issues of religious freedom on at least 10
occasions in meetings with the Foreign Minister and other government
officials, as well as in the context of the U.S.-Uzbek human rights
working group. An embassy officer regularly discussed religious freedom
with the deputy director of the Committee on Religious Affairs in the
Cabinet of Ministers. There are no registered nongovernmental
organizations in the country that deal specifically with issues of
religious freedom. An embassy officer maintains regular contact with
religious leaders and unregistered human rights activists on these and
The U.S. congressional chief of staff of the Commission for Security and
cooperation in Europe, along with several staff members, held a series
of meetings in Tashkent with Uzbek officials in December 1999. Issues
of religious freedom were a prominent part of the agenda. In February
2000, the Assistant to the Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for
the Newly Independent States gave a major address on religious freedom
at the Tashkent University for World Economy and Diplomacy. Together
with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human
Rights, and Labor, he discussed the religion law and issues of religious
freedom with Uzbek officials, religious leaders, and human rights
activists. The Deputy Assistant Secretary held additional separate
meetings on these topics with both officials and activists. The
Secretary of State met with President Karimov in Tashkent in April 2000,
and raised U.S. concerns on these issues, particularly calling for
amendments to the religion law. During her visit, the Secretary also
visited Muslim and Jewish places of worship. The Deputy Assistant
Secretary returned with the Secretary's party in April 2000 to follow up
on his previous meetings with a separate series of discussions with
Uzbek officials. He also met with the families of victims of the
repression of independent Muslims as well as with human rights
Ambassador Seiple and IRF office staff met with the Uzbek ambassador in
July and August 1999 to encourage improvement in the Government's
respect for religious freedom. Ambassador Seiple and staff members
visited the country and met with foreign ministry and other officials in
May 2000 to press for progress in amending the religion law, improved
treatment of imprisoned Muslims, and tolerance with regard to
proselytism. He also met with religious leaders of minority faiths,
including the Russian Orthodox Church, with the families of victims of
the repression of independent Muslims, and with human rights activists.
Vietnam. The Ambassador raised religious freedom issues with
senior cabinet ministers including the Prime Minister and Foreign
Minister, senior government and communist party advisors, the head of
the Government's office on religion, deputy ministers of foreign affairs
and public security, and the chairperson of provincial people's
committees around the country.
Embassy officers informed government officials that progress on
religious issues and human rights has an effect on the degree of full
normalization of bilateral relations. The Embassy's public affairs
officer distributed information about U.S. concerns about religious
freedom to Communist Party and government officials. In their
representations to the Government, the Ambassador and other embassy
officers urged that recognition of religious groups be spread more
broadly to other groups of peaceful religious believers, such as members
of the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam and the Protestant house
In general, representations by the Embassy and Consulate have focused on
specific restrictions of religious freedom. These issues include
detention and arrest of religious figures and restrictions on church
organizational activities, such as training religious leaders,
ordination, church building, and the foreign travel of religious
figures. In several cases, the Embassy's and the Consulate's
interventions on issues of religious freedom have resulted in
improvements. The release of several religious prisoners during
amnesties in 1999 and 2000 followed long-term and direct advocacy on
their behalf by the Embassy. Releases of some 20 Hmong Protestants
detained in 1999 by authorities in Lai Chau province followed advocacy
by the Embassy. One foreign NGO told the U.S. Embassy that officials in
Lai Chau had complained that, following the visit of the Ambassador to
the province in the spring of 1999, during which he had presented a list
of Hmong religious prisoners, the provincial officials had been told by
Hanoi authorities to ease up on their treatment of the Hmong. An
embassy officer visited Unified Bhuddist Church of Vietnam (UBCV)
Supreme Patriarch Thich Huyen Guang in Guang Ngai province in December
1999, his first visit from a Westerner in 18 years. Following the
visit, Thich Huyen Guang was featured on national television for the
first time in years, was moved from his pagoda during flooding (unlike
the previous year), and received improved medical care. On several
occasions, embassy and consulate officers met with prominent religious
prisoners after their release from prison. Consulate General Ho Chi
Minh City officers maintained an ongoing dialog with Thich Guang Do and
other UBCV monks, with officially recognized Buddhists, and also
maintained wide contacts within the Catholic, Protestant, Hoa Hao, Cao
Dai, and Muslim communities. In March the USCIRF publicly condemned the
Government of Vietnam for its interference in a Hoa Hao commemoration.
A Consulate General officer attended the first officially recognized Hoa
Hao festival in Giang in July. Consulate General and embassy officials
worked closely with Assemblies of God Pastor Tran Dinh "Paul"
Ai to obtain a passport and then a religious worker's visa to go to the
United States, following months of ongoing harassment by the police.
In July 1999, Ambassador Seiple visited Vietnam for discussions with
officials and leaders of several religious bodies. He raised U.S.
concerns about expanding conditions of religious freedom with officials
of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Government Committee on
Religion, and other government offices.
Other Actions: U.S. Government efforts included actions that were
not specific to individual countries. Selected examples include: The
Secretary of State's speech on May 4, 2000, in Washington to the
American Jewish Committee; the Secretary's hosting of a December 21,
1999 "Iftaar" Dinner with American Muslim groups at the State
Department; and President Clinton's frequent remarks on the status of
religious freedom, especially in such countries as Vietnam, Russia,
China, India, Pakistan, and other countries.
The Office of International Religious Freedom hosted in May 1999 a
conference in Washington on "Religion and Foreign Policy;"
attended a U.S. Catholic Conference Bishops' International Policy
Meeting to explain the administration's concerns about religious freedom
issues; participated in a review of the USCIRF's first report by the
Institute on Religion and Public Policy; and met with dozens of
religious groups from many different countries who were concerned about
persecution or discrimination. In October 1999 and March 2000,
Ambassador Seiple and members of his staff visited the Vatican to
discuss religious freedom issues. The Office continued its program of
outreach to the U.S. Muslim community and has plans to expand the
program to other religious communities. It also continued its support
of NGO-managed reconciliation programs in Lebanon and Indonesia.
[end of document]
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