Friday, June 25, 2010

US Policy Remains on Sidelines

It appears that the policy Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom designate Suzan Johnson Cook has been nominated to lead is being sidelined even before she takes the job. The Obama administration seems to have decided that other policy initiatives -- outreach to Muslim governments, obtaining China's cooperation, advancing gay rights -- would be compromised by vigorous advocacy for religious freedom. In fact, such a decision would harm the victims of religious persecution, hamstring key Obama initiatives and undermine U.S. national interests.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Iran rejects UN on Baha’i Rights

The Baha’i International Community expressed its deep disappointment with Iran’s refusal to adopt recommendations made by the UN during Iran’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Iran’s Secretary General of the High Council for Human Rights, Mohammad Javad Larijani, brazenly rejected a number of the council’s key human rights concerns and accused the Baha’i International Community of acting on behalf of Western powers.

“We are deeply disturbed by the Iranian government’s refusal to accept basic recommendations concerned with ending injustice, persecution and discrimination in that country,” a representative of the Baha’i International Community said at the meeting.

The UPR recommendations aimed to end discrimination against Baha’is and the Iranian government’s repression of the community, among many other recommendations about human rights in Iran. Specifically, the council called on Iran’s government to do away with policies restricting Baha’i access to universities and official lists barring Baha’is from pursuing twenty five different professions.

Despite the statements of 26 states urging Iran to account for their human rights violations against the Baha’i community, Larijani flatly denied many of the allegations. “Baha’is enjoy full civil and citizenship right[s] in Iran… The government is supporting all of their economic activity. They go to school, they go to universities …I can name for you more than 200 students at universities,” he told the council on June 10th.

The findings of the Human Rights Watch would suggest otherwise.

One Human Rights Watch report detailed how the Iranian government had denied some 800 students access to their school transcripts. The students had logged onto their student accounts only to be informed that their transcript was “incomplete.” Students complained that school officials had ignored their efforts to address the issue.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cook Named Ambassador for Religious Freedom

President Obama has announced his intent to appoint Suzan Johnson Cook, as Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom, Department of State.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the following statement regarding the nomination:
"I welcome the nomination of Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook to be Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Dr. Johnson Cook is an experienced religious leader with a passion for human rights and an impressive record of public service. President Obama could not have found a more fitting choice for this important position. I look forward to working with Dr. Johnson Cook, if she is confirmed, to bring greater focus to international efforts to ensure that people everywhere enjoy the global standards of religious freedom enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She will serve as a principal advisor on religious freedom to me and to the President, and she will be supported by the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor."
Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook is the Founder and President of Wisdom Worldwide Center. She has also served as the Senior Pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in New York City since 1996 and the owner of Charisma Speakers since 2008. Prior to that she was co-Partner/Owner of Jonco Productions from 1994-2009. Dr. Johnson Cook has also held the position of Chaplain to the New York City Police Department since 1990. Dr. Johnson Cook is a Founder/Board Member of the Multi-Ethnic Center and has been the Executive Director since 1996. From 1983-1996, she served as Senior Pastor to the Mariners Temple Baptist Church. Prior to that she was a professor at the New York Theological Seminary from 1988-1996.  Dr. Johnson Cook holds a B.S. from Emerson College, Master of Arts from Columbia University, Teachers College, Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, and Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Church Intervenes for Political Dissident

Cuba is to release a jailed paraplegic political dissident as a result of talks between the Catholic Church and President Raul Castro, the office of the Archbishop of Havana said.

The dissident, Ariel Sigler Amaya, 46, has been in prison since 2003.
Six other dissidents will also be moved to jails in their home provinces on Saturday to be closer to their relatives as a result of the talks, the archbishop's office said in a statement.

Cuban authorities told Cardinal Jaime Ortega that Sigler, sentenced to 20 years prison and currently in a Havana hospital, would be given license to leave prison.

Sigler and the other six prisoners are part of a group of 73 political dissidents picked up in a government crackdown in March 2003. Of the original group, 53 remain behind bars, including Sigler and the other six.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Commission to hold hearing in Morocco

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which is co-chaired by congressmen James McGovern (D - MA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA), will hold a hearing on human rights and religious freedom in Morocco on Thursday June 17th, 2010.

The hearing will be open to the press and the public. The reason for the hearings, according to the commission, is the deportation of approximately 40 American citizens and scores of other foreign nationals on charges of proselytism, thus “it has raised serious concerns about the status of religious freedom in Morocco”.
The individuals deported, according to a statement from the commission, ran a wide array of humanitarian organizations, which provided services vital to the community. One of the organizations targeted was the Village of Hope, an orphanage that takes in children that have been abandoned by their parents.
A statement from the commission cited an article by Time Magazine that said, “The Village of Hope deportations are part of what appears to be a widespread crackdown on Christian aid workers in Morocco.” 

Also cited, as an example is the Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World Report, which noted “a backsliding in Morocco on a host of other democracy and human rights issues over the course of the last year”.

Religious Freedom and National Security

Thomas Farr of The Washington Post blog, "On Faith" muses on the relationship between religious freedom and national security again.

He notes that:
"In a previous post, I voiced the fear that the Obama administration was placing U.S. international religious freedom (IRF) policy on the back burner, subordinating it to other less compelling administration priorities, or clearing the deck for initiatives that might be complicated by a robust defense of religious liberty abroad (such as outreach to Muslim majority countries or promoting international gay rights).
If it is true that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are backtracking on IRF, it would be somewhat ironic. The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, passed unanimously by Congress, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. It was implemented in the early stages by Secretary Madeleine Albright, who has since written a book calling for greater attention to religion in American foreign policy.
Moreover, as William Saunders and I observed in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, the Bush administration "did not make significant progress in reducing religious persecution or advancing religious freedom" during its eight years in power. If anything, international religious freedom declined under President Bush's watch, and President Obama was left with a real opportunity. In January 2009 IRF supporters were hopeful that the new administration would retool and reenergize U.S. religious freedom diplomacy.
But in the ensuing 16 months the administration has for the most part signaled its indifference to the issue."