Coalition Brings Religious Freedom and Human Rights Issues to the Forefront

SILVER SPRING, MD, USA. [December12] The Washington Coalition for International Religious Freedom met for the third time today to discuss religious freedom and human rights issues at the headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. Organized by the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), the Coalition first met shortly after September 11, 2001.

"We believe it is important to provide a wider forum for dialogue and mutual respect between peoples of faith and also greater understanding by government representatives," said John Graz, secretary-general for the IRLA.

"Religious freedom is not even on the back page of the news now with Iraq and terrorism being the main focus," said Ambassador Robert Seiple, chairperson for the Coalition. "This Coalition needs to come up with concrete suggestions on what non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and faith communities can do to keep religious freedom concerns in the forefront. Persecution, discrimination and violations of human rights continue in many countries such as, Vietnam, China, North Korea, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and many others."

"Religious freedom is a human right, and the challenge is to keep religious freedom in the front burner of America's international foreign policy," said Joseph Crapa, new executive director for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and an observer at the Coalition meeting. "We will, however, continue looking at ways to encourage countries of particular concern to work towards a climate of religious freedom."

The Coalition agreed on various methodologies that have proven successful such as: good indigenous legal advice; selective use of the Department of State; mobilize local people ; facilitate not supervise; persevere; selective use of international press; eschew monolithic categories; understand geo-political context; and finding ways to influence public policy.

Participants commented on the danger of religious freedom becoming subverted by arguments appealing to national and international security; and the use of terrorism as an excuse to suppress religious dissent; and the increase of intolerance. Members of the Coalition agreed to continue the fight the for religious freedom, and to bring cases of religious freedom and human rights violations to the attention of the public and the media. [Viola Hughes]