State Department’s Latest Report on International Religious Freedom

On June 21, 2019, the U.S. State Department released its 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom in every other country in the world in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-292). The Report’s stated focus is describing other government’s “policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world.” [1]

Here is an overview of that report and a subsequent post will discuss its report on Cuban religious freedom.

Overview

The initial draft of the report for each country is prepared by the U.S. Embassy in that country “based on information from government officials, religious groups, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, media, and others.”

That draft then is reviewed and modified by the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. based on additional information from “consultations with foreign government officials, domestic and foreign religious groups, domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations, multilateral and other international and regional organizations, journalists, academic experts, community leaders, and other relevant U.S. government institutions.”

The Department says its “guiding principle is to ensure that all relevant information is presented as objectively, thoroughly, and fairly as possible.  Motivations and accuracy of sources vary, however, and the Department of State is not in a position to verify independently all information contained in the reports.” (Emphasis in original.)

Appropriately annexed to the Report were the texts of the following documents on this subject:

  • [U.N. General Assembly]Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 18 (1948) (“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”) (App. A);
  • [U.N. General Assembly Resolution (1966)] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, App. B): Art. 18(1)(“ Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching.” Art 18(2)(“ No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.” Art. 18(3)(“ Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” Art. 20(2)(“ Any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”)
  • [U.N. General Assembly] Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief [Nov. 25, 1981](App. C)(reiteration of above Covenant with additional provisions).
  • Religious Freedom Commitments and Obligations From Regional Bodies and Instruments (European Union: Charter of Fundamental Rights; Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Helsinki Final Act; (App. D); OSCE, Vienna Concluding Document; OSCE, Copenhagen Concluding Document; African Union, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; Organization of American States (OAS), American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; OAS, American Convention on Human Rights).
  • Department of State Training Related to the International Religious Freedom Act—2018 (App. E).
  • Department of Homeland Security and the International Religious Freedom Act (App. F);
  • Overview of U.S. Refugee Policy (App. G).

“Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) & ”Special Watch List”[2]

 Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State (by presidential delegation) is required to designate as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) “each country the government of which has engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

In addition, under the Frank R. Wolf International Freedom Act of 2016, the Secretary (by presidential delegation) is required to designate a country to the Special Watch List if it does not meet “all of the CPC criteria but engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom.”

As of November 28, 2018, the Secretary designated as CPCs Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. In addition, the Secretary designated Comoros and Uzbekistan to the Special Watch List.

The just released 2018 Report apparently does not have a separate section on CPCs, but an examination of its Country Reports for those just listed as CPCs reveals that all continue in that status. In addition, Comoros and Uzbekistan continue on the Special Watch List with the addition of Russia.

 Ambassador Sam Brownback’s Role and Remarks

This report was prepared under the direction of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback,[3] with guidance from officials in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL).

At the launch of this report, Ambassador Brownback provided a Special Briefing.[4] He started with this alarming comment, “The fight against religious freedom is mounting. There was a report that 80 percent of people live in places where religious freedom is under attack, yet most of the world organizes their life around a set of religious beliefs.”

As a result, he said, the U.S. is working to “see the iron curtain of religious persecution come down; until governments no longer detain and torture people for simply being of a particular faith or associated with it; until people are no longer charged and prosecuted on specious charges of blasphemy; until the world no longer believes it can get away with persecuting anyone of any faith without consequences.”

The Ambassador then had critical comments about this freedom in Iran, China, Eritrea, Turkey and Nicaragua.

Secretary of State Pompeo’s Remarks[5]

Also at the launch of this report, Secretary of State Pompeo made remarks. He noted that Uzbekistan had made improvements and no longer was a “Country of Particular Concern.” Also complimented for specific improvements on this subject were Pakistan and Turkey. But the Secretary specifically criticized Iran, Russia, Burma and China. Finally he noted that the Department in mid-July will be hosting the second annual Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom.

Conclusion

As noted above, a future post will examine how the above background was applied to the report about Cuban religious freedom.

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[1] State Dep’t, 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom (June 21, 2019) This blog has commented on religious freedom in the “International Religious Freedom” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical (RELIGION).

[2] State Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions: IRF Report and Countries of Particular Concern (circa Nov. 28, 2018).

[3] Ambassador Brownback, a Republican, is a former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture (1986-93), U.S. Representative (1995-96), U.S. Senator (1996-2011) and Governor (2011-18). (Sam Brownback, Wikipedia.)

[4] State Dep’t, Special Briefing: Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback (June 21, 2019).

[5] State Dep’t, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo at the Release of the 2018 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (June 21, 2019)

 

 

U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns U.S. Embargo of Cuba

U.N. General Assembly Voting Results Screen
U.N. General Assembly   Voting Results Screen

On October 28, 2014, the U.N. General Assembly by a vote of 188 to 2 again condemned the U.S. embargo of Cuba. The two negative votes were cast by the U.S. and by Israel while three small Pacific nations abstained–Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. All the other U.N. members supported the resolution. [1]

 The Resolution

The resolution [A/69/L.4] reiterated the General Assembly’s “call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the preamble to the present resolution [‘the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the [U.S.] against Cuba’ and the Helms-Burton Act], in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation.”

The resolution also “again urges States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures [i.e., the U.S.] to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

Cuba’s Statement Supporting the Resolution

Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla
Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla

Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, the Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs, introducing the resolution, said that in recent times “the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the [U.S.] against Cuba had been tightened, and its extraterritorial implementation had also been strengthened through the imposition of unprecedented fines, totaling $11 billion against 38 banks . . . for carrying out transactions with Cuba and other countries.” In addition, Cuba’s “accumulated economic damages of the blockade totaled $1.1 trillion . . . [and] human damages were on the rise.”

Nevertheless, “Cuba had offered every possible form of assistance to the [U.S.] in the wake of disasters there, such as in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Cuba had never been a threat to the national security of the [U.S.].  Opinion polls showed that there was increasing support from all sectors of [U.S.] society for lifting the blockade.  Religious leaders had citied legitimate, indisputable ethical and humanitarian reasons.“

In addition, ”the blockade was harmful to . . . the [U.S.]. The ‘absurd and ridiculous’ inclusion of Cuba on the [U.S.] list of States that sponsored international terrorism redounded to the discredit of the [U.S.].  Cuba would never renounce its sovereignty or the path chosen by its people to build a more just, efficient, prosperous and sustainable socialism.”  Neither, he continued, would his Government “give up its quest for a different international order, nor cease in its struggle for ‘the equilibrium of the world.’”

Rodríguez also invited the U.S. government “to establish a mutually respectful relation, based on reciprocity. We can live and deal with each other in a civilized way, despite our differences.”

Other Countries’ Statements Supporting the Resolution [2]

The following Latin American countries voiced support for the resolution: Argentina (MERCOSUR [3]) (embargo was “morally unjustifiable” and violated “the spirit of multilateralism and was immoral, unjust and illegal”); Barbados (CARICOM [4]); Bolivia (Group of 77 [5] and China); Brazil (Group of 77 and CELAC [6]); Colombia; Costa Rica (CELAC)); Ecuador; El Salvador (Group of 77 and CARICOM); Mexico; Nicaragua; St. Vincent and the Grenadines (CARICOM, Non-Aligned Movement, [7] Group of 77 and CELAC); Uruguay; and Venezuela.

The African supporters of the resolution that spoke were Algeria (Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77, Group of African States [8] and Organization of Islamic Cooperation [9]); Angola; Kenya (Group of 77, Non-Aligned Movement and African Group); Malawi (African Group); South Africa (Group of 77, Non-Aligned Movement and African Group); Sudan (Group of 77, Non-Aligned Movement and Organization of Islamic Cooperation); United Republic of Tanzania; Zambia (Non-Aligned Movement) and Zimbabwe (Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77 and African Group).

From Asia and the Pacific were Belarus; China (Group of 77); Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea); Indonesia (Group of 77);  India (Group of 77 and Non-Aligned Movement); Iran (Non-Aligned Movement); Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Myanmar (Group of 77 and Non-Aligned Movement); Russian Federation; Solomon Islands; and Viet Nam (Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77 and China).

Middle Eastern countries speaking in favor of the resolution were Egypt, Saudi Arabia (Organization of Islamic Cooperation); and Syria (Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77 and China).

The sole European supporter of the resolution that spoke at the session was Italy (European Union [10]), which said the U.S.’ “extraterritorial legislation and unilateral administrative and judicial measures were negatively affecting European Union interests”).

U.S. Statement Opposing the Resolution

Although Israel voted against the resolution, it chose not to speak in support of its vote. Only the U.S. by Ambassador Ronald D. Godard, U.S. Senior Advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs, tried to justify the negative vote.

Ronald D. Godard
Ronald D. Godard

Ambassador Godard said the U.S. “conducts its economic relationships with other countries in accordance with its national interests and its principles. Our sanctions toward Cuba are part of our overall effort to help the Cuban people freely exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, and determine their own future, consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the democratic principles to which the United Nations itself is committed.”

Ambassador Godard also said, “the Cuban government uses this annual resolution in an attempt to shift blame for the island’s economic problems away from its own policy failures. The Cuban government now publicly recognizes that its economic woes are caused by the economic policies it has pursued for the last, past half-century. We note and welcome recent changes that reflect this acknowledgement, such as those that allow greater self-employment and liberalization of the real estate market. But the Cuban economy will not thrive until the Cuban government permits a free and fair labor market, fully empowers Cuban independent entrepreneurs, respects intellectual property rights, allows unfettered access to information via the Internet, opens its state monopolies to private competition and adopts the sound macro-economic policies that have contributed to the success of Cuba’s neighbors in Latin America.”

According to Ambassador Godard, the U.S. “remains a deep and abiding friend of the Cuban people. The Cuban people continue to receive as much as $2 billion per year in remittances and other private contributions from the [U.S.]. This support . . . was made possible . . . by U.S. policy choices. By the Cuban government’s own account, the [U.S.] is one of Cuba’s principal trading partners. In 2013, the [U.S.] exported approximately $359 million in agricultural products, medical devices, medicine and humanitarian items to Cuba. Far from restricting aid to the Cuban people, we are proud that the people of the [U.S.] and its companies are among the leading providers of humanitarian assistance to Cuba. All of this trade and assistance is conducted in conformity with our sanctions program, which is carefully calibrated to allow and encourage the provision of support to the Cuban people.”

Furthermore, the U.S. “places the highest priority on building and strengthening connections between the Cuban people and [our] people. U.S. travel, remittance, information exchange, humanitarian and people-to-people policies updated in 2009 and 2011 provide the Cuban people alternative sources of information, help them take advantage of limited opportunities for self-employment and private property and strengthen independent civil society. The hundreds of thousands of Americans who have sent remittances and traveled to the island, under categories of purposeful travel promoted by President Obama, remain the best ambassadors for our democratic ideals.”

Ambassador Godard continued, “[The U.S.] strongly supports the Cuban people’s desire to determine their own future, through the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. The right to receive and impart information and ideas through any media is set forth in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the Cuban government’s policies that continue to prevent enjoyment of this right. The Cuban government now claims to share our goal of helping the Cuban people access the Internet. Yet the Cuban government has failed to offer widespread access to the Internet through its high-speed cable with Venezuela.  Instead, it continues to impose barriers to information for the Cuban people while disingenuously blaming U.S. policy.”

“Moreover, the Cuban government continues to detain Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for facilitating Internet access for Cuba’s small Jewish community. [[11]] The [U.S.] calls on Cuba to release Mr. Gross immediately, [[12]] allow unrestricted access to the Internet, and tear down the digital wall of censorship it has erected around the Cuban people.

 {T]his resolution only serves to distract from the real problems facing the Cuban people. . . . Though Cuba’s contributions to the fight against Ebola are laudable, they do not excuse or diminish the regime’s treatment of its own people. We encourage this world body to support the desires of the Cuban people to choose their own future. By doing so, it would truly advance the principles the United Nations Charter was founded upon, and the purposes for which the United Nations was created.”

Media Coverage of the Resolution and Debate

 U.S. media coverage of this important U.N. vote was almost non-existent. It was not mentioned in the “World” or “Americas” news sections of the New York Times, and only its “Opinion” section had a short article about the issue. It got no mention whatsoever in the Wall Street Journal. Not even the Miami Herald, which has a separate page for Cuba news, mentioned it. [13]

At 2:37 p.m. on October 28th the Associated Press published a release on the subject, and the Washington Post published it online while the StarTribune of Minneapolis/St. Paul picked it up the next day in its online, but not its print, edition.

Cuba’s state-owned newspaper, Granma, of course, headlined this vote while stating that the embargo has caused $1.1 trillion of damage to the Cuban economy and “incalculable human suffering.” Its article also emphasized that this was the 23rd consecutive such resolution with a table showing that the number of votes in favor of the resolutions has increased from 59 in 1992 to 188 in 2012-2014, that the largest number of votes against the resolutions was only 4 in 1993 and 2004-2007 and that the number of abstentions has decreased from 71 in 1992 to 1 in 2005-2007 and now 3 since 2010.

Conclusion

This overwhelming international opposition to the U.S. embargo in and of itself should be enough to cause the U.S. to end the embargo. Moreover, the embargo has not forced Cuba to come begging to the U.S. for anything that the U.S. wants. The U.S. policy is a failure. The New York Times recently called for abandonment of this policy as has this blog in urging reconciliation of the two countries, in an open letter to President Obama and in a rebuttal of the President’s asserted rationale for the embargo and other anti-Cuban policies.

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[1] This post is based upon the sources embedded above and upon U.N. General Assembly Press Release [GA/11574], As General Assembly Demands End to Cuba Blockade for Twenty-Thjrd Consecutive Year, Country’s Foreign Minister Cites Losses Exceeding $1 Trillion (Oct. 28, 2014); Londoño, On Cuban Embargo, It’s the U.S. and Israel Against the World, Again, N.Y. Times (Oct. 29, 2014); Associated Press, UN General Assembly Condemns US Cuba Embargo (Oct. 28, 2014); U.S. Dep’t of State, Explanation of Vote by Ambassador Ronald D. Godard on the Cuba Resolution in the General Assembly Hall (Oct. 28, 2014). The General Assembly also has videos of the debate (A and B). A prior post reviewed the 2011 General Assembly’s adoption of a similar resolution against the embargo.

[2] Many of the cited statements supporting the resolution were issued on behalf of, or aligned with, larger groups of nations as noted above. In addition, prior to the October 28th session of the General Assembly, the U.N. Secretary General submitted a report containing statements against the embargo from 154 states and 27 U.N. agencies.

[3] MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market) is a customs union and trading bloc of five South American countries with five other associate members in the continent.

[4] CARICOM (Caribbean Community) is a group of 15 Caribbean countries with five associate members for economic cooperation.

[5] The Group of 77 was established in 1964 by 77 developing countries to promote their collective economic interests and South-South cooperation; now there are 134 members that have retained the original name for historical significance.

[6] CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) is a group of 33 states in the region to deepen economic integration and combat the influence of the U.S.

[7] The Non-Aligned Movement is a group of 115 developing countries that are not aligned with or against any major power bloc. Its current focus is advocacy of solutions to global economic and other problems

[8] The African Group is a group of 54 African states that are U.N. Members.

[9] The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is a group of 57 states that seek to protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting peace and harmony in the world.

[10] The European Union is a group of 28 European states that have combined for a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe.

[11] The activities in Cuba by Mr. Gross are not so simple. A Cuban court in 2011 found him guilty of participating in a “subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the revolution through the use of communications systems out of the control of authorities,” and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. According to his own lawsuit against the U.S. Government, and subsequent disclosures, Gross alleged the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its contractor, DAI, sent him on five semi-covert trips to Cuba without proper training, protection or even a clear sense of the Cuban laws that led to his detainment. The case highlighted the frequent haste and lack of attention to the risks of the USAID programs in Cuba under the Helms-Burton Act, which allowed for money to be set aside for “democracy building efforts” that might hasten the fall of Fidel and Raúl Castro.

[12] In discussions with the U.S., Cuba already has expressed a willingness to exchange Mr. Gross for one or more of the three of “the Cuban Five” who remain in U.S. prisons.

[13] Nor did I find any mention of the vote in London’s Guardian or Madrid’s El Pais.