Press Release

RFI Condemns New Zealand Massacre as Religious Persecution

RFI Condemns New Zealand Massacre as Religious Persecution

“The mass shootings at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand represent the worst form of evil imaginable,” said Timothy Shah, head of RFI’s South and Southeast Asia Action Team. “This act of terrorism is an offense against human dignity and religious freedom. All ideologies that foster or sanction such acts must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.”

Press Release: Google Should Remove Indonesian Government App for Reporting Heresy

Last month the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) sent a letter to Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, calling for the removal of “Smart Pakem,” an app available on the Google Play Store. The Indonesian government created the app to enable mobile phone users to report individuals suspected of “religious heresy.”

While Google has yet to respond to the letter, or remove the app, it recently joined Apple in “promising to investigate a Saudi app that lets men control women's travel,” according to a recent report. Google should treat Smart Pakem with the same degree of scrutiny.

Press Release: Religious Freedom Institute Moves D.C. Office to Capitol Hill

Press Release: Religious Freedom Institute Moves D.C. Office to Capitol Hill

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) has relocated its Washington, D.C. office to the heart of Capitol Hill. The new address is 316 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, Suite 501, Washington, D.C. 20003.

RFI commemorated its move to the historic National Capital Bank building on Pennsylvania Avenue with an open house Wednesday attended by 200 friends and colleagues from government, business, media, higher education, and the NGO community.

Press Release: U.S. State Department to Hold High-Level Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom for Second Year in a Row

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) welcomes the U.S. Department of State’s recent announcement that it will host a second consecutive Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom July 16-18, 2019.

“We are grateful for Secretary Pompeo’s commitment to advancing religious freedom around the world,” said Thomas Farr, President of RFI and founding Director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.

Press Release: Diverse Group of Religious Leaders Reminds U.S. Senators: Religious Tests for Public Office Are Wrong, Unlawful

A group of leaders from across a broad spectrum of American religious life urged Senators to pledge their opposition to religious tests of any kind for nominees for public office.  

A letter, organized by the Religious Freedom Institute, was delivered to the Senate majority and minority leaders today, the day after the United States celebrated “Religious Freedom Day.”

Signatories included representatives from The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints, Sikh, Muslim, Baha’is, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant traditions.

Press Release: RFI Report Highlights the Critical Need for Decisive Action to Provide Security and Support for Religious Minority Communities in Iraq

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) today issued a report, “Hanging by a Thread: Christians and Other Religious Minorities Are Fading into History on the Nineveh Plains.”

The report, based on a trip to Iraq’s Nineveh Plains last month, outlines the dire conditions in northern Iraq for Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities. The report underscores the profound security and economic challenges religious minorities face in Sinjar and the Nineveh Plains and points to a looming threat to both Iraqi and American security.

Press Release: Congress Takes Action to Support Minorities in Iraq and Syria and Hold ISIS Accountable

Four years after ISIS laid siege to ethnic and religious minority communities in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. Congress voted unanimously late today to fund humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery assistance for victims of genocide. The bipartisan legislation will go to the President’s desk for signing before the end of the year.

Press Release: RFI Welcomes “Long Overdue” Decision by Pakistan Supreme Court to Vacate Asia Bibi’s Death Sentence

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) welcomes the decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to vacate the conviction and death sentence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy. The woman, Asia Bibi, was convicted in 2010 of insulting the Prophet of Islam during an argument with her neighbors.

The Rohingya Crisis: The Shameful Global Response to Genocide and the Assault on Religious Freedom

On August 25, 2017, a wave of violence was unleashed against the Rohingya people in Rakhine state, Burma. In the nearly one year since those attacks the global response to this crisis has been shameful. In a new report, The Rohingya Crisis: The Shameful Global Response to Genocide and the Assault on Religious Freedom, the Religious Freedom Institute highlights this crisis and puts forward a call to action.

Unprecedented Ministerial Tees Up the Crisis and the Solutions: Now the Work Begins

The Religious Freedom Institute applauds the successful conclusion of the three-day Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. The remarkable gathering of government and civil society representatives from across the world drove home the brutal nature of international religious persecution, and was marked by historic multilateral commitments to do more to stop it.

First-Ever Ministerial Offers Historic Opportunity to Make Religious Freedom a Global Policy Priority

July 24, 2018, Washington, D.C.— The Religious Freedom Institute welcomes the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The unprecedented three-day gathering of high-level government officials, civil society representatives, and religious leaders presents an opportunity to elevate the foreign policy priority of religious freedom for the United States, for participating nations, and for the world.  

“The twenty years since the passage of the landmark International Religious Freedom Act have confirmed its premise that religious freedom is a universal moral good. Unfortunately, these years have also demonstrated that the absence of religious freedom is destabilizing and dangerous. The Ministerial will focus on the strategic importance for international security and economic prosperity of this fundamental right,” said Thomas Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute and founding Director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.

Global threats to religious freedom have never been greater. Over 6.1 billion people, 83% of the world’s population, live in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion, according to the latest findings from the Pew Research Center. Millions are subject to violent persecution, including torture, rape, forced expulsion, and murder because of their religious beliefs or those of their tormentors. From Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to Russia, India, Myanmar, and China, to Nigeria, Nicaragua and Venezuela, violations of religious freedom are causing vast human suffering, undermining entire societies, and encouraging violent religious extremism.

These sobering realities form the backdrop to the global summit being convened by Secretary of State Pompeo and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. More than 80 nations are expected to send delegations, along with hundreds of representatives from civil society organizations, and religious communities from every corner of the globe.

In announcing the Ministerial, Secretary Pompeo stressed that “where fundamental freedoms of religion, expression, peace and peaceful assembly are under attack, we find conflict, instability, and terrorism. On the other hand, governments and societies that champion these freedoms are more secure, stable, and peaceful.”

RFI President Thomas Farr, who advised the State Department in planning the Ministerial, praised the Secretary and Ambassador Brownback for the action-orientated nature of the three days, as well as the emphasis on undermining terrorism and advancing economic development: “This gathering represents an historic opportunity for the United States. The time is now for our nation to lead a global effort in advancing this fundamental right, without which no human being, and no society, can flourish.”


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.
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Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
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In Trinity Western University Decision The Supreme Court of Canada Relegates Freedom of Religion and Conscience to the Private Sphere

In a decision that could have implications for the United States, Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that any student graduating from Trinity Western University’s planned law school can be barred from the practice of law. The Court decided that a school covenant requiring its faculty, staff, and students to live in accord with the traditional Christian understanding of marriage was sufficient cause to refuse licensing for the law school.

While the court recognized a religious freedom interest on the part of the school, it said the “public interest” demanded religious freedom be set aside.

Human Rights and Religious Freedom Should Be on the North Korea Agenda for Any Trump – Kim Summit

As a high-profile drama unfolds around a possible summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, American leaders are urging the President to include human rights and religious freedom on the agenda.

More than fifty foreign policy professionals, human rights advocates, and Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders sent a letter to President Trump urging him to incorporate human rights in general, and religious freedom in particular, into America’s summit strategy.

Secretary Pompeo Announces International Religious Freedom Summit Ambassador Brownback Plots New Course for U.S. International Religious Freedom Strategy

Press Release

Secretary Pompeo Announces International Religious Freedom Summit
Ambassador Brownback Plots New Course for U.S. International Religious Freedom Strategy

05/30/2018 Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute) — The Religious Freedom Institute welcomes the State Department’s 20th Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback.

Like its predecessors, the Report makes for grim reading. It details the vicious religious persecution taking place in countries around the world, including (but not limited to) North Korea, Burma, China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Nigeria. The Report portrays a global crisis in which innocent people are brutalized for their religious beliefs and practices.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Sam Brownback announce the first-ever "Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom" along with the release of the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report in Washington, May 29, 2018. Photo: State Department/Public Domain

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Sam Brownback announce the first-ever "Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom" along with the release of the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report in Washington, May 29, 2018.
Photo: State Department/Public Domain

None of this is new. But Ambassador Brownback appears to be leading the United States to address the crisis in new ways. In an unexpected move, Secretary Mike Pompeo announced yesterday that he would hold his first ministerial on the subject of religious freedom. On July 25-26 he will host in Washington a “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.”

Such a high-level U.S. gathering has never been held, including in the twenty years since the creation of the Ambassador’s position and the legislative mandate that the State Department advance religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.

The Secretary said invitees would include his counterparts from “like-minded governments,” plus representatives from international organizations, religious communities, and civil society. He stressed that “where fundamental freedoms of religion, expression, peace and peaceful assembly are under attack, we find conflict, instability, and terrorism. On the other hand, governments and societies that champion these freedoms are more secure, stable, and peaceful.”

Brownback said the ministerial will focus on how religious freedom can reduce terrorism and increase economic development: “The intent is really to drive the issue of religious freedom more aggressively globally, and the outcomes are really twofold that we intend to get out of it: less terrorism, more economic growth.”

RFI President Tom Farr praised the Secretary and the Ambassador for holding a ministerial that ties religious freedom to terrorism and economic development: “Religious freedom is the God-given right of every person. But that truth alone has not stopped religious persecution. Convincing nations that more religious freedom can help them undermine terrorism and increase economic growth is a bold new approach that has great promise in actually reducing the global scourge of religious persecution.”


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
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Former Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom Dr. Andrew Bennett Joins the Religious Freedom Institute

Press Release

Former Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom Dr. Andrew Bennett Joins the Religious Freedom Institute

04/10/2018 Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute) — The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) is delighted to announce that Canada’s former Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett, has joined RFI as a Senior Fellow. He will serve as a leader of the Institute’s Action Teams for International Religious Freedom Policy and for North America.

Religious Freedom Institute President Thomas Farr welcomed the appointment. “Dr. Andrew Bennett is deeply committed to religious freedom for all people, and his commitment is matched by superb diplomatic credentials. His experience dealing with disparate threats to religious freedom around the world, including in Western democracies, strengthens the Religious Freedom Institute’s ability to address the growing international crisis in religious freedom.”  

Dr. Bennett served in the Canadian Foreign Service as Canada’s first Ambassador for Religious Freedom and Head of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom. During his tenure, he traveled worldwide to defend and advance this fundamental human right as a core element of Canada’s foreign policy. Rev. Dr. Bennett is an ordained deacon in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in the Eparchy (Diocese) of Toronto and Eastern Canada.

Dr. Bennett also serves as Program Director of Cardus Law in Ottawa, a program of Cardus, a Canadian think tank dedicated to the renewal of North American social architecture. In that capacity, Dr. Bennett examines issues of religious freedom and public faith in Canada, providing a complement to his work with the Religious Freedom Institute on advancing religious freedom in North America.    

Dr. Bennett responded to his appointment: “I am delighted to be joining the Religious Freedom Institute in this critical moment for the future of religious freedom around the world, including in North America. The Religious Freedom Institute has the leadership, vision, and policy savvy to be the leading institute in the Western world engaging questions of religious freedom at both a theoretical and practical level. Within North America, we are deeply committed to reviving in law and culture the meaning and value of religious freedom for all citizens as we seek to inhabit the public square where we live out our deeply held beliefs.” 

As a member of the International Religious Freedom Policy Action Team, Dr. Bennett will lead RFI’s efforts to drive strategic thinking on the value of religious freedom in foreign policy. The Religious Freedom Institute promotes a robust understanding of the many ways in which religion and religious freedom make contributions to public life and the common good.


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
202-838-7734
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The Religious Freedom Institute Announces the Launch of Its Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team

Press Release

The Religious Freedom Institute Announces the Launch of Its  Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team

04/02/2018 Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute) — At an event here today, the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) announced the launch of its Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team. Each of the Religious Freedom Institute’s five action teamsadvances religious freedom in a particular issue area or region of the world. The Islam and Religious Freedom Action team is directed by Jennifer S. Bryson. It focuses on exploring and supporting religious freedom from within the traditions of Islam. 

Religious Freedom Institute President Thomas Farr stated, “Our Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team will greatly expand the Institute’s ability to promote religious freedom for all people. By focusing on support for religious freedom from within Islam’s own traditions, we will assist diverse Muslim leaders and communities domestically and abroad in developing their own understandings of and protections for this fundamental human right. Jennifer Bryson has spent nearly a decade developing her expertise and relationships on Islam and religious freedom and is ideally suited to lead this team.”

Jennifer Bryson has been studying religious freedom from within the traditions of Islam and working with Muslims who support religious freedom since 2009. She has a Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic studies from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Yale University, an M.A. in History from Yale, and a B.A. in Political Science from Stanford. She is currently studying religious freedom in international human rights at the Newseum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center in Washington, D.C.

Jennifer Bryson stated: “The Religious Freedom Institute’s commitment to developing support for religious freedom ‘on the ground’ in hotspot countries and regions around the world, as well as supporting religious freedom in the West, make it the perfect home for the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team. Our work is a long-term project. We envision a world in which Muslims support and are protected by religious freedom. Our team’s essential efforts include making Muslim-authored research and multimedia on religious freedom more widely available and accessible, especially to Muslims.” 

The Islam and Religious Freedom Action team includes Research and Program Associate Ismail Royer, Program Associate Kareem McDonald, and Atlas Corps Fellow Mehdi Mejri. IslamRFI.org features research and publications by Islamic scholars and other Muslim experts on religious freedom. Many of these are provided in Arabic and multiple other languages. 


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
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RFI COMMENDS CONFIRMATION OF SAM BROWNBACK AS U.S. AMBASSADOR AT-LARGE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Press Release

RFI COMMENDS CONFIRMATION OF SAM BROWNBACK AS U.S. AMBASSADOR AT-LARGE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

January 25, 2018 Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) commends the U.S. Senate for confirming Governor Sam Brownback as the new U.S Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. 

Religious Freedom Institute President Thomas Farr welcomed the Senate's decision: "Ambassador Brownback's deep experience, and his commitment to religious freedom for all people, will help ensure American leadership in the vital work of reducing global religious persecution. We believe he will make U.S. religious freedom policy an integral part of America's national security strategy." 

Ambassador Brownback will confront a host of daunting challenges and threats to stability and security. Rising levels of global religious persecution are being fueled by violent religious extremism, oppressive government policies, and aggressively anti-religious forms of secularism. Millions are suffering terrible depredations as a result. Nations and economies are being destabilized by the absence of religious freedom. 

Ambassador Brownback is the right choice to lead U.S. policy in addressing this global crisis. In his 16 years as a Congressman and U.S. Senator, Brownback built a reputation as a steadfast advocate for religious freedom. He was one of the key supporters of the landmark International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which established in law the promotion of religious freedom as an element of U.S. foreign policy.  The Act also created the ambassadorship Brownback now holds. In the Senate, Brownback played an integral role in increasing and improving the U.S. response to the genocide in Darfur by introducing the legislation that became the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006. 

A policy brief released in early 2017 by the Religious Freedom Institute and the Institute for Global Engagement offers recommendations on international religious freedom policy to the Trump administration and Congress. The brief stresses the importance of integrating religious freedom into U.S. foreign policy and national security thinking.  

The brief notes that by placing religious freedom at the core of our foreign policy "the Trump administration has a remarkable opportunity, at low cost, to make a major contribution to international justice and stability, fundamental human rights, economic growth, and U.S. national security." RFI President Thomas Farr said that "Ambassador Brownback can make this vision a reality and deserves the support of all Americans in achieving it."
 


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
202-838-7734
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Congress Should Act to Protect the Conscience Rights of All Health Care Providers

Press Release

Congress Should Act to Protect the Conscience Rights of All Health Care Providers

November 13, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute urges Congress to ensure that the conscience rights of physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are fully protected in law. Religious Freedom Institute President Tom Farr stated today, “No physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional should be coerced to participate in procedures that violate his or her religious conscience. Congress should ensure that victims of unjust discrimination have direct and immediate recourse to legal remedies in the courts.”

Although federal law has long prohibited unjust coercion of healthcare professionals, current law restricts a healthcare professional’s ability to protect his or her conscience rights.

For example, employers have pressured nurses to participate in abortions or risk losing their jobs. The federal Weldon amendment prohibits discrimination against individual or organizational healthcare providers who do not participate in abortions but fails to include a method for them to vindicate this non-discrimination right in federal court. 

Currently, if a healthcare professional or other healthcare provider is threatened or otherwise suffers discrimination for not participating in an abortion, the only recourse under the Weldon amendment is to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

On Capitol Hill last Wednesday, nurses Cathy DeCarlo, Sandra Mendoza, and Fe Vinoya described how their conscience rights had been violated. After 18 years of service as a nurse with the Winnebago County Health Department in Rockford, Illinois, Ms. Mendoza lost her job for refusing to participate in an abortion. She stated that, while Americans may not all agree on abortion, hopefully all can “agree that no doctor or nurse should be forced out of employment on account of their faith.”

In Roe v. Wade (1973) itself, the Supreme Court cited with approval a policy that “neither physician, hospital, nor hospital personnel shall be required to perform any act violative of personally-held moral principles.” The same year, Congress enacted protections for health care professionals’ conscience rights in circumstances involving abortion. 

In 2004, the Weldon amendment provided additional protections for physicians and nurses – as well as hospitals and other healthcare entities – against discrimination for not performing or participating in abortions. Congresses and Presidents of both parties have approved the Weldon amendment every year since 2004.

Congress should act immediately to ensure that nurses and other healthcare professionals are free to vindicate their rights promptly through our justice system.

The Religious Freedom Institute urges Congress to protect the religion freedom that enables professionals of all faiths to contribute to our society their much-needed healthcare skills and expertise.


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
202-838-7734
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Press Release: Defending Religious Freedom at Georgetown

Press Release

Defending Religious Freedom at Georgetown

October 27, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— In recent years considerable confusion has emerged on American college campuses about the meaning and value of religious freedom. Religious belief and expression by Muslim, Jewish, Christian and other religious students have been declared hateful or bigoted.

This week the Georgetown University Student Activities Commission announced its intent to examine charges against Love Saxa, a Georgetown student organization that holds and promotes Catholic teachings on marriage and sexuality. A hearing is scheduled for October 30 to determine whether Love Saxa should be defunded and removed as a sanctioned student group at Georgetown.

Students at the University have charged that Love Saxa’s promotion of Catholic teachings violates Georgetown Student Organization Standards by sanctioning hatred and intolerance.

The Religious Freedom Institute stands for the right of all college students in America, and all student groups on college campuses, to make religion-based arguments about the common good. This right is protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of the “free exercise” of religion, and is at the core of American democracy.

"This is an opportunity for students at Georgetown to break out of the toxic paradigms that increasingly plague our public discourse, and to demonstrate that holding differing views or beliefs must not be viewed as fostering hatred or intolerance," said Abigail Galván, Director of Development for the Religious Freedom Institute, a Georgetown alumna, and a founding member of Love Saxa.

"I encourage Georgetown students, as the future leaders of our nation, to promote a full exchange of ideas and do so in an environment where religious freedom is fully embraced and flourishes,” said Galván.

The United States was founded on the proposition that religious freedom for all its citizens, protected in law and valued in culture, is necessary for the success of democracy. There are many reasons for its value, including its role in protecting equality and ensuring unity.

The Religious Freedom Institute urges all college students, and all Americans, to consider the value of religious freedom in combatting the abandonment of civil discourse in our colleges and universities. Our Constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion ensures that all voices, including those grounded in religion, are welcome in America.

The Institute also notes that the Constitution guarantees the right of free exercise for religion-based universities, such as Georgetown, which is a Catholic University in the Jesuit tradition. Among other things, this means that such institutions have the right to defend the teachings of the religion which defines their identity, and to offer those teachings to their students. This right extends to all faith-based colleges and universities.


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
202-838-7734
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RFI Calls for End to Ethnic and Religious Cleansing of Muslim Rohingya in Western Burma

Press Release

RFI Calls for End to Ethnic and Religious Cleansing of Muslim Rohingya in Western Burma

September 15, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute calls on the United States and the international community to take immediate steps to stop the outrageous injustices the Burmese military is committing against the Muslim Rohingya and to ensure they are accorded their basic human rights, including their right to religious freedom.  A brutal campaign of ethnic and religious cleansing carried out by the Burmese Army  has victimized some 300,000 people from the predominantly Muslim Rohingya ethnic community in western Burma (Myanmar).   In particular, the RFI calls on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution imposing a global arms embargo on Burma and calls on relevant countries  to consider  targeted sanctions against the Burmese military.

“The election of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy was viewed by many as the dawn of a new era of freedom in Burma,” notes Dr. Andrew Bennett, former Canadian Ambassador for International Religious Freedom and an RFI Senior Fellow. “Yet as leader of the Burmese government she has failed to halt the persecution in Rakhine state or to champion religious freedom as a key democratic freedom.”

In the past three weeks, hundreds have been killed by the Burmese Army, and the testimonies of refugees point to horrific crimes against humanity, including the burning of villages and shooting of women and children. The current crisis was precipitated by attacks on Burmese police posts by a small militant armed Rohingya group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) unequivocally condemns these attacks. 

However, “the Burma Army’s response to the attacks by ARSA has been grotesquely disproportionate,” observes Ambassador Bennett. While ARSA’s attacks cannot be justified, they were a predictable response to decades of persecution of the Rohingya. Research by RFI Senior Fellow Dr. Nilay Saiya, demonstrates that severe religious repression is the leading global cause of religion-related terrorism. Without an immediate end to the persecution of the Rohingya, a worsening cycle of religious militancy, Burmese military reprisals, and political instability may well occur and spread to neighboring countries.

In 1982, Burma stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship, rendering them stateless and vulnerable to increasingly severe restrictions on their basic human rights. In 2012, major outbreaks of violence against the Rohingya began to occur, with the latest military campaign being the most severe and widespread. 

The Religious Freedom Institute urges the international community, particularly the United States, the United Kingdom, and their allies, the UN, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to act to stop further crimes against humanity. It also calls on the Government of Burma to open all parts of Rakhine State, where the atrocities are being committed, to unrestricted access by international humanitarian aid agencies, human rights monitors, and the media.

At the same time, the Religious Freedom Institute calls on Pope Francis to use his visit to Burma in November to advocate forcefully for religious freedom, human dignity, and peace and reconciliation for all the peoples of Burma.

Benedict Rogers, author of three books on Burma and an RFI Senior Fellow, observes, “This crisis must also be laid at the feet of General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, who is leading the current campaign of atrocities. He must not be permitted to hide behind Aung San Suu Kyi while she receives, albeit justly, global criticism. To move forward, the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan must be implemented, and efforts must be made to stop the violence and move towards accountability, reconciliation, and a peaceful and just resolution.”
 


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
202-838-7734
www.religiousfreedominstitute.org