U.S. Launches The First-Ever International Religious Freedom Alliance

By Ewelina U. Ochab, Contributor Policy.

Shoes of victims are kept as evidence as security personnel inspect the interior of St Sebastian's Church in Negombo on April 22, 2019, a day after the church was hit in series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, the worst violence to hit the island since its devastating civil war ended a decade ago.

On February 5, 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance (IRF Alliance), “an Alliance of like-minded partners who treasure, and fight for, international religious freedom for every human being.” The launch comes a few months after on July 18, 2019, at the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington DC, Secretary Pompeo announced new initiatives including the creation of the IRF Alliance. “The Alliance is intended to bring together senior government representatives to discuss actions their nations can take together to promote respect for freedom of religion or belief and protect members of religious minority groups worldwide.”

At the launch, Secretary Pompeo stressed the ever-growing need for such a combined effort listing some of the worst acts of violence based on religion or belief from recent years, including “terrorists and violent extremists who target religious minorities, whether they are Yazidis in Iraq, Hindus in Pakistan, Christians in northeast Nigeria, or Muslims in Burma” and “the Chinese Communist Party’s hostility to all faiths.” Indeed, such acts of violence based on religion or belief are at increase and need urgent and comprehensive response to stop the atrocities, assist the victims and survivors, prosecute the perpetrators and protect the communities from re-occurrence of such acts of violence in the future.

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Ewelina U. Ochab, Author, Contributor Policy

27 countries joined the IRF Alliance, including, Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, The Gambia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Togo, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. The members of the IRF Alliance have pledged to uphold the “Declaration of Principles”, a constitution for the IRF Alliance solidifying their commitment to protect the right to freedom of religion or belief.

The “Declaration of Principles” incorporates several reactive and proactive measures that the members of the IRF Alliance are to adopt to promote and protect the rights to freedom of religion or belief for all. Furthermore, it incorporates a list of potential instruments of actions to aid their work, including “regular monitoring, reporting, information-sharing and outreach to impacted individuals and faith communities”, “support for victims, such as through redress, resettlement, or other actions as appropriate”, “targeted sanctions against perpetrators”, “raining of law enforcement officials, building the capacity of national human rights institutions, and cooperating with civil society”, “investment in projects to protect space for civic engagement by assisting human rights defenders and victims of persecution, as well as to build societal resilience.”

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During the launch, Secretary Pompeo further announced that Poland will host the next Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Warsaw from July 14-16, 2020. The upcoming Ministerial will be organized in cooperation with the United States and will address several topics requiring urgent response including “improving the lives of persecuted and discriminated communities, empowering individuals to affect change, and promoting inclusive dialogue to mobilize action and increase awareness regarding the scale of persecution against religion or belief worldwide.”

The U.S. must be commended for the work it has carried out to lead the efforts to promote and protect the rights to freedom of religion or belief for all. The IRF Alliance is intended to provide a springboard towards action to address violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief globally. To be able to do so, the IRF Alliance must grow in numbers and in the common commitment. Other states must join and stand up for human rights of all people persecuted for their religion or belief.

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