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Secretary of State Antony Blinken signals emphasis on international human rights but leaves emphasis of religious freedom less clear.
03/31/2021 Washington D.C. International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the U.S. State Department published its 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, highlighting the status of human rights in every country around the world. Although the report illustrated some progress in U.S. foreign policy for prioritizing international religious freedom, such as with China and Turkey, there are also some shortcomings in the State Department’s religious freedom priorities.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the 45th publishing of the annual report in a press conference. “One of the core principles of human rights is that they are universal,” said Secretary Blinken. “All people are entitled to these rights, no matter where they’re born, what they believe, whom they love, or any other characteristic.”
One issue that Blinken and the report were quite clear about was China. The Secretary reaffirmed the genocide designation of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) systematic campaign against China’s Uyghur population, a designation given by his predecessor Mike Pompeo. The report included strong language against the suppression of China’s religious minorities and reiterates the United States’ commitment to countering the abuses of the CCP.
Another area in which the State Department seems more engaged is on Turkey. In the report, the State Department acknowledged Turkish involvement in the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, supporting the Azerbaijani military in its campaign against Armenians and Artsakh. ICC has advocated for this acknowledgement since the beginning of the conflict last September, engaging U.S. policymakers in Congress and the State Department while also publishing a report on the conflict and hosting an event covering the religious freedom concerns moving forward.
In his comments, Secretary Blinken also mentioned the recent violence in Myanmar following the coup this year. Blinken condemned the violence employed by the Burmese military against the nonviolent protesters. Myanmar’s Christian population has been involved in the protests and the Burmese military has begun targeting churches as a result.
Concerning Nigeria, the report showed some progress in addressing religious freedom concerns there, acknowledging that the country exhibits severe restrictions of this human right. Though the report highlights the threats posed by Boko Haram, it falls short of discussing the transgressions of Fulani herdsmen against the Christian farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, and instead refers to the violence as a farmer-herder conflict about land rights.
Matias Perttula, ICC’s Director of Advocacy, said “We at ICC welcome the progress that the State Department has made on promoting religious freedom and human rights around the world. However, we remain concerned whether the Biden administration is still committed to putting religious freedom as a central principle in the United States’ foreign policy priorities. We look forward to working with the State Department in ensuring that this vital right is protected for all.”
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