Today, the first-ever conference on religious freedom to be held at ministerial level began in Washington D.C. It is organized by the US Department of State. Participants today heard speeches from both the US Vice President Mike Pence and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Hungary is represented at the conference by a delegation led by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó.
Today, the US Secretary of State emphasised that the high number of participating delegations from eighty countries was a great achievement and he thanked those countries that were willing to host similar conferences both next year and into the future.
Attendees at the conference were informed that the US will continue to increase support for persecuted communities and minorities in the Middle East including Iraq, while noting that there are some religious minorities in the region that are not persecuted for their faith.
It was announced that following this conference the participants will adopt a joint statement, the so-called, ‘Potomac Declaration.’ They will also make country-specific reports on religious freedom in Myanmar, China, and Iran.
Mike Pence stressed in his speech that: “The promotion of religious freedom is of prime priority for the Trump Administration”. As he put it, the United States has been the flag-bearer of religious freedom since the adoption of its Constitution – and wants to remain so in the future. He thanked the work of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and also Sam Brownback, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, noting that work on promoting the freedom of religion throughout history has always had a positive impact on the development of all rights and liberties.
“Eighty percent of the world’s population live in countries where they are subject to persecution because of their religious affiliation,” said the US Vice President, specifically naming North Korea, China, Nicaragua, Iran, and Russia.
He noted, however, that religious intolerance is present in several Western countries as well.
He pointed to the increasing number of atrocities committed against Jews which have been recently reported from the United Kingdom, Germany and France,
Mike Pence also talked about the situation in the Middle East and Africa. He said that the bloody attacks of the Islamic State mean actual genocide. In this regard, he emphasised the “continuous and cruel” attacks against the Yazidis. He said the United States would not quit fighting ISIS until the terrorist organisation was wiped from the face of the earth.
The Vice President announced two new American initiatives:
- The Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Programme, in which the State Department and aid agency USAID will provide emergency assistance to end genocide against minorities in Iraq.
- The new International Religious Freedom Fund that has been set up to promote the global freedom of religion.
Discussing some of the practical efforts already made by the United States in this area, Mr. Pence highlighted the case of Andrew Brunson, who had been placed under house arrest by the Turkish authorities on the day before the conference. Pence announced that President Donald Trump had sent a message to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stating that the United States does not accept his house arrest and demanded the full release of the pastor, – otherwise Turkey will have to face serious sanctions.
“Our efforts to promote freedom of religion is going to bear fruit. I believe in the American people, the US President, I believe in you, and in all other good-natured governments and countries of the world,” concluded US Vice President Mike Pence.