WASHINGTON, DC – Speaking in the gilded Treaty Room at the Department of State on Tuesday, Secretary Rex Tillerson re-confirmed the genocide designation against the Islamic State for its reign of terror in the Middle East and beyond as well as condemning serial human rights abusers Iran and China.
“Application of the law to the facts at hand leads to the conclusion ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled,” Tillerson said in remarks announcing the release of the congressionally mandated annual International Religious Freedom Report for 2016.
“ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities,” Tillerson said, adding that the Trump administration wanted to “remove any ambiguity from previous statements or reports by the State Department” about the genocide designation and ISIS.
“The crime of genocide requires three elements: specific acts with specific intent to destroy in whole or in part specific people, members of national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups,” Tillerson said, “Specific act, specific intent, specific people.”
#ReligiousFreedom is a cherished American value and a universal #humanright. Read the full 2016 @State_IRF Report: https://t.co/UO2iebANmY.
— Department of State (@StateDept) August 15, 2017
Tillerson picked a number of countries to focus on in his brief remarks from the 199 countries and territories covered in the report, including China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Bahrain, and Pakistan.
“In China, the government tortures, detains, and imprisons thousands for practicing their religious beliefs,” Tillerson said. “Dozens of Falun Gong members have died in detention.”
Tillerson said that Iran executed 20 people in 2016 for breaking “vague apostasy laws.”
“Members of the Baha’i community are in prison today simply for abiding by their beliefs,” in Iran, Tillerson said.
“We remain concerned about the state of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia,” Tillerson said. “The government does not recognize the right of non-Muslims to practice their religion in public and applied criminal penalties, including prison sentences, lashings, and fines, for apostasy, atheism, blasphemy, and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam.”
“Of particular concern are attacks targeting Shia Muslims, and the continued pattern of social prejudice and discrimination against them,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson said Turkey is limiting the human rights of religious minorities in that country and repeated the call by the United States for the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been held in prison there for more than eight months under allegations that the American missionary has aided terrorists.
Tillerson noted in his remarks that, even after 20 years of the State Department reports on religious liberty, there is still a tremendous amount of work to do as 80 percent of people around the globe are not allowed to worship freely.
He also reiterated his support for the nomination of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and said he hopes for a “swift” Senate confirmation.
The preface of the report opens with a quote from President Donald Trump.
“From the beginning, America has been a place that has cherished the freedom of worship,” Trump said. “Sadly, many around the globe do not enjoy this freedom … [W]e pray for the strength and wisdom to achieve a better tomorrow – one where good people of all faiths, Christians and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according to their conscience.”
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