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Religious Freedom a "Universal Human Right," Says Rice

2005 report redesignates Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Vietnam as "Countries of Particular Concern"

Posted: November 9, 2005 > Uruguay Segment of the 2005 International Religious Freedom Report  

Secretary Rice at the State Department in Washington, November 8. (State Dept. photo - Janine Sides)

Secretary Rice at the State Department in Washington, November 8. (State Dept. photo - Janine Sides)

The State Department’s seventh annual International Religious Freedom Report, which looks at the state of religious freedom in 197 countries and territories around the world, was submitted to Congress on November 8 by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Through this report, through our bilateral relationships and through our ongoing discussions with communities of faith around the world, America will defend the rights of people everywhere to believe and worship according to their own conscience,” Rice said.

The annual report to Congress is mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

The 2005 report redesignates Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Vietnam as "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPC) for especially severe violations of religious freedom. The same countries were listed as CPCs in the 2004 report.

Rice said that Vietnam, although designated as a CPC, has made significant improvements in 2005.

“If Vietnam’s record of improvement continues,” Rice said, “it would enable us to eventually remove Vietnam from our list of ‘Countries of Particular Concern.’”

The full text of the report is available on the State Department Web site.

Following is the transcript of the Rice’s remarks:

(begin transcript)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
November 8, 2005

REMARKS

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
On the Department of State's Annual Report
On International Religious Freedom

November 8, 2005
Washington, D.C.

(2:23 p.m. EST)

SECRETARY RICE: Good afternoon. Hi there, how are you? Today, I have transmitted to Congress the 7th Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. Religious freedom is a constitutional right for Americans. It is also a universal human right, enshrined time and again in international law and declarations.

Our goal is to promote the fundamental right of religious freedom as a part of what President Bush calls "our agenda for a freer world, where people can live and worship and raise their children as they choose."

Preparation of this report, which will be available on the State Department's website, is an intensive, year-long effort led by Ambassador John Hanford and involving a wide cross-section of our Department, including our Office of International Religious Freedom, our regional bureaus and our many embassies abroad.

Production of the report is greatly assisted by the dedication and close collaboration of nongovernmental organizations and individuals around the world who are committed to documenting the status of religious freedom, often at risk to their own lives and their liberty.

The 2005 report covers 197 countries and territories. In some countries, we find that governments have modified laws and policies, improved enforcement or taken other concrete steps to increase and demonstrate respect for religious freedom. In far too many countries, however, governments still fail to safeguard religious freedom. Across the globe, people are still persecuted or killed for practicing their religion or even for just being believers.

This year, we have re-designated eight "Countries of Particular Concern" -- Burma, China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Vietnam. These are countries where governments have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom over the past year. We are committed to seeking improvements in each of these countries, improvements like those we have actually seen in Vietnam, which have been further advanced by agreement on religious freedom that our governments signed just this last May.

If Vietnam's record of improvement continues, it would enable us to eventually remove Vietnam from our list of "Countries of Particular Concern." Through this report, through our bilateral relationships and through our ongoing discussions with communities of faith around the world, America will defend the rights of people everywhere to believe and worship according to their own conscience. As President Bush has said, "Freedom of religion is the first freedom of the human soul. We must stand for that freedom in our country. We must speak for that freedom in the world."

It is now my pleasure to introduce Ambassador Hanford, who stands at the forefront of the Department's work to promote our religious freedom agenda. He has worked tirelessly on this report and works tirelessly throughout the year in bilateral and other discussions with countries to raise awareness of this issue and to help us make progress. And he's going to provide additional details about the report and he will take your questions.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, as the National Security Advisor, did you know about secret CIA prisons?

SECRETARY RICE: Saul, the President made very clear the other day, yesterday, that the first obligation of the President of the United States and those who work with him is to protect this country, protect against the kind of terrible attack that we experienced on September 11th. Now, we do that within the constraints of our law, within the constraints of our Constitution and indeed cognizant of our values. And that is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary just if I could just follow up on that, please? It is very laudable that the United States is talking about morality and religious freedom around the world, but is that not a bit inconsistent when you won't even talk about this issue of secret prisons that has provoked such concern all over the world?

SECRETARY RICE: The United States has stood for the values of human decency, of a government that respects the religious freedoms of its people, that respects the individual rights of its people for its entire history. And I think the United States has an exemplary and exceptional record of having defended these rights. I think if you talk to people in the former Soviet Union, for instance, about how they were able to eventually put enough pressure on a regime that had 30,000 nuclear weapons and five million men under arms, they will talk about the triumph of values and they will credit, as people like Nathan Sharansky have, the United States' steadfast concern for and promotion of those values as having helped Russia become a place, which is not perfect on these measures, but which is far different than the Soviet Union. So the United States has held for these values.

And let me just be very clear, we hold for those values today as strong as we ever have. We are in a different kind of war, where people who know no boundaries, know no treaties, know no borders or territories are assaulting these values, are assaulting free peoples, are killing innocents on a wanton scale. And of course, we, our allies, others who have experienced attacks have to find a way to protect our people.

But I want to be very clear, the President made very clear to everyone that he did not want and would not tolerate torture. And that, in fact, we were going to operate within our laws and within the Constitution, within our values and those assessments have been made.

Thank you. I will turn this over to Ambassador Hanford.

(end transcript)


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