By Erin Rodewald // July 31, 2018
(This article was originally written for and posted to 21Wilberforce)
Nadia Murad had dreams of being a teacher, not a sabia — not a slave. In one horrific August afternoon in 2014, ISIS terrorists invaded her village in Northern Iraq and shattered those dreams. The militants slaughtered hundreds of Nadia’s neighbors in a single hour, including six of her brothers and stepbrothers. She and the other young women who remained were rounded up and sold as slaves to ISIS fighters. Nadia endured months of brutality before escaping her captors.
Nadia is a victim of the devastating Yezidi genocide. She is also a survivor. Last week Vice President Mike Pence recognized her and several other survivors of religious persecution at the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.
“We are honored by your presence. We are inspired by your courage,” said Pence, speaking directly to Nadia. “The people of the United States are inspired by your testimony and your strength and your faith. And it steels our resolve to stand for your religious liberty in the years ahead.”
Indeed, last week’s Ministerial seems to have breathed new life and energy into the international religious freedom movement. Hundreds of human rights activists, foreign government officials, religious leaders, and NGO representatives from more than 80 nations attended the historic gathering to network and share best practices for promoting religious freedom and fighting religious persecution.
Leadership at the highest levels of the U.S. government have thrown their full weight behind the issue — particularly fitting on this 20th anniversary year of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), which codified religious freedom as a core value within U.S. foreign policy. Speaking at the closing session of the Ministerial, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Millions of people of all faiths are suffering every day. But the Trump administration will not be silent.”
The Secretary then announced several new initiatives, including:
- The International Religious Freedom Fund, created in cooperation with other nations to support the work of religious freedom defenders and assist victims of religious persecution around the world;
- An International Visitor Leadership Program, established to promote religious pluralism and protection of religious minority rights; and
- Boldline, a three-day workshop that will support and scale innovative public-private partnerships that promote and defend global religious freedom
Also announced was the release of the Potomac Declaration and the Potomac Plan of Action, a groundbreaking statement and comprehensive plan that reasserts U.S. commitment to promoting and defending religious freedom and urging foreign governments to prioritize the same.
Real peace cannot be achieved in isolation from human rights
The Action Plan is a framework for national and multinational activity. It calls on nations to defend the freedom of religion or belief, bring laws and policies into line with international human rights standards, advocate for equal rights and protections for all, protect citizens from genocide and other mass atrocities, preserve cultural heritage, and strengthen the response to threats against religious freedom.
“There is a remarkable overlap between the countries that deny religious freedom and the countries that threaten peace and security,” said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, speaking at the final reception of the Ministerial. “Real peace cannot be achieved in isolation from human rights. This is especially true of violations of religious liberty.”
The Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom will re-convene again next year. In the months ahead, how will you add your voice to the protection and promotion of international religious freedom?