We’ve seen some positive steps and small ways but serious religious freedom violations continue to affect the Coptic Orthodox Christian community, Jews, Bahai and members of minority Muslim communities, and the government has not taken sufficient steps to halt the repression of and discrimination against religious believers or to punish those responsible for violence.  Egypt is also another country, along with Pakistan that has been very engaged on the defamation of religion’s issue which is a real emerging problem at the United Nations.  And the last country, our highlight is the Russian Federation which as also a new addition to our watch list. The commission had reported on Russia for 8 years for the past 10 years, even though they’d never been on our CPC or watch list, but this year we added them to the watch list and it was for a variety of reasons.  There had been a slow expansion of pragmatic laws that make it difficult for religious minorities and Muslim groups to be able to practice their faith freely, of all these most concerning was the creation and, I believe it was February this year, a new so-called experts counsel in the ministry of justice and the person who has been appointed to head it is this notorious anti-cult activist who was referred to Pentecostals as dangerous cults and it has a view of groups that are very normal here in the United States as problematic and some of his lieutenants that have been appointed have a very limited view of what is Orthodox Islam and what should be permitted to be practiced legally and it’s just now starting up but we’re concerned that this body in the personalities that have been appointed have a lot of leeway to really try to monitor and control the religious activities of variety of religious communities.

In fact, at one of their first meetings they expressed concern about the Russian bible society, which doesn’t sound like to me a group that would be problematic in most other countries but…so it’s something we’re going to be following and we’ve been raising this issue, but also all these other issues with the State Department NIC and working with the NGO community and the various religious communities to think about ways to move US foreign policy forward.  But ultimately that changes policy in these countries because that’s the ultimate goal for all of us in this field, this is it changes domestically and part of our mandate is to see the US foreign policies has the right approach and the right tact that we want to see positive changes on the ground.  You know, we’re not about trying to export the first amendments, you know, the US approach to religious freedom.  We ground our work in international commitments that all countries share with the universal declaration of human rights in article 18 and it’s described in the preamble.  It was like a common standard for achievement and that’s the lens at which we look at these countries.  It is true that we don’t report on the United States but we do have internal mechanisms to the Department Of Justice.  It does like at the treatment of religious groups, and that’s not part of our mandate but we are working to help promote religious freedom for people of all faith or those of no faith so that they can enjoy their human rights that are recognized internationally, their variety of covenants and declarations.  With that I’m happy to answer any questions and again I want to thank the Rumi Forum for this opportunity to speak here.

Interviewer:    Knox, thank you very much.  I’ll take the prerogative of moderating and actually ask the first question.  It’s actually two parts.  If you could, for the audience explain a little bit about the commission’s make-up, how it’s – who the commissioners are, how they’re appointed.  And second giving your vast experience on this issue both from the State Department side and the commission side, what the differences in methodologies are of the State Department’s report versus the commissioner’s report.

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