By Matias Perttula
Despite one’s personal policy oriented dispositions of the Trump administration’s last four years in office, one cannot deny the wins and advances made under the administration’s leadership when it comes to international religious freedom. Have there been short comings – absolutely! But there have been significant advances as well. In fact, there have been more advances in this regard than setbacks.
Here’s what they are.
First, the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. This event was the largest ever human rights related event hosted by the US Department of State and which hosted representatives from practically all faith traditions that gathered under one roof for one purpose, to expand religious freedom and end persecution where it exists. The event was not only a place for robust dialogue, but an opportunity for building unity and holding countries to a higher standard of religious freedom. This event centered the issue of international religious freedom at the core of US global policy making and made it an international priority. The next administration needs to build on this and continue to empower the event to bring broader accountability and change.
Second, the International Religious Freedom Alliance. As the alliance was formed only recently, the mission of the alliance is yet to be fully defined in real action. The next administration should build on the established principles of the alliance and lead with tangible action steps for the alliance members and coordinate real action in expanding religious freedom through holding persecuting governments responsible for their violations. The alliance should coordinate with targeted sanctions, public statements, and incorporate common bilateral approaches to country engagement. The alliance has credibility to engage with other governments in a meaningful capacity – they should do so immediately.
Third, the executive order to advance religious freedom. The executive order among other advancements directed the USAID to create 50-million-dollar budget for programing designed to advance international religious freedom, and make the issue a core priority in planning and implementation of UD foreign policy. It encourages us diplomatic efforts to raise religious freedom concerns with their counterparts when engaging in multi and bilateral meetings. The order was an excellent advancement and precedent setting tool that should be continued by the next administration.
Finally, the partnership with civil society entities like the International Religious Freedom Roundtable. Ambassador Brownback was invited to attend this weekly gathering of NGOs, activists and human rights leaders. The next administration should encourage the appointed ambassador at large for international religious freedom to continue the attendance at this roundtable and build deeper ties with the religious and faith communities in participating civil society.
The next administration should not overlook these advancements and should seek to build on a solid track record of religious freedom expansion pioneered in the Trump administration under the leadership of Ambassador Brownback and Secretary Pompeo. The next administrations should not undo the great wins established over the last four years, but seek to build on them even further.
Matias Perttula serves as the Advocacy Director for International Christian Concern where he leads the government relations efforts to mobilize the US government to address issues of persecution in countries where religious minorities are oppressed and the freedom of religion is in decline.