Testimony of Congressman Frank R. Wolf


House Committee on International Relations Committee
Hearing on Religious Persecution, September 9, 1997

Mr. Chairman, thank for giving me the opportunity to testify before this committee today in support of the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act. The bill your committee will be taking up on Thursday is virtually identical to HR 1685, a bill I introduced on May 20 with 27 original cosponsors. In order to help ensure this bill would be voted on before the end of the session, I introduced a slightly modified version of H.R. 1685 on Monday. The changes were mostly technical in nature. All but one of the original bipartisan cosponsors are cosponsors of the new bill and I expect that the other 84 will cosponsor in the next day or two.

The Freedom from Religious Persecution Act represents, what I hope will be a fundamental departure from "business-as-usual" human rights policy.

The persecution of Christians abroad is the great untold human rights story of the decade. With the end of the Cold War came freedom for millions of Christians living under Communism in the former Soviet Union, Central and Eastern Europe. Christians worked in solidarity with the Jewish community and others suffering persecution at the hands of the communist dictators . The Jewish community led the fight and the Christians, though sometimes late, raised their voices and demanded justice for their faithful. But, with the dawn of freedom came a feeling that the problem had been solved. Religious persecution no longer existed.

Sadly, religious persecution -- and especially the persecution of Christians -- did not dissipate with the Cold War. It persisted and accelerated. It has gotten worse while the world and the United States have turned their efforts elsewhere. There have been some who have been speaking out, but, for the most part, their pleas for justice have been relegated to the world of the "utopian" in U.S. foreign policy and deemed to be "nice but not really important to U.S. interests." The words have been spoken but action to back them up has not been forthcoming.

Current U.S. policy does not reflect an understanding of the seriousness and intensity of this human tragedy. We have turned away while 1.5 million have been killed in Sudan and the Khartoum government wages war against its own people. Christians and Muslims have been persecuted by the government. The world had been deafened to the cries of millions of house church Christians in China who are forced to risk their lives and their freedom just to worship in secret to keep their faith independent of government control. The world watches while Christians in Pakistan and Egypt are terrorized by violent mobs and left helpless by governments not willing to a stand.

We have also turned our backs while Tibetan Buddhists have seen their holy places destroyed and their religious leaders imprisoned, tortured, raped and beaten. We do not scream for justice when Bahai's are executed in Iran.

We must not be silent no longer. We must recognize that religious freedom is fundamental to democracy and democracy is the best way to ensure global peace. History has shown us that religious adherents often become the first scapegoats of tyrants. Persecution of people of faith often foretells a growing menace of violence and tyranny against other sectors of society. This century has already seen a number of genocides resulting in millions of deaths. History has shown us to notice the warning signs. Governments who kill, maim and torture innocent Christians or Muslims or Buddhists, are governments which kill, maim and torture others. They not good neighbors and ultimately, are not good trading partners. Haven't we learned that silence reflects acquiescence?

America must stand up for the weakest in society — the vulnerable victims. When we do this, we raise the comfort level for all those threatened by anti-democratic regimes. We provide hope.

The American Christian community has begun to call for action on behalf of the millions of Christians who are being persecuted on account of their beliefs. Beginning on September 29, a national season of prayer will begin and tens of thousands of churches across the country will be discussing this issue and raising awareness about Christians suffering for their faith.

A number of major feature films are about to be released shedding light on the persecution of the Tibetan people where Tibetan Buddhism faces virtual extinction. On my recent trip to Tibet, I heard story after story of nuns and monks being dragged off to jail and tortured for practicing their faith. Monasteries are tightly controlled by the Chinese government. Maintaining allegiance to the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, or even displaying his picture is grounds for imprisonment.

The Bah'ai community has been faithfully calling for action throughout the years.

The 104th Congress recognized persecution against Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Bah'ais in three measures and called for action. The 105th Congress now has an opportunity to take action -- tough, but realistic action.

The bill focuses on one aspect of this mammoth problem -- persecution which includes abduction, enslavement, imprisonment, killing, forced mass resettlement, rape, or torture. It does so in an attempt to highlight the most life-threatening kinds of religious persecution. It is not meant, nor should it be interpreted to mean, that this is the only kind of persecution that occurs. Persecution need not always result in bodily injury or imprisonment for it to be persecution. There are a number of violations of religious freedom which are not covered by this bill -- discrimination both economic and political against those of minority faiths; discriminatory restrictions on repair and construction of houses of worship; harassment; and other abuses. These kinds of actions should not be tolerated and the fact that this bill does not address them should in no way be taken to mean that they are not egregious violations of the individual's internationally-accepted right to freedom of religion. I fully expect the U.S. government, non-governmental organizations and multi-lateral institutions to continue to press all governments to allow all citizens the fundamental and individual right to practice, or not practice, one's religion according to the dictates of one's own conscience.

This bill, with sanctions attached, seeks to address violations that are widespread and are threats to life and limb. If it is rigorously enforced, it will result in more attention to other kinds of violations not directly sanctioned by this bill. Governments should be put on alert that this is, and will continue to be, a high priority issue for the U.S. government.

H.R. 2531 establishes an Office in the White House to monitor religious persecution and requires the Director to report to Congress on whether a country has category 1 persecution (government involvement ) or category 2 persecution (no government involvement but lack of government action to stem persecution).

It focuses on aid not trade sanctions to encourage change. This is an important distinction and one of which I hope the business community will take note. Except for the section on Sudan, a narrowly-tailored ban on the export of goods that can be used to facilitate persecution, and a narrowly-tailored ban on the export of goods to governmental entities which carry out persecution, this bill contains no trade sanctions. Where it bans exports, it does so in the narrowest way practical. I must let this committee know that there are many who would like to see trade sanctions against governments that persecute people of faith -- I am one -- however, this bill uses other means to affect change.

It shuts off foreign aid (except humanitarian aid) to category 1 and 2 countries and requires that U.S. Executive Directors work aggressively to deny loans by multi-lateral development banks to persecuting countries. It denies visas to individuals who carry out or are responsible for carrying out acts of persecution.

The bill also improves refugee and asylum procedures to ensure those seeking refuge from persecution are not turned away from a country which has historically welcomes religious victims. This section of the bill is not within this committee's jurisdiction and I will not elaborate on it further at this time.

Finally, and I want to emphasize this point, the bill imposes immediate and tough civil sanctions on the government of Sudan until it ceases all religious persecution. The sanctions prescribed in this bill are virtually identical to those imposed on South Africa in the anti-apartheid act of the 1980's. After having traveled to Sudan three times since 1989, I can say with some experience that the persecution occurring there is some of the worst I've ever seen. Slavery, forcible conversion, the use of food as a weapon, torture, kidnapping of children. It's time the U.S. singled this country out as an example of one of the most egregious violators of human rights in the world.

This bill is not intended as a panacea. The international community, the President, the Congress and freedom loving people around the world must remain vigilant and courageous in standing up against religious violence. We must continue to raise individual cases and work towards religious freedom for all.

But, the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act will increase the priority given to this issue in our foreign policy and put the thugs on alert. The United States will no longer tolerate your behavior.

Jackson-Vanik was the movement that crystallized concern in the 1980's on behalf of those suffering persecution in the Soviet Union. This bill will be its counterpart for the 1990's. It takes a different approach, but it commands an equal level of popular support and attention.

It's an important and vital first step to combat a growing problem -- a problem which is an affront to people of conscience everywhere and a threat to human dignity.

I hope every member of this committee will support it. Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for your support for this legislation and your commitment to human rights around the world. I look forward to working with this committee to move this bill forward.