U.S. State Department’s Report on International Religious Freedom in 2013


On July 28, 2014, the U.S. State Department released its annual report on religious freedom around the world.[1]

 Secretary of State Kerry’s Comments

Announcing the release of the report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said although the U.S. was “obviously far from perfect,” it was important for the U.S. to treasure freedom of religion as “a universal value. . . . The freedom to profess and practice one’s faith is the birthright of every human being . . . [and] are properly recognized under international law. The promotion of international religious freedom is a priority for President Obama and it is a priority for me as Secretary of State.” In short, “religious freedom remains an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement.”

Executive Summary of the Report

The world had the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory. In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs. Out of fear or by force, entire neighborhoods are emptying of residents. Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map.” In conflict zones (Syria, Central African Republic and Burma), this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm.

All around the world, individuals were subjected to discrimination, violence and abuse, perpetrated and sanctioned violence for simply exercising their faith, identifying with a certain religion, or choosing not to believe in a higher deity at all. Countries where this was a significant problem were Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Eritrea. Throughout Europe, the historical stain of anti-Semitism continued to be a fact of life.

Governments repressed religious freedom. Governments from all regions subjected members of religious groups to repressive policies, discriminatory laws, disenfranchisement, and discriminatory application of laws. These governmental actions not only infringed on freedom of religion themselves, but they also often created a permissive environment for broader human rights abuses. Restrictive policies included laws criminalizing religious activities and expression, prohibitions on conversion or proselytizing, blasphemy laws, and stringent registration requirements or discriminatory application of registration requirements for religious organizations. This was especially true in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, China, Cuba, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Burma, Russia and Bahrain.

Governments engaged in discrimination, impunity and displacement of religious minorities. When governments choose not to combat discrimination on the basis of religion and intolerance, it breeds an environment in which intolerant and violent groups are emboldened, even to the point of physically attacking individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs. Governments in these countries failed to protect vulnerable communities and many religious minority communities were disproportionately affected, resulting in a large number of refugees and internally displaced persons. This was especially true in Syria, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India and Nigeria. Rising anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in the following countries of Europe demonstrated that intolerance is not limited to countries in active conflict:Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and United Kingdom.

Religious minority communities were disproportionately affected by violence, discrimination and harassment. In many regions of the world, religious intolerance was linked to civil and economic strife and resulted in mass migration of members of religious minority communities throughout the year. In some of these areas, the outward migration of certain communities has the potential to permanently change the demographics of entire regions.

“Countries of Particular Concern”

Pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State designated the following countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC): Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Such countries “engage in or tolerate particularly severe violations of religious freedom” or “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, abduction or clandestine detention of persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons based on religion.”

Turkmenistan, which is new to this State Department list, is the only one of eight countries recommended for such designation by the latest report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The others so recommended by the Commission are Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam.

Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom

Simultaneously with this report’s release, the Obama administration announced the nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein as the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Rabbi Saperstein, a reform rabbi and lawyer known for his work in Washington to advance religious freedom, would be the first non-Christian to lead the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, if confirmed by the Senate.


[1] This post is based upon the International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 (July 28, 2014); Secretary Kerry, Remarks at Rollout of the 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom (July 28, 2014); Assistant Secretary Malinowski, Remarks on the Release of the 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom (July 28, 2014); Department of State, Fact Sheet: 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom (July 28, 2014). Earlier posts covered the international law regarding religious freedom and the State Department’s reports on the subject for 2011 and 2012.

Ancestors’ Military Service in the French and Indian War

In 1754 both France and Great Britain had large colonial interests in North America. Britain, of course, had the 13 colonies[1]  plus Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Hudson’s Bay. France had New France, which extended from Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island today) in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and from what is now southern Ontario in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south.

French & Indian War, 1754-1763

The two countries’ competition for expansion led in 1754 to what became known in the U.S. as the French and Indian War. The war was fought primarily along the frontiers separating New France from the British colonies and lasted until the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763, with France ceding New France to the British. (This war was part of the global Seven Years War, 1756-1763, focused on conflict between Britain and the Bourbons in France and Spain and territorial battles by others in the Holy Roman Empire.)

My sixth great-grandfather, John Brown, and two of his sons, Perley Brown (my fifth great-grandfather), and John Brown, Jr., served with the British forces in this war.[2]

In the Fall of 1756, the three men were members of a Minute Men brigade that went from their home town of Leicester, Massachusetts to join others in a planned assault on the French Fort St. Frederic (now Crown Point) at the southern end of Lake Champlain in today’s upstate New York.  However, before the offensive got underway, word arrived of the French victory at Fort Oswego on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario in present-day New York. The British feared that an overwhelming French army would be assembled in the Champlain Valley, and, therefore, the British cancelled the planed attack.

Fort William Henry

In August of the next year, 1757, the three men and other Minute Men from Leicester went to help defend the British Fort William Henry at the southern end of Lake George in the Province of New York. The Fort, however, was weakly supported, and after several days of French bombardment, the British surrendered. Afterwards the French destroyed the fort. (The fort has been reconstructed and is open with a museum for tourists.)

Under the terms of surrender, the French were to protect the British from the Indian allies of the French. The Indians, however, attacked the withdrawing British forces who had been stripped of their ammunition and killed and scalped a significant number of soldiers. The Indians also captured women, children, servants and slaves. (This incident was portrayed in James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel, The Last of the Mohicans.) Fortunately the three Browns were not involved in this massacre.

[1] The 13 colonies were Province of New Hampshire, Province of Massachusetts Bay, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation, Connecticut Colony, Province of New York, Province of New Jersey, Province of Pennsylvania, the Lower Colonies on Delaware, Province of Maryland, Colony and Dominion of Virginia, Province of North Carolina, Province of South Carolina and Province of Georgia.

[2] Carol Willits Brown, William Brown–English Immigrant of Hatfield and Leicester, Massachusetts, and His Descendants c. 1669-1994 at 6, 11, 17 (Gateway Press; Baltimore, MD 1994).

Is the International Criminal Court Flawed?

A July 8th New York Times headline proclaims, “Arab Uprisings Point Up Flaw in Global Court.” It erroneously suggests that the people operating the International Criminal Court are stupid or cowardly or that the diplomats who in 1998 drafted the ICC’s governing treaty, the ICC’s Rome Statute, were similarly stupid or cowardly.

The article starts with the facts that the ICC has not initiated an investigation of human rights abuses in Yemen and Syria. That is lamentable, but it is not due to a flaw in the operations of the ICC or the Rome Statute.

It is due instead to the limitations on the Court’s jurisdiction that were intentionally established in the drafting of the Rome Statute because of opposition of states like the U.S. that did not want the Court commencing investigations or criminal prosecutions against their citizens if the state did not ratify that Statute.

That Statute’s Article 12 provides, in part, that the Court has jurisdiction if certain crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes) are committed on the territory of a state that is a party to the Rome Statute or by nationals of such a state. Neither Yemen nor Syria is such a party, as is true for all other states in the Mideast except Jordan. Thus, the Court does not have jurisdiction of such an investigation or prosecution under Article 12.

The Rome Statute’s Article 13(b) also provides jurisdiction for the Court if the U.N. Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression), refers a situation of suspected crimes of that nature to the ICC even if the state where the conduct occurred or whose nationals are involved had not ratified the Rome Statute. In fact, as the New York Times article points out, the Security Council has twice done so: Sudan (Darfur) and Libya.

However, as most people know, the U.N. Charter that was drafted in 1945 at the end of World War II grants in Article 27(3)  a veto on any action by the Council to each of its five permanent members: the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [now Russia] and the Republic of China. The failure of the ICC to undertake any investigation of the Yemen situation is due to a threatened veto by the U.S. of such a referral.

With respect to Syria, the U.S. in June 2011 reportedly was seeking Russian and Chinese support for a Council referral of the situation to the Court, but that was obviously unsuccessful because no such proposal was actually advanced in the Council. In November 2011 four U.S. Senators (Dick Durbin, Benjamin Cardin, Robert Menendez and Barbara Boxer) sent a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. (Susan Rice) asking for such a Security Council referral. They said, “The people of Syria deserve to know that the people of the United States understand their plight, stand behind them, and will work to bring justice to the country.” Security Council referral of Syria to the ICC also has been endorsed by the New York Times.

The next month (December 2011) the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Security Council to make such a referral. But nothing happened, again because of threatened vetoes by Russia and China.

If there is any “flaw” in this structure with respect to Yemen and Syria it is the veto right of the five permanent members of the Security Council. Although many, if not most, of the U.N. members that are not permanent Council members dislike the superior status and veto rights of the permanent Council members and voice various suggestions for reform of the Security Council, expert observers of the U.N. do not think that is at all likely in the near future.

In the meantime, 121 of the 192 U.N. members are now parties to the Rome Statute, and the Court’s governing body (its Assembly of States Parties) is working towards its goal of universal ratification of the Rome Statute. If and when that happened, the Court could initiate investigations and prosecutions with respect to all such parties without Security Council action.

Over the last 60-plus years the peoples of the world through their nation-state governments have been struggling to climb out of the pits of depravity of World War II by creating or codifying international norms or human rights and by constructing mechanisms to protect individuals that are beyond the control of their own national governments while such governments still have sovereignty over most aspects of their lives. The creation and operation of the International Criminal Court and other so-called ad hoc international criminal tribunals are important pieces of this effort. This is an inherently difficult process, and many compromises are necessary in order to make any progress. But the story is not finished. Further development, I am confident, will occur.

U.N. Security Council Briefing on Libya by ICC Prosecutor


Luis Moreno-Ocampo


U.N. Security Council

On May 16, 2012, the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, briefed the U.N. Security Council on the status of the ICC’s investigation and prosecution of crimes committed in Libya since February 15, 2011. He did so because the Council on February 26, 2011, had referred this situation to the ICC for investigation and prosecution.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo reported that his office has been cooperating with states, INTERPOL, NGO’s and others, including the separate U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Libya and the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC).

The Prosecutor emphasized that the “intensity of the cooperation [between the ICC and the NTC] . . . is only increasing” and that the NTC had asked the ICC to postpone its investigation and prosecution of two individuals to enable Libya to prosecute them for the same crimes. The Prosecutor said that his office was well aware of the “primacy of national proceedings” under the Rome Statute and on June 2nd would submit his comments on the request to the Court.

The report also discussed the Prosecutor’s continuing investigation of gender crimes (rape of opponents), the alleged arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances of presumed Gaddafi loyalist and the alleged killings, looting, property destruction and forced disappearances of suspected Gaddafi loyalists in the town of Tawergha.

In addition, the Prosecutor stated that his office had investigated alleged crimes by NATO forces, but that it had “no information to conclude that the NATO air strikes which may have resulted in civilian deaths and injury or damaged civilian objects were the result of the intentionally directing of attacks against the civilian population as such or against civilian objects.” Nor did the Prosecutor have any “information to suggest that [NATO] . . .  authorized the launching of strikes in the knowledge that such attacks would cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and directed overall military advantage anticipated.”

These conclusions regarding NATO were specifically welcomed by some of the NATO members on the Security Council (U.K., France and Germany). Russia and China, on the other hand, expressed concern that no charges had been brought against NATO leaders for some of their air strikes.

The Togo representative on the Council mentioned the need for greater cooperation between the ICC and African states and hoped that the recent visit to the African Union headquarters by the President of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties “will enable a strengthening of ties so that the shared goal of combating the impunity of the perpetrators of heinous crime can be met.”

The most recent prior post on the ICC and Libya was on November 16, 2011 with nine comments thereto.

Ancestor’s Military Service in King George’s War

King George II

John Brown (my maternal 6th great-grandfather as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. would say) in 1745 served in the British colonial army during the reign of King George II in what was known in North America as King George’s War.[1] Let us see how that came about.

In 1740 war broke out in Europe. The pretexual issue was whether Maria Theresa was eligible to succeed to the Hapsburg throne of Austria after the death of her father, Charles VI. This issue was created by Salic or Frankish law precluding royal inheritance by a woman. Thus, this war in Europe is known as the War of the Austrian Succession. This war eventually involved most of the European powers and other issues of a more real politik nature. By 1744 France and Great Britain were on opposite sides of this war, and in that year each declared war on the other.

North America. cir. 17

At that time (1744) both Britain and France had large colonial interests in North America. Britain then in the reign of King George II, of course, had the 13 colonies[2]  plus Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Hudson’s Bay. France had New France, which extended from Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island today) in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and from what is now southern Ontario in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south.

Importantly, however, under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht the extant of New France had been reduced with France ceding to Britain what is now Hudson’s Bay, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, part of Maine and Newfoundland.

Isle Royale                     (Cape Breton Island)
Fortress Louisburg (model)

This loss of territory by France made Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island) very important to France as the guardian of the approach to the St. Lawrence River, which was the gateway to French Canada, and of the Grand Banks fisheries. As a result, between 1720 and 1740 France constructed the strongest fortress in North America, the walled city of Louisburg at the eastern end of Isle Royale. It became “the key and stronghold of French power” in New France.[3] It was designed and built to resist ship attacks from the sea, but as the French discovered in 1745 the hills behind the fortress made it vulnerable to bombardment by cannons on those hills.

Grand Banks of Newfoundland

For the British colonists in North America, however, Louisburg “menaced the lifeline of the New England colonies.” With this fortress, France could sweep the coast of New England and its ships with French expeditions. As a result, New England’s merchants were reluctant to risk putting their ships to sea and its fishermen were threatened from cod fishing in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, then and now one of the richest fishing grounds in the world.[4]

Once Great Britain and France had declared war against each other in Europe in 1744, military skirmishes between them occurred in North America, primarily on the frontier between their colonies. In 1744, French forces raided the British port at Canso, Nova Scotia not far from Louisburg and another British fort, Fort St. Anne, in New York. This became known in North America as King George’s War.

These French attacks and the existence of the war in Europe provided an opportunity (or excuse) for the colonists (with British assistance) to attack the French fortress at Louisburg. William Vaughan, a local fisheries and lumber baron, persuaded the Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay to seek colonial legislative authorization for just such an attack. That authorization was obtained by just one vote.[5]

Colonists attack                Louisburg, 1745
Colonists capture Louisburg, 1745

In March of 1745, a Massachusetts-led colonial force of 4,200 soldiers and sailors aboard 90 ships set sail from Boston to do just that. At Canso, Nova Scotia, they were joined by an additional 16 ships under the command of British Commodore Peter Warren. John Brown was in that expedition as a captain of one of the units and participated in the successful 47-day siege and bombardment of the fortress and its capture on June 18, 1745.

The Louisburg siege and capture turned out to be the most significant military engagement of King George’s War. It strengthened the colonists’ military spirit, provided a training school for their future fighting in the Revolutionary War and gave them a new awareness of their own capabilities.[6]

William Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts Bay
Duke of Newcastle

In October 1745, the Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, William Shirley, reported to the Duke of Newcastle, who was Britain’s  Secretary of State for the Southern Department, on the details of this significant military victory. In what undoubtedly was true at the time, but ironic in retrospect, the Governor concluded the report with these words:

  • “I hope that the Services of the New England troops in the Field, which seem to have equaled the Zeal of the Massachusetts Council and Assembly within their Province, for His Majesty’s Service, upon this Occasion, may be gracefully accepted by His Majesty, as a Proof of that perfect Duty and firm Loyalty which, I am persuaded, all the Colonies concerned in the reduction of this Place [the Louisburg Fortress] (but especially that of the Massachusetts Bay, for which I can more particularly answer) bear to His Majesty’s sacred Person, and to his Government.”[7]

The War of the Austrian Succession and its North American sideshow (King George’s War) lasted until 1748 when all of the parties negotiated the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Much to the consternation of the British colonists, Louisburg was returned to France under this treaty.

Louisburg Fortress (today)

The Fortress of Louisbourg is now a National Historic Site of Canada.


[1] Carol Willits Brown, William Brown–English Immigrant of Hatfield and Leicester, Massachusetts, and His Descendants c. 1669-1994 at 6 (Gateway Press; Baltimore, MD 1994).

[2] The 13 colonies were Province of New Hampshire, Province of Massachusetts Bay, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation, Connecticut Colony, Province of New York, Province of New Jersey, Province of Pennsylvania, the Lower Colonies on Delaware, Province of Maryland, Colony and Dominion of Virginia, Province of North Carolina, Province of South Carolina and Province of Georgia.

[3]  Samuel Adams Drake, The Taking of Louisburg 1745 at 13 (Boston; Lee & Shepard 1891) [“Drake”]; Fairfax Downey, Louisbourg: Key to a Continent at 1(Englewood Cliff, NJ; Prentice-Hall 1965) [“Downey”].

[4]  Drake at 46; Downey at 1.

[5] Downey at 55-57.

[6] Drake at 128.

[7] Letter, William Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts-Bay to Duke of Newcastle with journal of siege of Louisbourg (Oct. 28, 1745).

Netherlands Court Awards Monetary Damages to Palestinian for Libyan Torture

Dr. Ashraf Al Hajuj

This March a court in the Netherlands awarded 1 million euros to a Palestinian plaintiff against 12 Libyan officials for torture and inhumane treatment over eight years in a Libyan prison.

The plaintiff, Dr. Ashraf al-Hajuji, who now lives in the Netherlands, along with five Bulgarian nurses had been charged in Libya in 2000 with deliberately infecting over 400 children with HIV-AIDS. In 2004 they were convicted and sentenced to death by a firing squad.  A year later the convictions were overturned and a new trial was ordered after Bulgaria agreed to establish a fund for the families of the infected children. In December 2006, however, Dr. Hajuji and the nurses were again convicted and sentenced to death, but in July 2007 their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment after the children’s relatives agreed to accept compensation of $1 million per child. In 2007 the doctor and nurses were pardoned and released after French President Sarkozy negotiated with Col. Muammar Gaddafi . Gaddafi admitted they had suffered horrible torture in Libyan prisons.

This may be the first time another legal system has granted a civil monetary damages award to a foreigner due to violation of international human rights norms by other foreigners in a foreign country similar to the awards made by U.S. courts in civil lawsuits under the Alien Tort Statute.

In the meantime, Bulgarian prosecutors are still investigating what happened in Libya for a possible criminal prosecution of those responsible for the torture.