The State Department recently released its annual reports on human rights violations around the world. In an unprecedented move, it conspicuously omitted any mention of religious persecution, oppression of religious minorities or violations of religious freedom. Instead, the State Department referred readers to the most recent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reports, which cover 2010 but not 2011, and the 2010 International Religious Freedom Report, which is obviously two years outdated. This is significant.
The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act mandated that the State Department take several actions in furtherance of human rights. This included the creation of an Office of International Religious Freedom and the preparation of annual human right reports, to be supplemented with details of violations of religious freedom listed country by country. The State Department must also indicate those countries whose violations are most egregious as "Countries of Particular Concern" and to take actions to counter these transgressions as part and parcel of U.S. foreign policy.
Religious freedom is considered a fundamental human right. If one is denied the right to worship his god and maintain his own conscience, what other freedom can be had? The Founding Fathers, some of whom fled other countries due to religious persecution, held up religious freedom as paramount. It therefore constitutes a basic underpinning of the very existence of the United States, and its importance is reflected as the first freedom in America's founding documents.
Countries that persecute, restrict or oppress religious minorities often pressure people to recant their faith, deny them the right to worship publicly and to erect houses of worship, and discriminate against them in education, housing and employment. More egregious abuses include torture, flogging, financial fines, imprisonment and even execution.
Approximately 50 percent of the world's population lives under religiously oppressive regimes. Virtually all of the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the largest Islamic organization in the world, are among them.
The OIC is comprised of 56 United Nations member states plus the Palestinian Authority. Though it claims to be a moderate organization, it fights to promote its skewed views, consisting of "Islamic values" which are in contradiction to the values of equality, plurality and freedom of speech or religion (except for the practice of state-sanctioned interpretations of Islam).
An ardent advocate for the rights of Muslims in the West, the OIC has ignored the rights of non-Muslims in the OIC countries. Indeed, the OIC supports the imposition of state-sponsored Shariah law, which holds Islam supreme over all other religions. OIC countries abstained from supporting the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which provides for both freedom of speech and freedom of religion to all. Instead, they supported the Cairo Declaration of Islamic Human Rights (never introduced by the U.N. for a vote), which limits those rights in accordance with the Shariah.
Numerous OIC members, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, are among the world's greatest enemies of religious freedom. But even moderate or secular Islamic countries who belong to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation engage in some form of religious persecution, whether penalties for apostasy, blasphemy laws or the denial of the rights of religious minorities to practice their faiths openly.
The OIC was also the primary drafter of U.N. Resolution 16/18, purportedly to combat intolerance based on religion or belief. In the minds of State Department appointees as well as Christian organization executives, this resolution was intended to replace the former Defamation of Religions resolutions, which afforded religion - primarily Islam - protection from criticism at the expense of human rights and religious freedom. The new resolution was supposedly going to shift from providing defamation protections to Islam to providing protection to religious minorities from intolerance, stigmatization, discrimination and violence. The State Department held the now-infamous Istanbul Conference in order to make Resolution 16/18 a reality, prior to which the State Department vowed to work to retain freedom of expression and to protect religious minorities worldwide.
Yet, reports coming out of the primarily closed-door sessions reported that by the time the conference took place, the emphasis shifted to protecting Muslims in the West from exaggerated claims of "Islamophobia" and clamping down on speech critical of Islam-related topics, rather than addressing the flagrant human rights violations of non-Muslims in the OIC countries.
It seems ironic that on the heels of a conference allegedly designed to protect religious minorities, the State Department would turn around and fail to include abuse of religious minorities in its human rights reports.
It took the Obama administration two-and-a-half years to fill the vacancy of ambassador to the Office of International Religious Freedom. Then, the administration stood idly by during the Green Revolution, watching as freedom lovers were slaughtered in Iran. Now, the State Department's referral to outdated reports on violations of religious freedom means that the virtual genocide of Coptic Christians in Egypt during the "Arab Spring" will be missing.
The OIC has been falsely asserting that there is no oppression of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries. The refusal of the State Department to include updated reports of religious violations as part of its annual reports on human rights violations will give power to that lie.
Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton repeatedly mouths support for religious minorities of all stripes. Yet, the happenings at the Istanbul Conference and the blatant omissions from the State Department's annual reports belie those claims. Further delving will reveal that this administration's fight for the rights of religious minorities only applies to the relatively free and equal Muslims in America and the West, while it turns a blind eye to the real human rights violations of Christians, Jews, Baha'is and Zoastrians in Muslim majority countries.
No doubt, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation will welcome this administration's "respect" for its Islamist views.
Deborah Weiss is an attorney and co-author of "Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network" (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011).