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04/27/2021 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Friday the appointment of Jeffrey Feltman to the position of Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa. The position is a new one and its creation indicates that the Biden administration intends to devote increased attention to the region in the coming years.

Feltman, who comes to the position with years of experience at State Department, the United Nations, and in the private sector, is tasked with developing and executing “an integrated U.S. strategy to address…complex regional issues,” according to Blinken’s statement. “At a moment of profound change for this strategic region, high-level U.S. engagement is vital to mitigate the risks posed by escalating conflict while providing support to once-in-a-generation opportunities for reform.”

A White House statement similarly called for accord in the region, underscoring Feltman’s appointment as an indication of the United States’ desire to promote “shared peace and prosperity across the Horn of Africa.”

Though definitions of the region disagree on whether to include Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, and Uganda along with the traditional list made up of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia, the Horn of Africa merits attention however it is defined. From tense disputes between countries over water rights to violent ethnic and political conflicts within countries, the region has experienced increased tension in the last few years.

And while much of this violence has its origins in ethnic or political strife, the region has also witnessed significant religious persecution. Eritrea, for example, aggressively suppresses the free practice of religion and has garnered a well-earned reputation for being among the worst persecutors in the world. Prisoners of conscience often languish in Eritrean prison for years before their cases are even heard, suffering unimaginably inhumane living conditions and regular incidents of torture.

Eritrea was once again named in the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s latest report, published last Wednesday. The report lists Eritrea among the worst religious freedom violators in the world for its systematic and egregious abuses of religious freedom, including the systematic torture of Christians and other religious minorities.

As Feltman enters the first days of his new appointment, he would do well to consider how the United States could work to promote religious freedom in the region. There is no simple fix for persecution, but the ability to freely practice one’s religion is a basic human right and one that must not be forgotten as the United States works towards overall peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.

For interviews, please contact Alison Garcia: press@persecution.org.