"International Religious Freedom Act of 1998"
UNDER SECRETARY EIZENSTAT: Thank you very much, Jim. I am
pleased that the Administration is able to support the
International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which passed the
Senate a short time ago by a 98-0 vote. I want to thank Senators
Nickles, Lieberman, Biden, Baucus, Hagel, Feinstein, Lugar and
Grams for all their help in working so closely with the
Administration on this legislation.
With the changes that we have now negotiated, the bill advances
the cause of religious freedom while giving the President the
flexibility he needs, and without undermining relations with
important countries around the world, which had been among the
causes of our objection to earlier versions of similar
This bill allows the President to choose among a range of
actions; provides appropriate presidential waiver authority;
avoids a piling-on effect by taking into account prior actions by
the President to advance human rights. The bill avoids also
stigmatizing any country or group of countries. This effort
demonstrates the kind of accommodation between the legislative
and executive branches needed on sanctions legislation. With an
appropriate bipartisan show of comity between the branches,
progress can be made in advancing important American values, such
as religious freedom, as an integral part of our foreign policy.
We enthusiastically support the goals of this legislation to
advance the cause of religious freedom for believers everywhere.
These goals are fully consistent with the Administration's firm
and long-standing support for all human rights, including the
right of all believers to practice their faith without fear.
We've worked hard with the bill's sponsors to help craft
legislation that will accomplish that, to the benefit of
practitioners of all religions -- whether Muslim, Christian,
Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or other faiths -- and I am convinced
that this legislation will help do that.
In supporting this bill, I can assure you it is not directed
against any particular religious group; against any country, or
against any particular region. It is intended to benefit all
believers of all faiths.
We're pleased that the bill is consistent with many of the
sanctions reform principles that we've sought to advance, and
that I outlined in my testimony recently before the Senate.
The constructive dialogue that we've had with the bill's sponsors
over the last few weeks -- and in particular with Senator
Nickles, Senator Lieberman and Senator Feinstein Wednesday night
and Thursday -- demonstrates in a most concrete way the principle
we have sought to advance: That we most effectively advance our
common goals when we work together in a spirit of comity to forge
a common and effective approach. This spirit of cooperation
demonstrates the kind of flexibility that's the hallmark of the
broader question of sanctions reform that we'll be taking up in
the months ahead.
The bill provides that the decisions under the act will not
automatically trigger a broad variety of actions under other
human rights legislation. It offers the President a menu of
actions to advance the cause of religious freedom, which will
give him increased flexibility to tailor our response to specific
(situations) -- something the original House bill did not.
The bill mandates applications of restrictive economic measures
only against countries that engage in systematic, ongoing and
egregious violations of religious freedom. For sanctions to
apply, such violations must be accompanied by reprehensible
practices such as torture, prolonged arbitrary detention without
charges, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty
or security of person.
The bill also allows the President to take into account other
substantial measures which have already been taken to advance the
cause of human rights and which are still in effect in order to
avoid a cascade effect of ever-increasing sanctions.
The inclusion of important national interest waiver authority
will also give the President and Secretary the flexibility and
discretion to use the required economic measures most
effectively. Only the President can balance the complex range of
US interests that such decisions may involve, and to tailor our
response so it most effectively advances our national interest.
Ultimately, this principle of presidential flexibility is so
crucial; and I believe this bill will effectively help promote
the end we seek with that flexibility -- namely, the protection
of religious freedom worldwide -- rather than becoming an issue
of contention between us and our partners around the world.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: I'd like to put in a broader
context of our work on human rights and the promotion of
religious freedom the legislation that's just been described by
Under Secretary Eizenstat.
Our overarching purpose is to promote respect and enjoyment of
universal human rights; and religious freedom is among the most
cherished of human rights. It is an internationally accepted
principle of human rights, recognized particularly in the
International Covenant on Civil Rights and the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
Our own country was founded on the right to worship freely and to
exercise tolerance and respect of others. President Clinton and
Secretary Albright have made this issue a central element of US
foreign policy. They've raised the issue with foreign leaders,
created an Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, and
most recently, established the position of Special Representative
on International Religious Freedom, Dr. Robert Seiple, whom I
will introduce in just a moment.
Religious freedom is interconnected with other human rights, such
as freedom of expression; freedom of conscience; freedom of
association; and freedom of movement, among others. As we
promote religious freedom, we promote a set of human rights
principles and encourage tolerance of all faiths and beliefs.
As we look around the world, we see that the denial of religious
freedom not only brings suffering to many individuals, but also
can lead to conflict and violent instability where communities
cannot live with religious differences. Much of the work we do
on religious freedom is aimed at building the foundation for
peace and the opportunity for democratic governance.
This bill, as passed by the Senate this morning, offers a serious
and effective means to pursue greater religious freedom around
the world. For this reason, the Administration supports the
bill. I'd like to introduce now Dr. Robert Seiple.
DR. SEIPLE: Thanks, John.
As the Secretary's Special Representative for International
Religious Freedom, I am very pleased to be here today to announce
my support for the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
The bill, introduced by Senator Don Nickles and Senator Joseph
Lieberman, provides serious and effective tools to pursue
religious freedom around the world.
Just as important, the bipartisan cooperative process we've
engaged in over the past few weeks in crafting the bill's
provisions, has demonstrated to the world that the United States
speaks with one strong voice on this critical issue.
My job is to coordinate US Government policies to advance
religious freedom. The strong consensus supporting this bill
will support our continuing efforts to convince friends and foes
alike that they must act to protect this very basic universal
human right. We want to work with governments, religious
organizations, NGOs and others to promote religious freedom and
tolerance everywhere. This bill will help us do that.
QUESTION: Can any of you get country-specific -- how the bill
might impact, say, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia?
UNDER SECRETARY EIZENSTAT: The sponsors of the bill made clear
that they intended to promote religious freedom and tolerance
without targeting any particular religion or region. We're not
in a position now, certainly, to make any determinations.
What is important about this legislation is that it sets a very
reasonable but tough standard for egregious violators. In order
to be in the first category of countries of egregious violators,
to which more of the menu of sanctions would apply, you have to
have been guilty of systematic, ongoing, egregious violations.
And these include things such as torture, prolonged detention,
disappearance, flagrant denial of life and liberty. We will have
to go through this analysis to determine which countries would
meet that definition.
For the second category of countries -- those who tolerate
discrimination -- we are not required to make a finding of
violation. This is very important: Because it avoids a list and
automatic sanctions; it gives us a great deal of discretion.
What is so different about this bill from its earlier versions in
the House -- and for that matter, in the Senate, but particularly
in the House -- first, it provides a menu of actions which can be
taken all the way from a private demarche through voting against
a country in international financial institutions. Second, it
provides the kind of waiver authority that we have been seeking
more broadly in sanctions reform legislation, so that presidents
can use that in an effective way to balance other foreign policy
interests. Third, the definition of particularly severe
violators -- this first tier of countries -- is one that we think
is appropriately limited and targeted. And fourth, we were able
to get -- in certain sections where the President was mandated to
do things like consult with NGOs -- discretion to do so.
So this gives us the flexibility; it accomplishes the purposes,
as John and Robert indicated, but it allows us to take our
broader foreign policy interests into effect, and it will not be
perceived as targeting any particular group of countries.
QUESTION: Mr. Eizenstat, this bill, if I understand correctly,
will have to go to committee, to conference?
UNDER SECRETARY EIZENSTAT: The bill goes to the House. A
statement has been made on the Senate floor -- and I can only
repeat the statement; I can't speak for the Senate or the House.
The statement that was made was that the House had agreed to
accept identical legislation. Now again, that is up to the
House; I can't speak for the House, but that is the understanding
we have been given.
QUESTION: Okay, and also, what are the range of actions? Could
you be more specific about what latitude the President would now
have under this Senate bill?
UNDER SECRETARY EIZENSTAT: Under the Senate bill there are a
variety of actions that can be taken: anywhere from a private
demarche through, again as I mentioned, voting against countries
in international financial institutions; cutting off foreign aid;
denying state visits; denying visas -- it's a whole menu. For
those who are in the most egregious violator category, that menu
starts with the more difficult sanctions; I think it's nine
through 16. For those who are in the earlier category, you can
choose from a wider range. But I think it's important to know
what we already do.
First of all, this is the first Administration -- and Secretary
Shattuck is significantly responsible, along with Secretary
Albright, for this initiative -- to issue a religious freedom
report. This has already been done; it's been done this year.
Second, we already demarche every year each country on a global
basis about their religious practices. So those kinds of
activities will simply continue for this second tier of
countries; although we can, if we wish, take some of the actions
that are allowed in the menu of options.
The House version -- the original House bill -- did not have that
menu. There was an automaticity that was required for those who
fit the definition. This Senate bill provides much greater
flexibility for the President to balance interests; and again, it
has a waiver provision that is, we think, a more systemically
important waiver provision for other sanction legislation. So in
that sense, this is an example of how, on a very complex, very
emotional issue, we can work out sanctions bills, taking into
account the concerns the Congress and the Administration have on
issues like religious freedom, at the same time giving the
President the necessary flexibility and discretion to balance
other foreign policy interests.
QUESTION: You talked a great deal about the sort of flexibility
this legislation will give the President, and the menu of
options. Can you talk a little bit about what is it about this
legislation that makes it more effective in achieving the stated
goals? I mean, what is it about this legislation that increases
religious freedom abroad?
UNDER SECRETARY EIZENSTAT: I'll talk about that briefly, and then
I'll ask John and Robert to talk about this.
By elevating the whole issue of religious persecution, we think
that this will heighten awareness around the world of the
concern. And although we do have a menu of options, particularly
for egregious violators, there will have to be determinations
made and sanctions potentially used. So it will certainly
elevate the whole issue. It gives the President a menu of
options that he can use to promote those interests. In that
sense, it advances the cause of religious freedom beyond that
which existed in general human rights legislation, where
religious persecution was not particularly identified.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHATTUCK: I think this also provides a
strong platform for the work that's being done in the area of
religious freedom and the centrality that that work has to our
The appointment of Dr. Seiple is certainly the best concrete
example of that. But now we're going to be seeing, I think,
whenever an approach is made to another government, clearly the
backing of the entire United States Government in a broad
consensus with, basically, the interests of the American people
being reflected in that consensus.
I think that will strengthen our hand in international arenas in
a whole variety of ways that this legislation demonstrates. So
the legislation brings the Administration and the Congress
together behind what is clearly a foreign policy priority, in
this world where conflict is such a major part of our foreign
policy concerns in the instability of the world, and where
religious persecution is sometimes behind that conflict. Bob, do
you want to add anything?
DR. SEIPLE: Just one additional thought that I don't think
should be overlooked. In a town that institutionalizes
differences, it is no small thing to have this overwhelming
support from both branches of Congress and the American people.
This is an issue that essentially came from the people -- small
groups, coalitions, churches, faith-supported from private
citizens to other coalitions of people; sometimes strange
bedfellows. And to the place where we now have something that
has received this kind of unanimous endorsement, essentially, I
think it's a tremendous statement for what really is at the heart
of how we feel as a people. And obviously it's a tremendous
statement for all the people around the world who are suffering
because of their faith.
QUESTION: I just wonder what you would be doing, Dr. Seiple.
Will you be meeting with religious groups, traveling,
researching, compiling reports?
DR. SEIPLE: We will be promoting religious freedom in its
broadest scope, which is to say meeting, establishing
relationships, continuing the coalitions, continuing the work of
monitoring, working with other folks in the State Department,
outside of government, inside of government. We'll also be
promoting reconciliation where the issue of conflict has been
implemented along religious lines -- a situation like Bosnia.
And obviously we'll also make sure that these kinds of things are
interwoven into the foreign policy of the United States. That's
a quick answer; that's also a mouthful.
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