A milestone, with many miles to go

"A milestone, with many miles to go" Continued...

Issue: "Wedgwood shooting," Oct. 2, 1999

Both Ms. Shea and Mr. Abrams serve on a 10-member commission established by the same law that mandated the report. The commission, which first met this summer, is made up of Republican and Democratic appointees from various religious groups. It is expected to act independently of the State Department in reporting on religious freedom and making recommendations to the White House. Robert Seiple, the State Department's current ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, is a non-voting member of the commission. Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism chairs the panel.

Overseas, portions of the report struck nerves. India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called the religious freedom document "mischievous" after it criticized India's failure to prevent and prosecute violence against Christians. An Australian Baptist missionary and his two sons were burned to death last January. Last month archers shot and killed a 35-year-old Catholic priest, Arul Doss, while he slept in a mud hut. Both incidents fit a pattern of intimidation, arson, and murder that has plagued Orissa state in India since the rise of Hindu fundamentalism.

The Clinton administration announced it would dispatch Mr. Seiple to India after the latest murder, but officials in New Delhi notified the White House that they would not receive him. India is in the midst of month-long parliamentary elections, and the BJP vice president said, "The report is designed to tarnish the BJP's image during the elections."

The report cites India for "a significant increase in attacks against Christians by Hindu extremist groups" and suggests that the ruling Hindu party is not doing enough to curb the spread of violence.

Others protested the report, too. China called the report malicious interference in its internal affairs. The government of Myanmar rejected the report's charges that it uses force to propagate Buddhism. The Vietnamese Communist Party daily, Nhan Dan (The People), editorialized that "no one has the right to preach down or preach up to the world about human rights and religious freedom." In Iran, a foreign ministry spokesman charged, "The U.S. State Department has circulated a biased and unjust view on the status of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is an indication of its ignorance of human rights in this country."

Mr. Seiple, who oversaw preparation of the report, was sanguine about its critics. "If you don't get fired at from both sides, I think you probably have done something wrong," he said.

Persecution watchdogs will now check what else is done. The International Religious Freedom Act makes religious liberty an ongoing issue in U.S. foreign relations, and violators potentially subject to punishment.


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