Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks on the 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, Foreign Press Center
New York, New York, September 5, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning. I guess, no, good afternoon. It’s very nice to see you all here and everybody relaxed and rested after Labor Day and ready for a lot of activities.
Early this morning, we delivered to Congress the State Department’s Second Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. I wanted to come here today to emphasize once again the central role that our concern for religious freedom plays in the foreign policy of the United States. From the earliest days of our history, we Americans have believed that nations are stronger, and the lives of their people richer, when citizens have the freedom to choose, proclaim and exercise their religious identity. Today, promoting religious freedom and encouraging reconciliation among religious groups is a fundamental part of U.S. diplomacy. That commitment is reflected in the outstanding day-to-day efforts of Under Secretary Loy, Assistant Secretary Koh and our Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Bob Seiple. It is illustrated by the hard work which went into the thorough and carefully written report we are releasing today.
The report should be an indispensable tool for anyone with an interest in religious freedom, and it is available to anyone in the world with Internet access to the State Department’s website at http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/irf/irf_rpt/irf_toc.html
The United States was founded by women and men who fled religious persecution and intolerance. It is natural, therefore, that they gave freedom of religion a prominent place in the Bill of Rights. And Thomas Jefferson held religious freedom as the creed of our political faith and the text of our civil instruction. But religious liberty is far more than an American ideal. It is a fundamental part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it has become a shared aspiration and obligation of the entire international community.
Every country has its own unique political and legal system. In our report, we do our utmost to be fair and respectful of other cultures. But no country’s history or culture can exempt it from it the need to respect principles of religious freedom enshrined in the Universal Declaration. Much of the report we issue today is grim reading. It details many incidents and patterns of religious persecution that continue in many parts of the globe. The victims it spotlights are Bahais and Buddhists, Christians and Hindus, Jews and Muslims, Sikhs and others.
The sad truth is that religious intolerance remains far too common in far too many places. Fortunately, however, the picture isn’t entirely grim. This year’s Executive Summary also highlights significant instances of progress in religious liberty.
Freedom of religion is a universal and fundamental right of people everywhere. It can be one of the keys to a stable, humane and productive society. But religious freedom carries with it the responsibility to permit the free exercise of the same right by others. For where the rights of persons of any faith are not secure, no one’s rights are secure. That is why America has chosen for so many years to stand for universal principles of tolerance and liberty. And it is why, as the most powerful nation in the world, we will continue to fight for the rights of the world’s most persecuted individuals. It is why we’re releasing this report to the public today.
Before I turn the floor over to Assistant Secretary Koh and Ambassador Seiple, let me say Ambassador Seiple is concluding this job after a couple of years of remarkable work in which he was able to take what was a rather inchoate and potentially difficult partisan issue and make it into a process that has been institutionalized within the work of the State Department. That has been done with incredible sensitivity and a true understanding of the fundamentals of religion and what this country is about. And I am deeply grateful to Ambassador Seiple for all the work that he has done. Thank you.