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Secretary Michael R. Pompeo at a Press Availability on the Release of the 2019 International Religious Freedom
June 12, 2020

U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
Remarks to the Press
June 10, 2020

Press Briefing Room
Washington, D.C.

Arabic version

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Good morning, everyone.  It’s great to be with you all today.  I’m here one more time, proudly, to talk about freedom and free societies.  And while America is not a perfect nation by any means, we always strive towards that more perfect union, trying to improve.  We remain the greatest nation in the history of civilization.

One of the good things that we do in this administration is our dedication to the protection of religious freedom all around the world.  Last week, President Trump signed the first ever executive order that instructs the entire U.S. Government to prioritize religious freedom.

Here at the State Department, I’ve hosted the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom now twice.  We’ve launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance.  We’ve trained our Foreign Service officers to understand religious freedom issues much more deeply.

And today, I’m proud to release the 2019 International Religious Freedom Report.  There is no other nation that cares so deeply about religious freedom, that we gather accounts from all across the world – it’s an enormous, it’s a comprehensive accounting of this fundamental human right.

Let me highlight a few positive developments we’ve observed in this past year:

The Gambia, an International Freedom Alliance member, has courageously brought a case before the International Court of Justice regarding crimes against the Rohingya.

The United Arab Emirates, long an ally for religious freedom in the Middle East, has become the first country in the Middle East to permit the construction of a temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In Uzbekistan, steps have been taken to improve its record on religious freedom, and those steps continue.  I had a great chat with religious leaders where I was there earlier this year.

We documented no police raids of unregistered religious group meetings during 2019, compared with 114 such raids in 2018, and 240 – 240 the year before that.  These are great strides, real progress, the efforts of our State Department team showing or bearing fruit.

But there’s also a great darkness over parts of the world where people of faith are persecuted or denied the right to worship:

The Nicaraguan Government harasses and intimidates religious leaders and worshipers and desecrates religious spaces, often using proxies.

In Nigeria, ISIS and Boko Haram continue to attack Muslims and Christians alike.  ISIS beheaded 10 Christians in that country just this past December.

And in China, state-sponsored repression against all religions continues to intensify.  The Chinese Communist Party is now ordering religious organizations to obey CCP leadership and infuse communist dogma into their teachings and practice of their faith.  The mass detentions of Uighurs in Xinjiang continues.  So does the repression of Tibetans and Buddhists and Falun Gong and Christians.

I commend the report released today to everyone.  Its very existence is evidence of our strong resolve to defend human dignity.

Ambassador Brownback, who is standing up here with me, will take questions from you after I wrap up my conversation with you all this morning.

Speaking of China, last week I was humbled and honored to meet with several survivors of the Chinese Communist Party’s massacre at Tiananmen Square that happened 31 years ago.

I also released a statement on China’s obscene attempts to take advantage of our domestic situation to press their political agenda, which I’m sure many of you saw.

There is no equivalence between our two forms of government.  We have the rule of law; China does not.  We have free speech and embrace peaceful protest.  They don’t.  We defend religious freedom; as I just noted, China continues its decades-long war on faith.

The contrast couldn’t be more clear:  During the best of times, China ruthlessly imposes communism.  And amidst the most difficult challenges the United States faces, we work to secure freedom for all.

And speaking of freedom, I want to say how happy I am that Michael White’s back home safely.  I want to thank our team, led by Special Representative Brian Hook, for the great diplomacy that he engaged in that led to Michael’s release.  I want to thank the Swiss Government, too, for their assistance.

The work is not done.  Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, and Morad Tahbaz are Americans still wrongfully detained by the Iranian regime.  Tehran must release them immediately.

Staying in the Middle East, a brief comment on Libya.

The agreement between the GNA and the LNA to re-enter UN security talks was a good first step, very positive.  Quick and good faith negotiations are now required to implement a ceasefire and relaunch the UN-led intra-Libyan political talks.  It’s time.  It’s time for all Libyans on all sides to act, so that neither Russia nor any other country can interfere in Libya’s sovereignty for its own gain.

Putting Libya on the path to economic recovery means preserving Libyan oil facilities and strong access to the National Oil Corporation.

On Iraq:  The Government of Iraq has agreed to the Strategic Dialogue proposed in April, beginning tomorrow.  Under Secretary Hale will lead that discussion with the representatives from Department of Defense, Treasury, Energy, and other agencies, and their Iraqi counterparts.

In keeping with previous dialogues based on our 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement, the dialogue will cover all of the areas of interest between our two countries: politics, economics, security, culture, and energy.

With new threats on the horizon, including the global coronavirus pandemic, collapsed oil prices, and a large budget deficit, it’s imperative that the United States and Iraq meet as strategic partners to plan a way forward for the mutual benefit of each of our two nations.

A little bit closer to home, the Trump administration continues to work with our partners to sustain the great transformation here in the Western Hemisphere, to turn it into that hemisphere of freedom that we have talked about.

That work must continue in bilateral, multilateral settings – why I’m voicing the United States concerns over the Pan American Health Organization’s role in facilitating forced labor by Cuban doctors in Brazil’s Mais Medico program, during which more than 10,000 Cuban health care workers have allegedly been trafficked.

PAHO must explain how it came to be the middleman in a scheme to exploit Cuban medical workers in Brazil.

PAHO must explain how it came to send $1.3 billion to the murderous Castro regime.

PAHO must explain why it did not seek the approval of the executive council – its own executive council – for its role in this program.

And PAHO must explain who in the organization approved a potentially illegal agreement.

And it must explain what it did with the $75 million it collected when it brokered this program.

It needs to undertake reforms to prevent such things from ever happening again.

And just as we did with the World Health Organization, the Trump administration will demand accountability from all international health organizations that depend on American taxpayer resources.  Our money must support things that create value and support our values.

The United States continues to stand for democratic values elsewhere in the hemisphere too.

We look forward to a quick and credible conclusion to the vote recount in Guyana.

We expect transparent and credible outcomes in the legislative elections in Suriname as well.

And we continue to support the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom.

Let’s not lose sight of how the Maduro regime has harmed Americans, either.  We call once again for the regime, which has held six U.S. oil executives for more than two and a half years now without a trial, to release each of these individuals.

We also call on Russia to do the same for Paul Whelan, who needs to be released now.

Rest assured Ambassador Sullivan and his team will keep fighting for Paul.

The United States will also keep our focus on Moscow’s other human rights violations.  Since 2015, Russia has conscripted thousands of Crimean men into its armed forces and imposed criminal penalties on those who do not comply.  Russia must end its repression of those who oppose its occupation, release unjustly imprisoned Ukrainians, and return full control to the peninsula of Ukraine.  Crimea is Ukraine.

In brighter news, on the other side of the Atlantic, our consulate in Nuuk, Greenland formally begins operations today.  I’m excited about that.  It took a lot of work and it’s good news.  It’s the culmination of the administration’s efforts to strengthen our engagement in the Arctic region, and a big thanks to Ambassador Carla Sands and her team in Copenhagen for help making this happen.

We’re grateful for the solid cooperations we’ve seen from Greenland and Denmark in making this day arrive.  I was supposed to make a trip last year to announce this news and I’m still hoping that I can make it up that way north.  I know you’ll all want to come along with me on that trip.

One more item from Europe:  I also welcome Albania’s cross-party agreement on electoral reform, which will strengthen its democracy and further solidify Albania’s European future.  We encourage all stakeholders to codify this political agreement.

On to Africa.  The United States welcomes Congo’s arrest of Trazor Mputu Kankonde, who is accused of involvement in the 2017 murder of UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan.  Finding and apprehending him is an important step forward for the rule of law in the DRC and justice for the murder of an American citizen.

More good news:  We want to congratulate France on its announcements of operations that killed in northern Mali Abdelmalek Droukdal, the leader of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.  This is a big victory.  We’ve taken another senior al-Qaida leader off the battlefield, a terrorist threat who has presented risk all across the globe.

And I want to mention briefly too an upcoming meeting General Secretary Xi is having with leaders in Africa on COVID-19.  We’ve taken note of the very modest financial donations that China and so-called private Chinese entities have disbursed in Africa.

China’s contributions to fighting the pandemic are paltry compared to the financial and human costs of the cover-up that it engendered.  And I note too our concern that China will exploit the pandemic as a pretext to continue its opaque lending practices that have led nations to debt and disappointment all throughout Africa.

The United States has done and will continue to do enormous good work in Africa.  PEPFAR has saved millions of African lives and the U.S. is sustaining multiple programs in Africa to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.  We’ll continue this remarkable humanitarian work as a reliable, transparent, and steadfast partner to our many African friends.

And finally, I have an announcement regarding America’s unyielding pledge of help for countries and people afflicted by pandemic.

First, I want to announce $14 million in new humanitarian assistance for refugees and vulnerable migrants.

Second, President Trump is proud to help supply ventilators to countries all around the world.

Today we’re providing nearly $180 million to support the purchase of those ventilators as well as the training and support needed for these complex machines.

So far, we’ve committed to deliver nearly 15,000 ventilators to more than 60 countries.

AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Well, thank – thank you all for being here today.  I thank Secretary Pompeo.  Grateful to President Trump, Vice President Pence, leading on this important issue on religious freedom.

Just as a brief overview, quickly, there are many firsts that this administration has done on this topic of religious freedom that I’d like to highlight here.  Last week you saw the executive order on religious freedom the President put out.  It’s the first time that’s ever been done by any chief executive anywhere in the world.  President Trump was the first president ever, first chief executive of any country ever to host a religious freedom event at the UN General Assembly, in September last year.

The Secretary mentioned the ministerials to advance religious freedom.  He hosted two of them.  Those were the largest religious freedom events ever of their kind in the world, largest-ever human rights-focused conferences hosted by the State Department.  The Secretary launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance.  It’s the – he is the first-ever U.S. Secretary of State to organize an international coalition at a national leadership level to push the issue of religious freedom forward around the world.  Last year we launched the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative to push for peace between Muslims, Christians, and Jews by engaging in the cause key theologians of each of the faiths.

The Trump administration has done and continues to do more than any other administration to protect and promote religious freedom for all faiths, groups, or for people of no faith at all.

Today, Pastor Andrew Brunson has been reunited with his family.  The world has taken notice of the PRC Government’s human rights abuses and is beginning to speak out.  Asia Bibi has been freed for more than a year.  And due to recent improvements, both Sudan and Uzbekistan have been removed from the list of Countries of Particular Concern.  Major accomplishments and major things happening.

Since the emergence of the COVID pandemic, we’ve seen Burma drop its charges and release more than 1,000 Rohingya from jail.  Iran furloughed a few of the dozens of unjustly detained members of religious minorities.

The administration has answered the call to fight for people of all faiths, everywhere, at all time.  It’s been a very fulfilling job for me working with the incredible staff and pushing for religious freedom in every corner of the globe.  Yet the state of religious freedom remains far from perfect, and very troubling.  In many places of the world, individuals have become more familiar with religious oppression than religious freedom, and that’s – this report we’ve put forward today, the 2019 International Religious Freedom Report – Religious Freedom Report that’s put out today.

Faith groups in China are among those suffering greatly on account of their beliefs.  In Iran, 109 members of minority religious groups remain in prison for simply being religious minority practitioners.  And last year the government executed a number of individuals on charges of enmity against God.  In Nigeria, conflicts and carnage continue between predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers in North Central states.

So our work is clearly cut out for us.  We must continue to build partnerships and alliances with nations who share our commitment to advance religious freedom around the world, and we must continue our efforts to stop bad actors.  And we must also continue to expand our capacity.  The importance of advancing religious freedom cannot be overstated.  It must extend to all areas of our foreign policy, and that’s why President Trump announced a new executive order last week, as I mentioned, which prioritizes international religious freedom in the planning and implementation of United States foreign policy and in the foreign assistance programs.

We will continue to press forward our commitment to promote religious freedom for all, and that’s what we have done and that’s what we’ll continue to do, and the Secretary’s been outstanding in leading this effort, as has the President and the Vice President, and I think you’ll see more to come.