Congressional Commission Hearing Examines Religious Freedom in OSCE

On November 15, 2017 the U.S. Helsinki Commission hosted a briefing titled “Religious Freedom Violations in the OSCE Region: Victims and Perpetrators.”

The briefing opened with remarks from Ambassador Michael Kozak, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State. It was then followed by a second panel of experts, including, Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Dr. Kathleen Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, and Philip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Nathaniel Hurd, Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission, moderated the event. The full event video is available below. 

Nathaniel Hurd, Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission (Moderator), Ambassador Michael Kozak, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State, Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Dr. Kathleen Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, and Philip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses (Left to Right, Photo Credit: U.S. Helsinki Commission)

Nathaniel Hurd, Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission (Moderator), Ambassador Michael Kozak, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State, Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Dr. Kathleen Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, and Philip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses (Left to Right, Photo Credit: U.S. Helsinki Commission)

Dr. Collins, a scholar of the Under Caesar's Sword Project, highlighted many of the findings of her research on Christian responses to persecution in Central Asia.

Dr. Collins concentrated her time on the evolving situation in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. She suggested that governments in the region are looking towards each other and Russia to justify extremism laws that are really just another form of religious persecution.

Based on her research, the recent actions in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have taken steps similar to Soviet-era tactics of repression and control of all groups not approved by the government. Societal discrimination continues to be high across the region and remains worth addressing. 

The Under Caesar's Sword project studied response where Christians face persecution. Predominant strategies in Central Asia represent decades of Soviet-style repression. Primarily they hide and seek to merely survive. For those who seek public engagement they do so with enormous risk. Positive steps have been seen through engagement in humanitarian and social services, filling gaps that government has often overlooked.

Ambassador Kozak highlighted the important connections between enhanced security and religious freedom and efforts currently underway at the State Department to advance religious freedom. 

Religious freedom is not only good human rights doctrine, it is good counterterrorism doctrine.
— Ambassador Michael Kozak

Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, expressed that trends in the region are not encouraging. He said that, "Unfortunately, we at USCIRF are not optimistic with regard to the outlook for religious freedom in the OSCE countries we monitor. Generally speaking, the trend has been toward authoritarian governments imposing more written and unwritten restrictions on expressions of religion."

Phillip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses, highlighted particular challenges his community has faced across the region due to government restrictions that have limited their ability to practice their faith. 

To see more on the briefing visit: https://www.csce.gov/international-impact/events/religious-freedom-violations-osce-region