Promoting Respect and Tolerance for International Religious Freedom

Suzan Johnson Cook
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom 
Washington, DC
September 13, 2011

As the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, a big part of my job is combating religious intolerance and encouraging respect for religious diversity around the world. It is my belief that in order to live peacefully side by side, we cannot allow violence based on religion to continue under any circumstances. It is heart-wrenching to hear every day about violence committed in the name of religion or because of one’s religious beliefs or lack of religious belief.

It is with this in mind that I am pleased to share some good news about my recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey. I travelled with Secretary Clinton and Ambassador to the Human Rights Council Eileen Donahoe to discuss coordinated international strategies to combat intolerance, discrimination, and violence based on religion or belief with our international partners. We met with leaders of both the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the European Union Office of the High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security in Istanbul at the historic Center for Islamic Arts and History. Along with several foreign ministers, European Union High Representative Ashton, and other senior diplomats, Secretary Clinton and OIC Secretary General Ihsanoglu made a public commitment to address religious intolerance around the world.

This event demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our partners to constructively address incidents of intolerance and promote freedom of expression, building on the historic resolution 16-18 adopted by consensus at the March 2011 Human Rights Council session in Geneva. As the Secretary so eloquently remarked, “Under this resolution, the international community is taking a strong stand for freedom of expression and worship, and against discrimination and violence based upon religion or belief. These are fundamental freedoms that belong to all people in all places, and they are certainly essential to democracy.”

I am proud and humbled to be named as the lead coordinator for the United States on implementation of this resolution. On behalf of the Secretary, I will convene a meeting of experts later this year in Washington, D.C. that will further our progress on these essential issues. Along with other attendees, we will discuss best practices and exchange ideas from our respective nations.

As the Secretary said, “We each have to work to do more to promote respect for religious differences in our own countries.” I couldn’t agree more and I look forward to guiding this first meeting of, what I hope, will be many.

As we continue to promote values of respect and tolerance on a global scale, we need to remember that offering respect begins on the individual level. What are you doing to promote respect in your communities?