The U.S. should consider economic sanctions on countries where Christians endure persecution, torture and death to help ensure security here and abroad, a religious rights advocate told Congress Tuesday.
Elliott Abrams of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said a "case-by-case analysis" could be used in weighing sanctions.
"You look at the list of countries and see so many that are underdeveloped, or middle income or poor," Mr. Abrams told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on global human rights. "In those cases economic sanctions ... could have an affect. I think what we need to convey is ... we care, and this will affect our relations."
"As it often is the first right taken away, religious freedom serves as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, warning us that denial of other liberties almost surely will follow," he said. "Supporting religious freedom abroad is not just a legal or moral duty, but a practical necessity that affects the security of the United States because it builds a foundation for progress and stability."
Mr. Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser, also urged the Obama administration to appoint an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom within the State Department.
In 1998, Congress enacted the International Religious Freedom Act, which authorized the commission on which Mr. Abrams serves and provided for the ambassador-at-large post in the State Department. Noting that the position has been empty for some time, Mr. Abrams said the vacancy "sends a message to other countries that we don't care."
Tuesday's hearing featured testimony from analysts and religious freedom advocates who highlighted the perils and persecutions faced by Christians across the globe.
"The fact is, Christians are being slaughtered today," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican. "We are in an era where this slaughter is being ignored. Today, we call on all good people of the world to join us and speak loudly, aggressively, against this evil ... that can be defeated."
According to a Pew Research Center study, Christians in more than 100 countries were subjected to some form of persecution in 2012, the most recent year for which data were available.
Tehmina Arora, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, noted violence in India, where Christian pastor Orucanti Sanjeevi was beaten to death at his home by Hindu extremists last month.
Benedict Rogers, an East Asia team leader for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, voiced concerns about the persecution of Christians in Vietnam and Indonesia, while Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, permanent observer for the Holy See Mission at the United Nations, spoke about threats to religious freedom in the Middle East and the toll on younger generations.
Christian children, Archbishop Chullikatt said, are "innocent victims of this kind of persecution. They have committed no crime, they are just children. When they go to school they are not even sure they will come back safe and sound — or alive, after school. Sometimes they see in front of their own eyes, car bombs explode and human bodies are torn apart.
"These kind of horrible scenes ... will leave a lasting scar in the memory, mind and in life," he said.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, subcommittee chairman, said the hearing's recommendations owould go toward future action.
"Nobody's swinging for the fences here," the New Jersey Republican said. "We're methodically chronicling the nature of the problem with what we hope will be viable solutions."
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