|Mr. Chairman, thank for giving me the opportunity to testify before
this committee today in support
of the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act. The bill your committee
will be taking up on
Thursday is virtually identical to HR 1685, a bill I introduced on May
20 with 27 original
cosponsors. In order to help ensure this bill would be voted on before
the end of the session, I
introduced a slightly modified version of H.R. 1685 on Monday. The
changes were mostly technical
in nature. All but one of the original bipartisan cosponsors are
cosponsors of the new bill and I
expect that the other 84 will cosponsor in the next day or two.
The Freedom from Religious Persecution Act represents, what I hope
will be a fundamental
departure from "business-as-usual" human rights policy.
The persecution of Christians abroad is the great untold human rights
story of the decade. With the
end of the Cold War came freedom for millions of Christians living under
Communism in the former
Soviet Union, Central and Eastern Europe. Christians worked in
solidarity with the Jewish
community and others suffering persecution at the hands of the communist
dictators . The Jewish
community led the fight and the Christians, though sometimes late,
raised their voices and demanded
justice for their faithful. But, with the dawn of freedom came a feeling
that the problem had been
solved. Religious persecution no longer existed.
Sadly, religious persecution -- and especially the persecution of
Christians -- did not dissipate with
the Cold War. It persisted and accelerated. It has gotten worse while
the world and the United
States have turned their efforts elsewhere. There have been some who
have been speaking out, but,
for the most part, their pleas for justice have been relegated to the
world of the "utopian" in U.S.
foreign policy and deemed to be "nice but not really important to
U.S. interests." The words have
been spoken but action to back them up has not been forthcoming.
Current U.S. policy does not reflect an understanding of the
seriousness and intensity of this human
tragedy. We have turned away while 1.5 million have been killed in Sudan
and the Khartoum government wages war against its own people. Christians
and Muslims have been persecuted by the government. The world had been
deafened to the cries of millions of house church Christians in
China who are forced to risk their lives and their freedom just to
worship in secret to keep their faith independent of government control.
The world watches while Christians in Pakistan and Egypt are terrorized
by violent mobs and left helpless by governments not willing to a stand.
We have also turned our backs while Tibetan Buddhists have seen their
holy places destroyed and their religious leaders imprisoned, tortured,
raped and beaten. We do not scream for justice when Bahai's are executed
We must not be silent no longer. We must recognize that religious
freedom is fundamental to democracy and democracy is the best way to ensure
global peace. History has shown us that religious adherents often become
the first scapegoats of tyrants. Persecution of people of faith often
foretells a growing menace of violence and tyranny against other sectors
of society. This century has already seen a number of genocides resulting
in millions of deaths. History has shown us to notice the warning
signs. Governments who kill, maim and torture innocent Christians or
Muslims or Buddhists, are governments which kill, maim and torture others.
They not good neighbors and ultimately, are not good trading partners.
Haven't we learned that silence reflects acquiescence?
America must stand up for the weakest in society the
vulnerable victims. When we do this, we
raise the comfort level for all those threatened by anti-democratic
regimes. We provide hope.
The American Christian community has begun to call for action on
behalf of the millions of Christians
who are being persecuted on account of their beliefs. Beginning on
September 29, a national season
of prayer will begin and tens of thousands of churches across the
country will be discussing this issue
and raising awareness about Christians suffering for their faith.
A number of major feature films are about to be released shedding
light on the persecution of the
Tibetan people where Tibetan Buddhism faces virtual extinction. On my
recent trip to Tibet, I heard story after story of nuns and monks being
dragged off to jail and tortured for practicing their faith. Monasteries
are tightly controlled by the Chinese government. Maintaining allegiance
to the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, or even
displaying his picture is grounds for imprisonment.
The Bah'ai community has been faithfully calling for action
throughout the years.
The 104th Congress recognized persecution against Christians, Tibetan
Buddhists and Bah'ais in three measures and called for action. The 105th
Congress now has an opportunity to take action -- tough, but realistic
The bill focuses on one aspect of this mammoth problem -- persecution
which includes abduction, enslavement, imprisonment, killing, forced
mass resettlement, rape, or torture. It does so in an
attempt to highlight the most life-threatening kinds of religious
persecution. It is not meant, nor should
it be interpreted to mean, that this is the only kind of persecution
that occurs. Persecution need not
always result in bodily injury or imprisonment for it to be persecution.
There are a number of
violations of religious freedom which are not covered by this bill --
discrimination both economic and
political against those of minority faiths; discriminatory restrictions
on repair and construction of
houses of worship; harassment; and other abuses. These kinds of actions
should not be tolerated
and the fact that this bill does not address them should in no way be
taken to mean that they are not
egregious violations of the individual's internationally-accepted right
to freedom of religion. I fully
expect the U.S. government, non-governmental organizations and
multi-lateral institutions to continue
to press all governments to allow all citizens the fundamental and
individual right to practice, or not
practice, one's religion according to the dictates of one's own
This bill, with sanctions attached, seeks to address violations that
are widespread and are threats to
life and limb. If it is rigorously enforced, it will result in more
attention to other kinds of violations not
directly sanctioned by this bill. Governments should be put on alert
that this is, and will continue to
be, a high priority issue for the U.S. government.
H.R. 2531 establishes an Office in the White House to monitor
religious persecution and requires the
Director to report to Congress on whether a country has category 1
involvement ) or category 2 persecution (no government involvement but
lack of government action to stem persecution).
It focuses on aid not trade sanctions to encourage change. This is an
important distinction and one of which I hope the business community
will take note. Except for the section on Sudan, a narrowly-tailored
ban on the export of goods that can be used to facilitate persecution,
and a narrowly-tailored ban on the export of goods to governmental
entities which carry out persecution, this bill contains no trade
sanctions. Where it bans exports, it does so in the narrowest way
practical. I must let this committee know that there are many who
would like to see trade sanctions against
governments that persecute people of faith -- I am one -- however, this
bill uses other means to affect change.
It shuts off foreign aid (except humanitarian aid) to category 1 and
2 countries and requires that U.S.
Executive Directors work aggressively to deny loans by multi-lateral
development banks to
persecuting countries. It denies visas to individuals who carry out or
are responsible for carrying out acts of persecution.
The bill also improves refugee and asylum procedures to ensure those
seeking refuge from
persecution are not turned away from a country which has historically
welcomes religious victims.
This section of the bill is not within this committee's jurisdiction and
I will not elaborate on it further at this time.
Finally, and I want to emphasize this point, the bill imposes
immediate and tough civil sanctions on
the government of Sudan until it ceases all religious persecution. The
sanctions prescribed in this bill
are virtually identical to those imposed on South Africa in the
anti-apartheid act of the 1980's. After
having traveled to Sudan three times since 1989, I can say with some
experience that the persecution occurring there is some of the worst
I've ever seen. Slavery, forcible conversion, the use
of food as a weapon, torture, kidnapping of children. It's time the U.S.
singled this country out as an example of one of the most egregious
violators of human rights in the world.
This bill is not intended as a panacea. The international community,
the President, the Congress and
freedom loving people around the world must remain vigilant and
courageous in standing up against
religious violence. We must continue to raise individual cases and work
towards religious freedom for all.
But, the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act will increase the
priority given to this issue in our
foreign policy and put the thugs on alert. The United States will no
longer tolerate your behavior.
Jackson-Vanik was the movement that crystallized concern in the
1980's on behalf of those suffering persecution in the Soviet Union. This
bill will be its counterpart for the 1990's. It takes a different approach,
but it commands an equal level of popular support and attention.
It's an important and vital first step to combat a growing problem --
a problem which is an affront to
people of conscience everywhere and a threat to human dignity.
I hope every member of this committee will support it. Thank you
again, Mr. Chairman, for your
support for this legislation and your commitment to human rights around
the world. I look forward to
working with this committee to move this bill forward.