WASHINGTON (BP) – Governments and societies throughout the world continue to violate religious freedom, but progress was made in some countries during the last year, U.S. State Department officials said Thursday (June 2) upon the release of an annual report.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and ambassador-at-large Rashad Hussain offered their assessments of the global state of the right to believe and practice faith in presenting the State Department’s 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom. The report, which is required each year by a 1998 law, evaluated the condition of religious liberty in nearly 200 countries and territories.
“In many parts of the world, governments are failing to respect their citizens’ basic rights,” Blinken said, adding all societies “must do more to combat rising forms of hate, including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.”
Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are examples of countries where religious freedom is violated, Blinken told reporters at a briefing. Also, the rights of religious minorities “are under threat” in such countries as India, Nigeria and Vietnam, he said.
Yet, Iraq, Morocco, Taiwan and Timor-Leste are among the countries where “notable progress” was achieved, Blinken said.
Hussain, who received Senate confirmation in December 2021 as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said, “From Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia; Jews in Europe; Baha’is in Iran; Christians in North Korea, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia; Muslims in Burma and China; Catholics in Nicaragua; and atheists and humanists around the world, no community has been immune from these abuses.”
Southern Baptist public policy specialist Chelsea Sobolik told Baptist Press after the report’s release: “As millions of people face persecution at the hands of their government and millions more are forcibly displaced, the role of the U.S. State Department is increasingly important to ensure that international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority.
“We must always advocate for governments to cease persecution of their citizens and work to advance protection of life and conscience around the world,” said Sobolik, director of public policy for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in written comments.
Hussain told reporters the primary themes in this year’s report are:
- “Too many governments use discriminatory laws and policies and abuse their own people.
- “Rising societal intolerance and hatred are fueling violence and conflict around the world.
- “Powerful collaboration among civil society, governments and multi-lateral partners has led to some progress and provides hope in addressing these complex challenges.”
Civil society, which includes religious leaders and organizations, is essential to the work, Hussain said, adding: “Our greatest hope is that together we can unite our efforts to ensure respect for freedom of religion or belief for all people around the globe.”