Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today released a report on the state of religious freedom around the world, highlighting Iraq as among the worst offenders in failing to punish violence against non-Muslim minorities.
The report examines religious tolerance in 200 countries and outlines action taken by the U.S. government to prevent persecution. The U.S. called attention to religious tensions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
“We are troubled by what we see happening in many, many places,” Clinton said as she presented the report. She said religious freedom is under threat from authoritarian regimes, from extremist groups that inflame sectarian tensions and from “the quiet but persistent harm caused by intolerance and mistrust.”
Clinton defined religious freedom as the ability to raise children in one’s faith, share that faith peacefully with others, publish religious materials without censorship, and change one’s religion by choice, not coercion.
“We do not intend to act as a judge of other countries, or hold ourselves out as a perfect example,” Clinton said.
She linked religious freedom to social stability and progress, referring to charity and advocacy work that religious groups often undertake.
“We believe that religious freedom is a fundamental human right and an essential element to a stable, peaceful, thriving society,” Clinton said.
Attacks against Christians in Iraq have persisted since the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003. Before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime there were about 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Since then, about 50 percent have fled, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“Very few of the perpetrators of violence committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the country were punished, arrests following a murder or other crimes are rare,” according to the report covering attacks in the period between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010.
Since then, there have been a growing number of incidents in Iraq. Clinton noted last month’s attack by al-Qaeda gunmen who stormed the Sayyidat al-Najat Syrian Catholic Christian church in central Baghdad during a Sunday evening service, killing at least 37 worshipers and wounding 56 other people.
“We have expressed great concern about the situation of the Christian community in Iraq,” said Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. He said the U.S. had condemned the attack in the “strongest terms.”
Posner said he had “repeatedly spoken to government leaders in Iraq” about the issue of Christian persecution. He said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has announced increased security for the Christian community and the rebuilding of that church.
“We will continue to be vigilant,” Posner said.
He identified areas where religious freedom appears to be improving, including Syria, Turkey and the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The purpose of the report, he said, was to provide a factual base for the State Department to make policy.