U.S. Hosts Meeting of Warsaw Process Human Rights Working Group

On October 10-11, the U.S. hosted a meeting of the Warsaw Process Human Rights Working Group that was attended by 47 delegations from around the world. Its focus was “Women, Peace, and Security, with the aim of supporting ongoing regional and national efforts to promote the meaningful participation of women in all phases of conflict prevention, resolution and recovery.” [1]

This Process “was launched by the United States and Poland in February [2019] following the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East. [2]  The initiative, which consists of seven expert-level working groups, is promoting stability in the Middle East through meaningful multilateralism that fosters deeper regional and global collaboration.  The next working group will focus on Maritime and Aviation Security and will meet October 21-22 in Manama, Bahrain.”

The Working Group’s Summary Statement of This Meeting

 “Armed conflicts in the Middle East have affected more than 47 million people and resulted in the forced displacement of over 17 million in recent years. Women and girls have been disproportionately affected by armed conflict, emerging as heads of household in displacement; confined in homes by bombs, checkpoints and militias; victimized and targeted by terrorist groups; and deprived of their rights and freedoms. Proponents of some radical ideologies seek to undermine women’s human rights. Women have also emerged in many cases as pragmatic leaders who confront challenging situations in areas of the region to advance peace and security, often at great risk to their personal safety. National, regional, and international efforts aimed at increasing women’s role and participation in promoting comprehensive regional peace and security must be consistent with the UN Charter, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law, as applicable.”

“The Warsaw Process Working Group on Human Rights discussed advancing women’s ability to participate equally with men in the conduct of public affairs, which they should enjoy free from violence or intimidation, and restoring women’s freedom of movement, association and expression, which have been curtailed by armed conflict. To this end, the working group discussed an increased role for women in preventing and sustainably resolving armed conflicts, mitigating the lasting effects of war, and reinforcing peace and security in the region. Delegations also discussed the role state and non-state actors in the region play in contributing to armed conflicts that disproportionally impact the lives and livelihoods of women and children.”

“Despite positive steps taken in the region, women leaders from the Middle East are underrepresented in power centers where decisions are made about their nations’ and communities’ futures. At the working group, delegations discussed the barriers to women’s meaningful participation, including underrepresentation in political leadership, pervasive gender-based violence, persistent inequality in public and private life, and hard economic and social conditions. The working group emphasized that a country’s path from insecurity and armed conflict to peace and development requires the full participation of all members of its society. It further emphasized that promoting half the population’s meaningful inclusion and participation across efforts to restore security, promote human rights and democracy, and support economic development is not simply a women’s issue, it is a national security issue and vital for human progress, which should be dealt with in full respect for the principles of the UN Charter and in consideration of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

 “The Working Group on Human Rights aims to support ongoing regional and national efforts to promote the meaningful participation of women in all phases of conflict prevention, resolution and recovery as essential to achieving long-term peace and stability. Evidence indicates women’s meaningful participation in conflict prevention and resolution advances security interests. Yet peace initiatives are still too often negotiated only between small numbers of men.”

“In the nearly two decades since UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was issued by the UN Security Council, there have been concerted efforts by women leaders, often with support from the international community, to participate in some aspects of peace processes and lead grassroots conflict resolution efforts in some of the most complex conflicts. While such efforts are sorely needed, they often fall short of their intended objectives. Too often women participants, whether government officials or civil society experts, are routinely marginalized, disregarded and uninvited to conversations that matter; and when they are present, they are far outnumbered by their male colleagues.”

“It is our collective responsibility – and in our collective interest – to improve outreach, consultation and inclusion of capable women leaders in decisions that determine their futures. The working group discussed ways of ensuring that women’s participation is both consistent and meaningful, not only from a human rights standpoint but also from a practical one, because when women play an influential role in peace processes, peace agreements are more likely to last.”

“As such, delegations to the Warsaw Process Working Group on Human Rights discussed how to advance the following actions individually and collectively throughout the region and committed to continuing collaborative efforts in the context of the working group process:

  • Concretize the commitment to Women, Peace and Security by encouraging and providing support upon the request of states in drafting, implementing and adequately resourcing National Action Plans (NAPs) in consultation with women civil society leaders and taking into consideration a holistic approach. Those who have not yet taken initial steps are encouraged to work in earnest to finalize their NAP. Member governments with existing NAPs are encouraged to take the critical step of allocating budget resources to help galvanize political will to operationalize existing plans for maximum peace and security outcomes.
  • Prioritize exchange of intra-regional technical expertise on good practices while collectively identifying and addressing barriers – logistical, social and institutional – that prevent qualified women from exerting greater presence and influence on formal peace processes.
  • Promote the recruitment of and equal opportunities for qualified women in decision-making roles within key security and political institutions related to peacekeeping, conflict resolution, and post-conflict recovery and reconciliation, while identifying the best practices of relevant international and regional arrangements, and actively mitigating societal barriers that entrench institutional patterns of gender inequality.
  • Encourage wider outreach and consultation with a range of women-led civil society groups active in conflict-affected areas in the Middle East to proactively build relationships that can yield greater access to peace processes for capable women leaders and elicit technical and qualitative expertise to inform donor and host country policies as they seek to prevent, mitigate and resolve regional conflicts.”

Comments

 All of these words sound great. But we will have to wait to see if they have any real-world impact. The prospects for such impact seem remote after the U.S. abandoned its Kurd allies in the fight against ISIS and allowed Turkey to launch military action into Syria.

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[1] State Dep’t, Warsaw Process Working Group on Human Rights Convenes in Washington, D.C. (Oct. 11, 2019).

[2] According to the State Department, the Key Takeaways of this Ministerial were the following: (a) “This Ministerial was an opportunity for countries to share their perspectives both from within and outside the region. This included a conversation on current regional crises as well as international efforts to address them. During the Ministerial, participants also discussed the following topics: regional crises and their effects on civilians in the Middle East; missile development and proliferation; cyber security and emerging threats to the energy sector and countering extremism and illicit finance.” (b) “Countries came together to promote these regional challenges, share information, and discuss how we can cooperatae more effectively to address them.” (c ) A press conference summarized the event’s discussion and presented a joint statement by its co-chairs, the U.S. and Poland. See State Dep’t, KEY TAKEAWAYS: The Ministerial To Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East (Feb. 14, 2019); State Dep’t, Co-Chairs’ Joint Statement on the Ministerial To Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East (Feb. 14, 2019); State Dep’t, Details on the “Ministerial To Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” (Jan. 25, 2019); State Dep’t, Joint Statement [U.S. and Poland] on the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East (Jan. 11, 2019); State Dep’t, FACT SHEET: The Ministerial To Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East (Feb. 13, 2019); State Dep’t, KEY TAKEAWAYS: The Ministerial To Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East (Feb. 13, 2019).

 

U.S. Expels Two Cuban Diplomats at U.N. 

On September 19, the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. had expelled two unnamed Cuban diplomats at the U.N. in New York City “for abusing their privileges of residence. This is due to their attempts to conduct influence operations against the United States.”[1]

In addition, the Department stated, “travel within the United States by all members of Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations will now essentially be restricted to the island of Manhattan.”

The U.S. takes “any and all attempts against the National Security of the United States seriously, and will continue to investigate any additional personnel who may be manipulating their privileges of residence.”

Cuban Reaction[2]

Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez responded on Twitter. He said, “The expulsion of two diplomats from the #Cuba Mission in the [U.N.] and the greater restriction of movement to the rest are aimed at provoking a diplomatic escalation leading to the closure of bilateral embassies, further tightening the blockade and creating tensions between both countries.”

In addition, Rodriguez said,”I categorically reject the unjustified expulsion of the two officials of the Permanent Mission of #Cuba at the UN and the tightening of movement restriction to diplomats and families. It is vulgar slander to accuse that they performed acts incompatible with diplomatic status.”

The deputy director of the MINREX, Johana Tablada de la Torre, also objected. He said the U.S. “did the same in 2003 behind this measure. It is also expected to coincide with the imminent announcement of the new #Cuba report on the #Blocking [U.S. embargo] to the UN Secretary General, a new distraction from the growing international questioning of political cruelty #EstadosUnidos.”

Cuba Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas, tweeted about the expulsion on Thursday. “Timing is everything. This is happening a few hours before the arrival in New York of the #Cuba delegation attending . . . [U.N. General Assembly] and the very same day a new investigation (Canadian) rejects previous theories (American) about ‘attacks’ on foreign diplomats in Havana.”

The Cuba Mission to the U.N. issued a statement that on September 12, the U.S. advised the mission of accusations against the two diplomats and demanded Cuba’s response within 48 hours. Cuba did just that.” However, “the US side, in flagrant violation of basic principles of the diplomatic protocol, decided to respond through a tweet. This, despite the fact that the channel of consultations between the two missions was open from the beginning of the process.”

Upon the two diplomats return to Havana on September 20, Foreign Minister Rodriguez at a press conference did not respond to a journalist’s question of whether Cuba would expel two U.S. diplomats under the principle of reciprocity. Instead Rodriguez said, “Cuba will give appropriate and timely response to these actions of the United States Government and we call on the international community, in particular the diplomatic community accredited to the UN and the people of the United States to repudiate these actions aimed at damaging the relationship with Cuba.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Required Departure of Cuban Diplomats from Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations (Sept. 19, 2019); Assoc. Press, Cuba: Diplomat Expulsions, Gas Crisis Part of US Offensive, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2019).

[2] Gaouette & Hansler, US expels two Cuban diplomats to the UN citing national security, CNN (Sepet. 19, 2019); Officials expelled from UN mission arrive in Cuba, Cubadebate (Sept. 20, 2019); These are the two Cuban diplomats expelled by the US, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 21, 2019); Reactionary anti-Cubans: The regime blames its ‘usual suspects’ after the expulsion of its diplomats in the US, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 21, 2019).

 

 

 

 

Examination of the Actions of EchoCuba (a U.S. Nonprofit)

The Evangelical Christian Humanitarian Outreach for Cuba (ECHO Cuba), a U.S. nonprofit organization, has emerged as one that calls for close examination by U.S. citizens interested in U.S.-Cuba normalization and reconciliation. EchoCuba is active in Cuba, including successful public opposition to a provision of the then proposed new Cuban constitution and commenting on other controversial Cuban issues. It has received significant financial support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Finally EchoCuba has been used by the State Department as one of only two primary sources for the department’s most recent (and critical) annual report on Cuban religious freedom. These activities have not yet received the serious attention that they deserve. This blog post endeavors to start that examination.

ECHOCuba’s Background [1]

The organization was founded in 1994 by Cuban-American Teo Babún. Soon thereafter it was denounced in the Cuban TV news series “Razones de Cuba” for promoting subversion on the island, with funding from the U.S. government, by publishing counterrevolutionary blogs and printed propaganda and by hosting public events.

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, has reported that Senor Babún and his family before the triumph of the Revolution “owned the second largest sugarmill in the eastern part of [Cuba]; the Diamante construction company; a cement factory; the Sevilla estate; and the Santiago de Cuba ship line.” After 1959, however, he and his family left the island for Miami, where he made connections with the “annexionist” mafia [Cuban exiles], supported the U.S.-organized mercenary invasion of Play Girón [Bay of Pigs in 1961] and a subsequent terrorist attack on the coastal town of Boca de Samá in 1971.

A noted Cuban intellectual and historian, Nestor Garcia Iturbe, added that Senor Babún is (or was) the executive director of Americas Humanitarian Relief Logistics Team, Inc. (ART) , which says that it “provides aid to hurting people in the Americas” and “disaster response assistance throughout the Americas” as well as partnering with the U.S. Navy’s Southern Command and with “USAID and UN/OCHA through the U.N. Humanitarian System.” Indeed, Garcia says this organization also is a recipient of USAID fund. Another organization created by Babún was the Claims Register Assistance to aid persons who wanted to file claims in the 1960s with the U.S. Department of Justice for their Cuban properties that had been expropriated by the Fidel Castro regime.

The current website for EchoCuba states that its mission is “to equip and strengthen the independent evangelical churches of Cuba through theological education and leadership training of their existing and future pastors. . . . Since the early 1990s, . . . [it] has existed to advocate faith and freedoms in Cuba through a vast network of mostly . . . Protestant and Roman Catholic churches who have promoted Christian education, humanitarian aid, and small business initiatives.”

EchoCuba says in 2002 it “cooperated with different foundations and organizations  in distributing humanitarian assistance and training manuals on carrying out social and human services, such as caring for the elderly, disabled, and malnourished children. It also has aided in reaching out to the most marginalized pockets of Cuba’s populations, including the families of those persecuted by the communist regime for their beliefs and ideals.”

“Today [date not specified] we embark on a new chapter . . . [to focus on] the development of effective Christian leadership to promote Biblical truth while transforming communities. . . [and empowering] the in We collaborate with local leaders, seminaries and communities in the island to bring the Gospel to the masses.”

Yet another of its activities is “faith-based advocacy.” It correctly notes that Cuba was an “atheist state” and that during that period Christians suffered. It also claims that freedom of religion today on the island is “not fully available, and persecution of those who publicly profess a creed exists today.” [This statement is true for the period 1959-1992], but misleading on the years since then.]

EchoCuba also participates in the First Frontier Cuba Network, which “serves as a convening platform, which stewards and directs the investment of North American resources, time, energy and manpower wisely to directly respond to the continuing needs of the Cuban Church. [This Network] has been created to provide consultation and leadership to catalyze the right kind of change in Cuba, without harm, confusion, and fragmentation; and to be the voice of Cuban missiology that guides ministry action towards long-term and productive change for the Kingdom of God.”

The final activity listed on its website is “fighting Biblical poverty.” It claims in the last two decades, “Christianity has grown in Cuba in an unprecedented rate. With a population of 11 million, and only 10%-20% of that population being active Christians, the demand for Bibles is unlike any other point in history. For most Christians in Cuba, they feel isolated from the world. The government and its last of freedom restrict the ability of Christians to access the outside world through literature, internet, television even the distribution of Christian material including the Sword of God [the Bible]. In Cuba there are no places to buy or print Bibles on the island. However God always opens doors. Recently, easing of tensions between the United States and Cuba [with President Obama’s December 2014 opening to Cuba] after fifty years offers an unprecedented opportunity for the Church to receive bibles from international organizations like EchoCuba. Now, you can help Cubans discover the life and love of Jesus found in God’s Word. EchoCuba has vowed to bring the Gospel any way it can to God’s faithful servants in Cuba.”

The website also claims that “Churches in Cuba are not legally allowed to be constructed, [thereby forcing] God’s people . . . to operate through house churches, which hold no legal recognition from the government. Cuba has over 25,000 house churches on the island. The average house church holds an average of 20 to 40 members, on average only 5-10 bibles are available for the entire congregation. We believe that by providing Church leaders and seminarians with Bible and Scripture resources, even more people will experience the transformative power of God’s love for all of us. Our 2015 goal is to provide 5,000 bibles to Churches in Cuba.”

EchoCuba also is a member, since November 2007, of EFCA, which “provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability.”

EchoCuba’s Financial Support by USAID [2]

Although it is not mentioned on EchoCuba’s website, USAID, for fiscal 2009-2017, paid $2,302,464 to EchoCuba. Of this total, $1,033,582 was “for a three-year program entitled ‘Empowering Civil Society by Strengthening Economic Independence.’” Another $1,179,066 was for the Cuba Humanitarian Support Network, which was “aimed at providing “humanitarian aid to Cuba’s vulnerable religious leaders” and creating a “humanitarian network for the sustainable delivery of essential food and health supplies to marginalized Cubans and their family members.” In addition, EchoCuba to date has received at least $1,003,674 from USAID during the Trump presidency.

ECHOCuba’s Recent Activities in Cuba [3]

In late 2018, some Cuban evangelical churches, encouraged by EchoCuba and other U.S. conservative evangelical churches and organizations, registered strong objections to a provision of the proposed new Cuban Constitution that would have legalized same-sex marriage. According to Andrew Chestnut, Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, ““Both the moral and financial support of U.S. Evangelical denominations and agencies has been crucial to backing Cuban Evangelicals in their campaign to oppose gay marriage on the island.”

In response, in December 2018, the Cuban government withdrew that provision before the new constitution was approved in a national referendum.

This year, Cuban evangelical churches and groups, with the support of similar groups in the U.S., objected to Cuba’s version of a gay pride parade in May, resulting in its cancelation by the organizers of the event.

In July 2019, EchoCuba was involved in the creation of the Evangelical Alliance of Cuban Churches  as separate from the longstanding Cuban Council of Churches (CIC) on the ground that the latter did not represent their beliefs, including opposition to same-sex marriage. According to Elaine Saralegui Caraballo, a lesbian pastor and founder of a Cuban division of the Metropolitan Community Church, said, “The creation of this Alliance fosters a space of unity, from which the whole economic, spiritual, religious, and political force of the Christian fundamentalist churches will be deployed” and that the Alliance’s goal was to promote “Christian supremacy” with the guidance of the U.S. far right, in a similar manner as has occurred in other Latin American countries.”

EchoCuba as Source for State Department on Cuban Religious Freedom [4]

The latest State Department’s report on international religious freedom that was released in June 2019 contained many adverse allegations about that freedom in Cuba with only two principal stated sources, one of which was EchoCuba (without any disclosure about its funding by USAID).

That report contained the following statements about the evangelical or apostolic churches:

  • “There are approximately 4,000 followers of 50 Apostolic churches (an unregistered loosely affiliated network of Protestant churches, also known as the Apostolic Movement) and a separate New Apostolic Church associated with the New Apostolic Church International.  According to some Christian leaders, there is a marked growth of evangelical Protestant groups in the country.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the ORA [Communist Party’s’ Office of Religious Affairs] approved some registration applications, but it took as many as two to three years from the date of the application.  Other applications received no response or were denied without explanation, while some groups continued to wait for up to 25 years for a response.  EchoCuba said Apostolic churches repeatedly had their attempts to register denied, forcing these churches to operate without legal status.”
  • “In October leaders of Apostolic churches including Bernardo de Quesada, Alain Toledanos, and Marco Antonio Perdomo, issued an official statement on behalf of non-registered groups, which they said are ‘in practice discriminated against,’ urging the government to establish a new statute formally defining and granting the right to, and laying out procedures for, legal registration of religious organizations by the MOJ [Ministry of Justice].  The ORA and the MOJ did not announce any progress on revising the law on associations, announced in August 2017.”
  • “In March the New Apostolic Church, not affiliated with the many loosely affiliated Apostolic churches, registered with the MOJ.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the government continued to apply its system of rewarding churches that were obedient and sympathetic to “revolutionary values and ideals” and penalizing those that were not.  Similarly, the government continued to reward religious leaders who were cooperative with the government and threatened revocation of those rights for noncooperative religious leaders.  EchoCuba reported that, in exchange for their cooperation with the government, CCC members continued to receive benefits other non-member churches did not always receive, including building permits, international donations of clothing and medicine, and exit visas for pastors to travel abroad.  EchoCuba said individual churches and denominations or religious groups also experienced different levels of consideration by the government depending on the leadership of those groups and their relationship with the government.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the government continued to single out religious groups critical of the government, such as the unregistered Apostolic Movement, for particularly severe persecution, destroying their churches, confiscating properties, and banning travel of their pastors.  In contrast, the government allowed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also unregistered, to operate with little intervention because the Church continued to maintain a close relationship with the government and did not question the country’s laws.  Some religious leaders said the government continued to grant permits to buy properties for use as house churches, including in some cases when the titleholder to the property did not plan to live there.  Other religious groups said securing permission for the purchase or construction of new buildings remained difficult, if not impossible.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, government agencies regularly refused to recognize a change in residence for pastors and other church leaders assigned to a new church or parish.  A decree continued to place restrictions on internal movement and migration, making it difficult, if not impossible, for pastors and their families to register their new place of residence if they transferred to a church that lost its pastor due to death or retirement.  To engage with even the smallest of bureaucratic details, pastors refused the right to reregister needed to travel to wherever they were officially registered and submit the paperwork there.  Legal restrictions on travel within the country also limited itinerant ministry, a central component of some religious groups.  According to EchoCuba, the application of the decree to religious groups was likely part of the general pattern of government efforts to control their activities.  Some religious leaders said the decree was also used to block church leaders from travelling within the country to attend special events or meetings.  Church leaders associated with the Apostolic churches regularly reported they were prevented, sometimes through short-term detention, from travelling to attend church events or carry out ministry work.”

As pointed out in a prior post, this State Department report made only the following reference to the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC): ““Embassy officials met with the head of the Council of Cuban Churches, a government-registered organization with close ties to the government composed mostly of Protestant groups and associated with the World Council of Churches, to discuss its operations and programs.” (Exec. Summary.)

Criticism of U.S. Report on Cuban Religious Freedom [5]

This report’s ever so brief reference to the CIC, in this blogger’s judgment, is a major flaw in the U.S. report as the CIC was founded in 1941 and describes itself as “an ecumenical fellowship of churches and other Cuban Christian institutions, which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior, in accordance with the Scriptures and seek to realize their common vocation for the Glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The CIC promotes spaces for encounter, celebration, reflection, formation and joint actions of the churches and other Christian institutions, for the service to our people, as a visible expression of the ecumenism to which we are called by God in Jesus Christ.” Today the CIC’s membership includes 28 denominations, 10 fraternal associations and 14 ecumenical movements and centers.

Relevant here is CIC’s statement (on or about July 17, 2019) in response to the announced intent to create the previously mentioned Evangelical Alliance if Cuban Churches. “We want to reiterate to our people and their churches that the . . . [CIC], as it affirms in its Constitution, works under its motto ‘United to Serve‘ which states:

  • ‘We are a fellowship of churches, ecumenical movements and other Christian institutions that confess the Lord Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior, according to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and seek to realize their common vocation, the glory of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’
  • ‘Our mission is to provide spaces for meeting, celebration, reflection and formation of churches, ecumenical movements and other Christian institutions, as a visible expression of the unity to which God calls us in Jesus Christ, in the service of our people.’
  • ‘Encouraging the study, consultation and different areas of service in accordance with its purposes and functions; the cooperation of Christians in order to strengthen fraternal relations; enrich Christian life and witness; develop a sense of social responsibility and encourage participation in tasks of common interest for the evangelizing mission of the Church.’
  • ‘The Council, without authority over its members to determine issues of doctrine, government or worship, could be a mediating instance, provided that peace and goodness of the Body of Christ is sought, based on the best testimony to the world: the unity of the believers.’

Therefore, the CIC statement continued, “It is not for the [CIC], to rule on doctrinal issues that have been put on the public stage, nor to represent on this or any other issue, before the Cuban people and its authorities, the churches and organizations , members or not.” It then added the following:

  • “In Cuba all denominations enjoy religious freedom and are equal before the law, therefore each church or religious organization establishes the relations it deems with the authorities, and gives testimony before them and the Cuban people as understood from their understanding of the Faith.” (Emphasis added.)
  • “The Council of Churches, in adherence to the values ​​that its Constitution proclaims and in its vocation of service, has carried out mediating efforts since its foundation. And it has done so by sovereign decision of its members, from its governing bodies, without supplanting it, any rights of others.”
  • “On the contrary, in most cases, these efforts have benefited not only the churches and member organizations of the CIC, and in some, all the religious denominations and their practitioners on the island. Suffice it to mention the import and distribution of Bibles, and in the early 90s, their decisive contribution in the cessation of all forms of religious discrimination in Cuba.”
  • “God calls for unity in Christ our Lord, to serve and bear witness to the Gospel. Since its foundation 78 years ago, the . . . [CIC] has shown its fidelity to this call. Our fidelity is only to Jesus Christ, our Lord. There is no other Lord, neither here in our beloved Homeland, nor outside it, to which we MUST serve and adore.”
  • “The . . . [CIC] reaffirms its commitment to continue working for the unity of the churches. Serving the people and the nation, seeking together and together the paths of peace, faith and hope, the dignity of the people and the care of Creation, that help us to build and live the signs of the Kingdom of God: equality and love for all and all in the midst of our beloved country.”

Personal Testimony [6]

As a member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, which for the last 17 years has had a partnership with a sister church in Cuba, I have been on three mission trips to the island to visit our partner and other churches and the office of the CIC. I also have welcomed Cuban visitors to our church in Minneapolis, have discussed other members’ trips to the island, have read widely about many aspects of Cuban-U.S. history and have written many blog posts criticizing hostile U.S. policies and actions against Cuba and encouraging reconciliation and normalization of relations. As a result I now have many Cuban-Presbyterian friends and can testify that these churches and members as well as the CIC enjoy many aspects of religious freedom and embrace a warm and loving Christian faith.

Therefore, it is totally illegitimate for the State Department virtually to ignore the faith and work of these churches and members and of the CIC. It also is illegitimate for the Department and others in the U.S. government implicitly to assume that some U.S. notions of religious freedom should apply to Cuba without considering the vast differences in economic circumstances. This especially is true with respect to building new church buildings. Like the U.S., construction permits are needed in Cuba for new buildings, religious and otherwise. That does not make such construction illegal, as is claimed in the previously mentioned State Department report. Moreover, the granting of such permits in Cuba is inhibited by limitations on the island’s financial resources.

Although I did not visit Cuba during the period of its close relationship with the Soviet Union, until 1992, it is true that Christians and other religious people were discriminated against. However, Cuba did not assassinate or disappear religious opponents of the regime as was done by the right-wing government of El Salvador in the 1980’s. On one of my trips to our partner church on the island, one of the members told me that she had not been brave enough to have been a Christian during those prior years. Another member told me that he had been in seminary with the pastor of our partner, but he had left the Cuban church in order to become a public school teacher. Now that he was retired, he again freely could attend church.

After the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba adopted a more conciliatory position towards religion and lessened its promotion of atheism. In November 1991 the Communist Party began to allow believers into its ranks, and in July 1992, the constitution was amended to remove the definition of Cuba as being a state based on Marxism–Leninism, and article 42 was added, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of religious belief. Another important change after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the increased acceptance of religion in Cuba, several Protestant pastors became members of the National Assembly, two of whom I have met: Rev. Sergio Arce, a Presbyterian-Reformed pastor, and Rev. Raúl Suarez, a Baptist pastor.[ii]

In 2004 the first Greek Orthodox Cathedral opened in Havana; shortly thereafter I visited the island and saw flags welcoming Greek Orthodox Archbishop Bartholomew to the city while my Presbyterian delegation delivered an icon to the new Cathedral from a Minneapolis’ Greek Orthodox Church. Four years later, in 2008, the first Russian Orthodox Church was opened in Havana during an official ceremony attended by then President Raúl Castro. Three Popes have visited the island: Pope John Paul II (1998), Pope Benedict XVI (2012) and Pope Francis (2015).[iii]

Nevertheless, it must be noted that upon the recent appointment of Monsignor Juan de la Caridad as the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Havana, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba lamented that the Catholic Church on the island does not have schools, universities, newspapers, radio stations or welfare centers while less than 3% of the population attends Sunday Mass even though at least half confess being of that faith.[iv]

The recent State Department report on Cuban religious freedom also blindly accepts assertions by EchoCuba and Christian Solidarity Worldwide about alleged Cuban discrimination and persecution of various evangelical churches, especially when at least EchoCuba receives USAID funds. The U.S. government should not forget or ignore that the State Department and USAID over the years have helped finance so-called U.S. “democracy promotion” efforts on the island that in reality were efforts at “regime change.” As a result, it is reasonable for Cuba to exercise close surveillance of the activities of such organizations.

Conclusion [7]

As someone who strives to follow Jesus as a member of a Presbyterian Church, I am glad to see the U.S. emphasizing the importance of religious freedom around the world. However, given the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election and the support for Trump in the last election by many U.S. evangelical leaders and groups, one has to wonder whether current U.S. hostility towards Cuba and the Trump Administration programs like the new U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and the first two of promised annual Ministerials on International Religious Freedom are really designed to solidify that U.S. domestic political support for the re-election of Donald Trump.

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[1] EchoCuba; Castro Morales, Who is Teo Babún and why is he going after Cuba? Granma (Feb. 21, 2019); Sanchez, The ‘charity’ made in Miami and the strange faith of ECHOCuba, The Insomniac Pupil (April 18, 2011).

[2] Eaton, God, USAID and Cuba, Cuba Money Project (Nov. 20, 2018); Eaton, Cuba spending under Trump, Cuba Money Project (June 17, 2019); Eaton, Lawmakers want $20 million for Cuba projects in 2020, Cuba Money Project (June 21, 2019;); AmericasReliefTeam, Cuban Humanitarian Support Network. The Cuba Money Project is a U.S. “journalism initiative aimed at reporting stories about U.S. government programs and projects related to Cuba” that is operated by Tracey Eaton, a journalist and former Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

[3] Bodenheimer, How American Evangelicals Helped Stop Same-Sex Marriage in Cuba, VICE (April 20, 2019)

[4] State Dep’t, 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom: Cuba (June 21, 2019); State Department’s Latest Report on International Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (June 25, 2019); U.S. State Department Unfairly Criticizes Cuban Religious Freedom, dwkcommenaries.com (July 18, 2019).

[5] Background on the Cuban Council of Churches; World Council of Churches, Cuban Council of Churches; Joint Statement of the Cuban Council of Churches and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (Apr. 25, 2019); Larkman, Cuba contingent hopes to further partnership between U.S., Cuban churches (Nov. 13, 2017); Reformed Presbyterian Church in Cuba, Wikipedia

[6] E.g., Praise God for Leading U.S. and Cuba to Reconciliation, dwkcommentareis.com (Dec. 22, 2014); The Cuban Revolution and Religion, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 30, 2011); posts listed in the “Pope Francis Visits to Cuba & U.S., 2015” section of List of Post to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA; Bishops lament that the Catholic church lacks a ‘massive social presence in Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (Sept. 3, 2019).

[7] See posts  to dwkcommentaries about the Commission on Unalienable Rights; U.S. State Department’s First Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom, dwkcommentries.com  (July 7, 2019); U.S. State Department’s Second Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom , dwkcommentaries.com(July 21, 2019); Realpolitik Analysis of U.S. Ministerial To Advance Religious Liberty and U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 23, 2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Castro Morales, Who is Teo Babún and why is he going after Cuba?, Granma (Feb. 21, 2019); Sanchez, The ‘charity’ made in Miami and the strange faith of ECHOCuba, The Insomniac Pupil (April 18, 2011); EchoCuba, About US; ECFA, ECHOCuba.

[2] Eaton, God, USAID and Cuba, Cuba Money Project (Nov. 20, 2018); Eaton, Cuba spending under Trump, Cuba Money Project (June 17, 2019); Eaton, Lawmakers want $20 million for Cuba projects in 2020, Cuba Money Project (June 21, 2019); AmericasReliefTeam, Cuban Humanitarian Support Network. The Cuba Money Project is a U.S. “journalism initiative aimed at reporting stories about U.S. government programs and projects related to Cuba” that is operated by Tracey Eaton, a journalist and former Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

[3] Bodenheimer, How American Evangelicals Helped Stop Same-Sex Marriage in Cuba, VICE (April 20, 2019).

 

 

 

 

U.S.-Cuba Conflict Over Cuban Journalist

Roberto Jesús Quiñones, a contributor to the independent Cuban news website CubaNet, has a history of harassment by Cuban authorities. He is barred from leaving the country and has been detained several times. [1]

Most Recent Cuban Charges Against Journalist

The most recent Cuban persecution of Quiñones started on April 18, 2019, when police agents forcefully took him off of a bus, brought him to a police station, and interrogated him, with an officer telling him “we are taking note of your articles.”

Three days later (April 21) he was arrested outside of the Guantánamo Municipal Tribunal, where he was covering the trial of two Cuban evangelical pastors facing charges for homeschooling their children. While the police took him to the police station, he was beaten, injuring his mouth, tongue, and right thumb and causing an inflammation in his right ear.

When he was released from jail five days later, Cuban authorities initiated a new proceeding against him, alleging that his conduct during his detention constituted “resistance” and “disobedience,” for which they imposed a fine, which he refused to pay.

This refusal to pay the fine lead to a trial in a municipal court and to its August 7th  sentencing Quiñones, to one year in a labor camp on charges of “resistance” and “disobedience.” His appeal to another court for a new trial was denied on August 19.

After the most recent detention of Quiñones, the Committee to Protect Journalist’s Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick said, “The ongoing pattern of detentions of independent journalists like Roberto Jesús Quiñones shows that recent political reforms have not improved the situation for the press. If President Miguel Díaz-Canel wants to show the world that his government is committed to positive change in Cuba, authorities should immediately free Quiñones without charge and stop harassing journalists.”

The one-year sentence also drew this rebuke from the Committee’s Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in New York. “The fact that Roberto Quiñones is sentenced to prison for failing to pay a fine, while the police agents who beat and detained him for days receive no punishment, is outrageous. If authorities in Cuba want to convey an image of progress and openness to the international community, mistreating, jailing, and fining a journalist sends the wrong message.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Reaction

All of this prompted U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on August 21 to issue a statement condemning the journalist’s prosecution and calling “upon the Cuban regime to immediately release Mr. Quinones and to cease their abuse and mistreatment.” Pompeo also said his “detention and trial were marked by the flagrant disregard for legal norms that are typical of the Cuban regime.  Cuban authorities did not inform Quinones of the charges against him until minutes before the trial, and did not permit him legal representation in the courtroom.  The regime’s prosecutors did not permit Quinones to present evidence of his injuries at the hands of the police who arrested him. Adding cruelty to injustice, regime officials have refused to allow Quinones to visit his ailing father.”

Pompeo concluded with these words. “Sadly, this is just one more example of the Cuban regime’s ongoing violation of human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and to fair trial guarantees.  We will continue to use targeted sanctions and trade restrictions to cut off resources from the Cuban regime, which uses its income to repress its own people, and to prop up the Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

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[1] Comm. to Protect Journalists, Cuban police detain and beat journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones in Guantánamo (April 24, 2019); The regime sanctions independent journalist Roberto Jeśus Quiñones Haces to one year in jail, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 7, 2019); Comm. to Protect Journalists, Cuba sentences journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones to one-year prison term (Aug. 8, 2019); The journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones asks to have a new trial, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 12, 2019); The regime refuses to hold a new trial against Roberto Jesús Quiñones, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 19, 2019); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Statement: On the Prosecution of Cuban Journalist Roberto Quinones (Aug. 21, 2019); Assoc. Press, US Urges Cuba to Drop Criminal Charges Against Journalist, N.Y. Times (Aug. 21, 2019).

 

 

 

Congressmen Reiterate Call for Re-Designation of Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

On July 10, 2019, two Republican Congressmen from Florida=–Mario Diaz-Balart and Francis Rooney– asked Secretary of State Pompeo to re-designate Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”[1]

Their letter said the following:

  • “We strongly commend you and President Trump and his administration for imposing tough sanctions on the brutal regime in Cuba, and for the unprecedented decision to allow lawsuits to proceed against traffickers in confiscated properties,” said Diaz-Balart. “With these key changes, there remains a major mistake of the previous administration to rectify: returning Cuba to the state sponsors of terrorism list. The Cuban regime smuggled weapons to North Korea, harbors fugitives including a convicted murderer on the FBI’s ‘Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorist’ list, and planted thousands of operatives in Venezuela. I look forward to working with the Trump administration to continue its commendable policy of applying pressure to oppressive, anti-American dictatorships. Classifying Cuba as a terrorist state is an important next step in that robust policy.”
  • “Four years ago, President Obama removed Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism,” said  Rooney. “Despite this decision, Cuba has continued to support known terrorist organizations and corrupt dictators such as the regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and has continued to harbor known terrorists sought by American law enforcement.  Accordingly, I support the Administration’s firm stance toward our communist island neighbor and urge Secretary Pompeo and President Trump to redesignate Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”
  • “The State Department defines State Sponsors of Terrorism as ‘Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act.’”
  • “Taken together, the four main categories of sanctions resulting from designation under these authorities include restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions,” the State Department adds. “Designation under the above-referenced authorities also implicates other sanctions laws that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with state sponsors.”

Congressman Rooney separately stated, “Four years ago, president Obama removed Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Despite this decision, Cuba has continued to support known terrorist organizations and corrupt dictators such as the regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, and has continued to harbor known terrorists sought by American law enforcement.  Accordingly, I support the Administration’s firm stance toward our communist island neighbor and urge Secretary Pompeo and President Trump to redesignate Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

Congressman Diaz-Balart added, “I commend President Trump and his administration for imposing tough sanctions on the brutal regime in Cuba, and for the unprecedented decision to allow lawsuits to proceed against traffickers in confiscated properties. With these key changes, there remains a major mistake of the previous administration to rectify: returning Cuba to the state sponsors of terrorism list. The Cuban regime smuggled weapons to North Korea, harbors fugitives including a convicted murderer on the FBI’s “Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorist” list, and planted thousands of operatives in Venezuela. I look forward to working with the Trump administration to continue its commendable policy of applying pressure to oppressive, anti-American dictatorships. Classifying Cuba as a terrorist state is an important next step in that robust policy.”

Congressman Rooney serves as the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

This proposed re-designation is a bad idea and should not be adopted.[2]

As of August 21, that re-designation has not happened. Nor have there been any further comments on the subject from these two Congressmen or from Secretary Pompeo or the State Department.

==================================

[1] Derby, Return Cuba to ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ List, Urge Florida Congressmen, Sunshine State News (Julyu 11, 2019); Press Release, Diaz-Balart, Rooney Urge Secretary Pompeo to Reclassify Cuba as State Sponsor of Terrorism (July 10, 2019); Press Release, Reps. Rooney and Diaz-Balart Urge Secretary Pompeo to Re-classify Cuba as State Sponsor of Terrorism (July 10, 2019).

[2] See the posts through 06/20/15 listed in the “Cuba: State Sponsor of Terrorism?’ section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries: Topical: CUBA;  See also these posts: U.S. and Cuba Discuss Counterterrorism Cooperation (June 10, 2016); No Mention of Cuba in U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Terrorism (July 20, 2017); U.S. Considering Re-Designating Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” (Jan. 26, 2019).

New U.S. Government Hostility Towards Cuba’s Medical Mission Program

On July 28, 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced that the U.S. would no longer issue visas to Cuban officials who were directing that country’s medical mission program.[1] Here is the text of that announcement:

  • “The Cuban government engages in exploitative and coercive labor practices while it earns money on the backs of its citizens through its overseas medical missions program.  To address this labor abuse, the Department has imposed visa restrictions on certain Cuban officials and other individuals responsible for these coercive labor practices under the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212(a)(3)(C).  These practices include working long hours, housing in unsafe areas, and compelling Cuban medical professionals to advance the regime’s political agenda.  Such visa restrictions could include immediate family members of these individuals.”

Response to U.S. Action

Previous posts have discussed Cuba’s foreign medical mission program and the invalidity of U.S. allegations that the program engages in illegal forced labor.[2] Here the main reasons for that invalidity:

First, “Internationalist medical aid has been a longstanding part of the Cuban people’s tradition of solidarity, since the beginning of the Revolution. As early as 1960 a brigade was sent to Chile following an earthquake there, and to Algeria in 1963, to support the new country recently liberated from colonialism.” At least four Cuban doctors who have participated in such missions have recorded how they treasure the positive impact of those experiences on their professional and personal lives.[3]

Second, the accusation of forced labor for such participants has been rejected in a detailed study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman.  He says, although there may be “some cases where . . . [Cuban medical professionals] are pressured into accepting overseas assignments, . . . most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude.[4]

 Third, relevant to this issue is the fact that medical education in Cuba (at the Latin American School of Medicine) is free. As a result requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation. The recent $67 monthly salary for Cuban physicians in Cuba compared with the $24 or $27 monthly income of other Cubans is a result of Cuba’s adoption of a “pyramid” compensation system whereby highly trained workers like physicians earn more than lower-skilled workers like busboys. This system, however, is being undermined by lower-skilled workers like gas-station attendants and waiters earning additional income from stealing and illegally selling gasoline and from earning tips in hard currency at restaurants and hotels serving foreign tourists. Indeed, Raúl Castro in his speech at the April 2016 Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba called this the “inverted pyramid” problem that had to be solved.[5]

 Fourth, international law does not support this allegation.

Most pertinent is the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, which Cuba and 177 other state members of the International Labour Organization have ratified (as of 2016). The U.S., however, has not so ratified, yet another reason why the U.S. charge is inapt.

This treaty’s  Article 2(1) preliminarily defines  “forced or compulsory labour” as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily,” But there are five exceptions to this definition set forth in the treaty’s Article 2(2). One such exception, in subsection (b), states  ”the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include . . .  any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Emphases added.)[5]

Cuba clearly is a “fully self-governing country” and the participants in the foreign medical missions are Cuban “citizens,” and as previously stated, such participation is regarded as “part of the normal civic obligations” of such citizens with the appropriate medical qualifications. Thus, under the most relevant statement of international law, Cuba has not engaged in illegal forced labor with respect to the foreign medical missions.

Fifth, there has not been any fair adjudicative process that has determined that such illegal coercion exists.

=================================

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Press Statement: Visa Actions Against Cuban Officials (July 28, 2019); NBC News-Miami, US Restricts Visas for Cubans Involved in Overseas Medicine (July 28, 2019).

[2]  See U.S. State Department Unjustly Continues to Allege That Cuba’s Foreign Medical Missions Engage in Forced Labor (Aug. 17, 2017) See also the list of posts in the “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S”  in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

[3] Ledn, Cuban doctors share their experiences in internationalist missions,Granma (Nov. 26, 2015).

[4] Erisman, Brain Drain Politics: the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Programme, Int’l J. Cuban Studies  269, 286-87 (2012).

[5] This and other parts of the definition of “forced or compulsory labour” were reaffirmed in Article 1(3) of the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930.

 

U.S. State Department’s Second Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom

On July 16-18, 2019, the U.S. State Department hosted its Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The opening event was held at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. to emphasize the “importance of promoting religious freedom and protecting religious minorities.” The closing event, also in Washington, D.C. was at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and co-hosted by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.[1]

First Day Activities[2]

After welcoming remarks by Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, the participants discussed the opportunities and challenges for promoting and defending religious freedom globally. Through a series of plenary sessions, they discussed the necessary building blocks and emerging trends in advancing religious freedom, as well as how religious freedom, international development, and humanitarian aid can work together to advance mutual interests.

Second Day Activities[3]

 There were three separate discussions led by topical experts, civil society actors, religious leaders, academics and working-level government officials on topics such as best practices for religious freedom advocacy; limitations in forming, registering and recognizing religious communities; challenges facing religious minorities; combatting the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic behavior; countering violent extremism; religious freedom and national security; religious freedom and economic development; cultural heritage protection for religious sites; religious minorities and humanitarian crises; international development aid and religious freedom; and mobilizing faith leaders around peace and development goals.

At the end of the second day, the White House held a brief reception for some of the Ministerial attendees. One was Cuban Pastor Mario Felix Lieonart, who said, “Pastor, Ramón Rigal, and his wife are imprisoned in Cuba.  Please pray for them and help the people in Cuba. Two other Cuban pastors who were invited for the Ministerial “are not here because the government in Cuba would not give them permission to come. They are Moisés de Prada, president of the Assemblies of God, and Álida León, president of the new Evangelical League of Cuba, which said, “The intention to attend [the Ministerial] was made public, it was a proof of transparency and truth, we have nothing institutionally to hide.” Lieonart added, I am here because I am a refugee in United States.  Thank you for your hospitality for me.” In response to a question from President Trump, Rev. Lieonart said, “Raúl Castro is continuing in power because he is the First Secretary of the Communist Party.  And the new President is not really Cuba’s leader. Castro is the real leader.”

Third Day Activities[4]

Senior government and international organization representatives focused on: identifying global challenges to religious freedom; developing innovative responses to persecution on the basis of religion; and sharing new commitments to protect religious freedom for all. Survivors or close relatives of those who suffered persecution due to their religion or beliefs shared their stories. Government delegations were encouraged to announce new actions and commitments they will take to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief.

There also were the Keynote Address by Secretary Pompeo, an Address by Vice President Mike Pence and Closing Comments by Ambassador Brownback. The highlights of those speeches follow.

Secretary Pompeo’s Keynote Address

The attendance aat this Ministerial “proves that religious freedom matters to literally billions of people all around the world. Look around you. Religious freedom isn’t just a Christian concern, a Jewish concern, a Muslim concern, a Buddhist concern, a Hindu concern, or a humanist concern. It’s all of our concern; it is everyone’s concern.”

“Here in the United States, our Declaration of Independence clearly states that certain rights are unalienable. There are liberties to which all of mankind, in all places, at all times are entitled. Religious freedom is one of them. Our Constitution puts it in the very first amendment.”

“Thomas Jefferson, our first Secretary of State, [helped author the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom,“ which states, ‘Almighty God hath created the mind free… No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry, or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.’”

“The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms religious freedom or belief as a universal right.”

“Today, we come together to turn our convictions into action. And there’s not a moment to lose. A shocking 83 percent of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is either threatened or denied entirely.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the recent news of the Cuban evangelical leaders who registered for this very event to come here to Washington but were not permitted to come. . . . [T]he Cuban government prevented them from . . . [coming] to express their religious freedom. Such is the thuggish, intolerant nature of the current regime in Havana.” (Emphasis added.)

The Secretary then commented about violations of religious freedom in Iran, Burma and China.

“{L]ookl at what we’ve accomplished as a result of last year’s ministerial.”

“The State Department has established an International Religious Freedom Fund – a multi-donor fund that provides rapid assistance to victims of persecution all throughout the world. It’s already serving good, and its purpose around the world is expanding. . . . We encourage more countries to step up to the plate and donate and contribute to this important cause that can do so much good all around the world.”

Here are other examples. The “United Arab Emirates they hosted the first regional conference in February on promoting religious tolerance in their curricula. . . .  {T]he nations of the Organization of American States unanimously put forth their first ever statement, introduced by the United States, affirming religious freedom in our hemisphere. Along with the United Kingdom, the United States co-sponsored a groundbreaking conference this past November on meeting the needs of vulnerable religious minorities in conflict zones. And several governments have created special ambassadors specifically charged with advancing religious freedom in their country and around the world.”

The State Department “recently commissioned a group called the Commission on Unalienable Rights to generate a serious debate about human rights that extends across party lines and across national borders. The commission’s purpose is very simple. We’re not out to discover new principles but to ground our discussion of human rights in America’s founding principles, and religious freedom is certainly amongst them.”

“In 2019, the State Department introduced mandatory training on international religious freedom for every one of our Foreign Service Officers. We’ve, so far, trained nearly 12,000 employees on how to identify religious discrimination and persecution and how to work closely with faith leaders all across the world. It is incredibly important that our diplomats be our ambassadors for this first freedom.”

“We should all consistently speak out about abuses of religious freedom. It’s the least that we can do. Today, we have nine statements of concern on countries and issues all teed up. I would ask each of you to sign them in solidarity.”

“Albania, Colombia, Morocco, and the Vatican will host regional conferences in the near future.”

“Thanks to Poland’s efforts, the UN General Assembly has named August 22nd as a special day to remember the victims of religious persecution. Please commemorate it in your home countries too. And we should all keep making the case at the United Nations and in other bodies that religious freedom should be a priority for that institution.”

“But governments alone can’t properly tackle this problem. Our countries need to support civil society groups.”

“I’m very proud to announce today a new effort that’s intended to help us in our goals across the board. We will create the International Religious Freedom Alliance. We hope that this new vehicle – the first every international body devoted to this specific topic – will build on efforts to date and bring likeminded countries together to confront challenges of international religious freedom. . . . it will defend the unalienable rights for all human beings to believe – or not to believe – whatever it is they choose.”

“You all came here because you understand that it is our responsibility to help them. We’re all in this fight together. You can be sure that the United States will be out front defending the God-given, unalienable right of all human beings to worship as they choose.”

Vice President Pence’s Remarks

“Since the earliest days of our nation, America has stood for religious freedom.  Our first settlers left their homes and all they knew for the chance to, as they said, “Begin the world [all] over again.”  They carved protections for religious liberty into the founding charters of our nation and our very earliest laws.  And after our independence was won, the crafters of America’s Constitution enshrined religious liberty as the first of our American freedoms.”

“Our Declaration of Independence proclaims that our precious liberties are not the gift of government, but rather they’re the unalienable rights endowed by our Creator.  Americans believe that people should live by the dictates of their conscience, not the diktats of government.”

“Free minds build free markets.  And wherever religious liberty is allowed to take root, it is prosperity and peace that ultimately flourish as well.”

“And as we tell even our closest allies, those who reject religious freedom are more likely to breed radicalism and resentment; that it can sow those seeds of violence and it can too often cross borders. And those who deny religious freedom to their own people often have few qualms denying those rights to others.”

“The list of religious freedom violators is long; their oppressions span the globe.” It includes Burma, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Iran, Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China and North Korea.”

“While religious freedom is always in danger in authoritarian regimes, threats to religious minorities, sadly, are not confined to autocracies or dictatorships.  The truth is, they can and do arise in free societies, as well, not from government persecution, but from prejudice. This is the evil of Anti-Semitism.”

=========================

[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo Convenes Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom (June 25, 2019); State Dep’t, Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom Convenes Opening and Closing Events (July 12, 2019). The first Ministerial in July 2018 was discussed in a prior post.

[2] State Dep’t, Day 1: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 16, 2019).

[3] State Dept, Day 2: Track 1: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 17, 2019); State Dept, Day 2: Track 2: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 17, 2019); State Dept, Day 2: Track 3: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 17, 2019); The White House, Remarks by President Trump in Meeting with Survivors of Religious Persecution (July 17, 2019); Cuban Pastor Denounces Cuban Violations of Religious Freedoms to President Donald Trump, Diario de Cuba (July 19, 2019); The regime prevents two of Cuba’s leading evangelical leaders from leaving the country, Diario de Cuba (July 14, 2019); We have nothing to hide’: the Evangelical League of Cuba, Diario de Cuba (July 19, 2019).

[4] State Dep’t, Day 3: 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 18, 2019); State Dep’t, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Keynote Address at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom (July 18, 2019); The White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at the 2nd Annual Religious Freedom Ministerial (July 18, 2019). The prior day the Secretary made a similar speech for the presentation of international religious freedom awards. (State Dep’t, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo at the Reception for the Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom and Presentation of the International Religious Freedom Awards (July 17, 2019).