International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Human Rights, Democracy and Labor

Americans have long cherished their own religious freedom.  More recently, they have also come to cherish their government's advocacy for those millions around the world who suffer persecution for their religious beliefs.  President Bush has time and again affirmed the signature priority that advancing religious liberty holds for our nation.  From his National Security Strategy's declaration that "We will...take special efforts to promote freedom of religion and conscience and defend it from encroachment by repressive governments," to his conviction that "successful societies guarantee religious liberty -- the right to serve and honor God without fear of persecution," he has made clear that religious freedom holds an integral place in American foreign policy. 

This is in part because religious freedom holds such an integral place in America's history and identity.  The American experiment began with many who repaired to these shores in search of freedom to worship, and it continued as that freedom was codified in our founding charters.  In the President's words, "It is not an accident that freedom of religion is one of the central freedoms in our Bill of Rights.  It is the first freedom of the human soul -- the right to speak the words that God places in our mouths.  We must stand for that freedom in our country.  We must speak for that freedom in the world."

Indeed, in many respects religious freedom stands as the "first freedom," encompassing other bedrock liberties such as speech, assembly and conscience.  Together, these rights constitute the seedbed of democratic development.  They encourage not only the institutions and procedures of democracy, such as representative government and free elections, but also the virtues of democracy, including a government and citizenry that value and nurture human dignity.  When the United States promotes religious freedom, it is promoting the spread of democracy.

Our own historical record is admittedly far from perfect, yet that very history makes us all the more determined to protect what has been won.  It makes us doubly determined to help those millions of people beyond our borders who suffer because of their faith.  The ideals that inspired our founding continue to anchor our policies today.  We as a nation have always affirmed the principle that our Creator has endowed all people with fundamental rights and freedoms.  We hold these rights to be sacred and inviolable.  To protect religious freedom is also to protect the other rights inherent in our humanity; to deny religious freedom is also to deny a core principle of our personhood.      

Though it is a priority of the United States, religious freedom is by no means our exclusive preserve.  The past century in particular has seen a growing recognition by the international community of the universal nature of religious freedom and other fundamental human rights.  This awareness has come at no small cost, borne as it was out of the hard lessons wrought by destructive ideologies, colonialism, and world war.  Distilled from such suffering came a new appreciation for a common human nature that transcends cultural, racial, religious and other distinctions.  This was exemplified in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other seminal treaties.  These and other agreements make clear the overwhelming consensus of the world's nations that religious freedom is endowed in all persons and should be enjoyed by all. 

This common agreement among the nations forms an effective basis for common action.  The United States remains committed to advancing religious freedom by working with like-minded nations around the world.  Though differences may persist on other issues in the international arena, protecting the freedom to believe and worship provides a meaningful cause for which we can work together.  We have many partners in this cause and will continue to work diligently to find many more. 

Promoting religious freedom is of special importance in the ongoing war against terrorism.  All too often, countries that violate religious liberty also contribute to terrorism, intentionally or unintentionally.  In some cases, those governments that are hostile to religious liberty have also been hospitable to terrorism.  In other cases, nations have targeted religious believers, even under the guise of anti-terrorism campaigns, and driven some towards radicalism and violence.  Conversely, where governments protect religious freedom, and citizens value it as a social good, religious persecution and religion-based violence find no warrant and little appeal.  Such societies not only tolerate religious differences, but many of their members see the exercise of religious devotion as constitutive of human freedom and dignity.

Though international law may uphold it, and though millions of religious believers around the world may desire it, religious freedom all too often remains fragile, neglected, and violated.  Many religious believers find themselves forced to worship furtively instead of confidently, or to hold their sacred beliefs in fear and secrecy rather than with peace and security.  Many others suffer manifest hardships for their faith, including beatings, torture, detention, imprisonment, or death. 

The United States Government remains steadfast in its resolve to stand with the persecuted and to speak out on behalf of those whose governments would silence them.  In seeking to prevent or remedy abuses, the first and often most vital step is to ensure that the stories are told, the abuses revealed, the restrictions exposed.  This report attempts to do just that.  Yet the catalogue of religious freedom worldwide is hardly confined to the negative, and neither is this report.  It also seeks to describe positive trends and to highlight improvements.  

This, the fifth annual edition of the International Religious Freedom Report, is issued in accordance with the mandate of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.  The report attempts to establish a baseline of fact about the status of religious freedom worldwide, both to illuminate the problems that exist and to provide a primary source for U.S. religious freedom policy.  The first four editions have generally been resisted and criticized by violator governments, but hailed by many religious believers, human rights NGO's, and other governments as the standard worldwide reference on religious persecution.        

The Office of International Religious Freedom

The Office of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom has now completed its fifth year.  The Office has the simple yet daunting mission of promoting religious freedom worldwide.  The Ambassador is charged with the responsibility of serving as the principal advisor to the President and the Secretary of State on matters of international religious freedom.

The Ambassador and his staff monitor the worldwide status of religious persecution and discrimination and devise strategies to reduce the abuses.  Just as importantly, they develop strategies to promote religious freedom, both to attack the root causes of persecution and as a means of advancing other fundamental U.S. interests, such as protecting other core human rights, encouraging the growth of mature democracies, and furthering the war against terrorism.

These strategies are carried out in a variety of ways, using the range of diplomatic tools available, including both formal and informal bilateral negotiations with foreign government authorities; participation in multilateral fora such as the United Nations and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe; cooperation with human rights and faith-based NGOs; and meetings with victims of persecution.  Often the Ambassador and staff, along with other U.S. officials, engage in direct intervention in particular crises in order to remove people of faith from harm's way or to forestall further persecution.

In all cases, the Office, which is staffed with experienced Foreign Service and Civil Service officers, works closely with its counterparts elsewhere in the State Department, the U.S. Government, and in U.S. missions overseas.  U.S. Foreign Service officers abroad form the front line of our religious freedom policy.  Many of their activities, and those of the Office of International Religious Freedom, are discussed in Part III of the Executive Summary.  Some of their most heroic actions, however, must necessarily remain out of the spotlight in order to protect those involved.

As I continue my term as the second U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, I wish to thank all the employees of the Department of State here and abroad who have made this report possible.  In particular, I want to acknowledge the dedicated work of our human rights officers throughout the world, as well as the members of the Office of Country Reports and Asylum Affairs at the State Department, who have worked long and hard to craft this report.  I also want to express appreciation for the vigilant and bipartisan support that Congress has demonstrated on this issue.  Finally, I wish to thank my own staff in the Office of International Religious Freedom, whose commitment to religious freedom for all people is both indefatigable and inspiring.

John V. Hanford III,
Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom