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European Court of Human Rights Errs on French Ban Against Muslim Veils PDF Print E-mail

By Aaron Rhodes and Peter Zoehrer

By upholding a French ban on wearing full-face veils, a common Muslim practice, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has failed to protect the religious freedom of Islamic women who choose the veil as an expression of their faith.

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Landmark Deprogramming Case Reaches Appeals Court in Japan PDF Print E-mail

by Timothy Elder

A civil suit attracting international attention for its importance in the fight for religious human rights in Japan has entered the appellate phase after a lower court ruling that activists found encouraging.

The suit was brought by Toru Goto, a Unification Church member in Japan, against deprogrammers and members of his own family for holding him against his will for more than 12 years in an attempt to coerce him into renouncing his faith. The first hearing before the Tokyo High Court was held on June 5, according to a Japanese-language blog published by his supporters.

An earlier ruling by the Tokyo District Court found that the faith-breaking efforts against Mr. Goto had overstepped "the bounds of what is socially appropriate" and awarded him damages of some 4.8 million yen ($48,000). The amount included the cost of a seven-week stay in a Tokyo hospital, where he was treated for malnutrition and general muscle weakness immediately following his release from captivity.

 

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Keeping a Wary Eye on Burma's Military PDF Print E-mail

 

Burma's army

 

Obama's 'Asia rebalance' should not mean whitewashing Burma's human rights abuses


By Trent Franks, Jim Mcgovern


A vital component of the Obama administration's "Asia rebalance" is to bolster countries within Southeast Asia to counterbalance China's quickly expanding power. Among our refocused priorities in Asia is development and deepening of U.S. military-to-military relationships in the region. In addition to expanding relations with allies and partners such as the Philippines and Indonesia, the "Asia Rebalance" unfortunately means establishing a relationship with the Burmese military – a military with both a long and recent history of committing crimes against humanity.

In Southeast Asia, recent U.S. policy too often devolves into short-term accommodations of the region's interests, apparently in an effort to accumulate "soft power" which would presumably be useful at some later date. In the case of Burma, the Obama administration has found full engagement requires it to overlook Burma's dismal human rights record.

U.S. strategic interests depend on systemic change in Burma. Burma's military remains the largest obstacle to comprehensive government reform and continues to exert dominance over Burma's government, despite common American perceptions of Burma's government transferring power from military-to-civilian authority.

When President Obama committed the U.S. to a leadership role in Asia and first spoke about rebalancing our resources, he explicitly identified democracy and human rights as vital to his strategic vision. Obama argued that the "essence of America's leadership" in Asia was to support those who stood firm on the side of "free societies, free governments, free economies, [and] free people."

The Obama administration must not lose sight of its original designs for U.S.-Asia Pacific policy as it evaluates  military-to-military engagement with Burma. If future U.S. policy contradicts this focus on human rights, it will adversely impact Burma's democratic reform, particularly after more than twenty years of American support for democratic transition in Burma.

If the Obama administration proceeds too quickly with military-to-military contact, there is very grave risk of alienating many people in Burma. 40 percent of Burma's population are ethnic minorities who have suffered high degrees of violence and even "ethnic cleansing" by the Burmese military. Indeed, Burma is known as one of the top persecutors of Christians in the world and is carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslims.

One critical test case for Obama's strategic rebalance was considered by the U.S. House of Representatives during the recent vote on the National Defense Reauthorization Act. For the first time in more than thirty years, the National Defense Reauthorization Act includes provisions on the U.S-Burma military-to-military relationship. These provisions may potentially have far-reaching implications for U.S. strategic posturing in Asia.

Arguments for proceeding extremely cautiously on military-to-military engagement with Burma are coming from many bipartisan leaders on Capitol Hill. Provisions in this year's National Defense Reauthorization Act urge the Department of Defense to patiently assess military-to-military engagement with Burma and base engagement on the Burmese military's efforts to implement reforms, end impunity for human rights abuses and increase transparency and accountability.

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Court Rules Against Deprogrammers in Japan PDF Print E-mail
Written by ICRF Editor   
Wednesday, 29 January 2014 16:35
Goto wins court case against deprogrammers
A Japanese court has ruled in favor of Unification Church member Mr. Toru Goto in a civil suit against his captors and deprogrammers. Mr. Goto was held against his will for more than 12  years in an attempt to break his faith. He sued members of his family and  two deprogrammers. Details are expected soon regarding the wording of verdict and the amount of any fines against the guilty parties.

The case had received the attention of numerous international agencies,  including the UN Human Rights Council, the US State Department and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. 

The verdict was greeted with enthusiasm by human rights activists, who expressed hope that the verdict will represent an important precedent.  "I  am so very happy for him and all the victims of this horrible practice against  human rights!" said Kathryn Cameron Porter, president of  the Washington-DC 
Leadership Council for Human Rights.

ICRF president Dan Fefferman added:  "We  are hopeful that this  will be a turning point for Japan. "In the US,  deprogramming didn't come to an end until the courts made it clear that the  perpetrators of this crime would be punished."

Mr. Goto spoke to supporters in Tokyo immediately after the verdict was announced.(http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/43182915) A translation is expected soon.

Last Updated on Friday, 31 January 2014 21:38
 
The State Department's Great Leap Faithward PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 21 August 2013 12:29
The State Department's Great Leap Faithward
In February I wrote an article asking, Will Kerry Bring Faith to Foreign Policy? Six months into Kerry's tenure as Secretary of State the answer appears to be an emphatic yes -- though now begins the hard work of implementing his vision for religious engagement.
Last week Kerry officially launched the State Department's new Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives. The culmination of several years of concerted effort by Obama administration officials and their allies outside government, the new office has a mandate to, in Kerry words, "engage more closely with faith communities around the world, with the belief that we need to partner with them to solve global challenges."
To lead the office, Kerry turned to his friend Shaun Casey, a seminary professor who served as a faith outreach advisor on Obama's 2008 campaign. A Harvard-trained ethicist with expertise in just war theory, post-conflict reconstruction, and poverty, Casey is well suited to serve as Kerry's special advisor on faith-related issues.
As the State Department now has a multitude of specialized offices led by special advisors, it's easy to miss the special significance of Casey's new shop.
American diplomacy has taken a great leap faithward. It wasn't long ago that some scholars and former diplomats excoriated the State Department as "the home of secular fundamentalism," an agency afflicted with "secular myopia" and "Religion Avoidance Syndrome."
Critics pointed to the Department's vigorous opposition to congressional legislation in the late 1990s that ultimately created the Office of International Religious Freedom. Then, during the Bush administration, even after several federal agencies created faith-based offices, the State Department appeared to be of little faith.
To be fair, the State Department did pour billions of dollars into Muslim outreach in the aftermath of 9/11. But that public diplomacy effort focused primarily on making America more popular in the Middle East rather than on genuinely listening to and partnering with Muslims and other religious communities around the world on issues of mutual interest.
Organizational theory tells us that all institutions, including government agencies, have a distinctive organizational culture -- a complex set of norms, values, and systems that implicitly govern corporate life. That culture is cemented over time, becoming increasingly difficult to change. Among America's diplomats, it seems organizational culture included the strict separation of church and the State Department.
But that culture is changing. Under Clinton and now Kerry, the State Department has developed a wide range of religious engagement efforts that paved the way for the Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives. No congressional pressure was necessary. Engaging religious actors is increasingly viewed as part and parcel of American statecraft. A new U.S. Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement calls for broader collaboration with religious groups on sustainable development, human rights, and conflict mitigation.
Kerry underscored this strategy in his remarks announcing the faith-based office: "I say to my fellow State Department employees, all of them, wherever you are, I want to reinforce a simple message: I want you to go out and engage religious leaders and faith-based communities in our day-to-day work. Build strong relationships with them and listen to their insights and understand the important contributions that they can make individually and that we can make together. You will have the support of this Department in doing so."
Given the context of the remarks, Kerry's "simple message" was the most straightforward and forward-leaning directive on religious engagement ever voiced by an acting Secretary of State.
In her 2006 book The Mighty and the Almighty, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called for greater foreign policy attention to religion but lamented her own inattention to global religious dynamics during her time as America's top diplomat. As a corrective, she urged future diplomats to "learn as much as possible about religion, and then incorporate that knowledge into their strategies."
Kerry is putting Albright's advice into practice. But the faith-based office is not an end in itself. It's just the end of the beginning. What waits to be seen now is what impact Kerry's directive and the new office will have on the State Department's ability to advance U.S. interests in a faith-filled world.
Creating a hopeful office doesn't guarantee the hoped for outcomes. Still, my former State Department colleague, Peter Mandaville, has argued that the new office "has the potential to be genuinely transformational with respect to how the United States does diplomacy."
To realize its transformative potential, the faith-based office must continue to shape the Department's culture in a more faith-attentive direction--by both modeling constructive religious engagement and by training colleagues to go and do likewise. After all, most faith-based engagement will take place outside the faith-based office, principally in U.S. embassies overseas. Our diplomats need to be better equipped to address the complex ways religious beliefs and motivations intertwine with politics, economics, and other issues.
Admittedly, religion is a diplomatic and constitutional minefield. It's often quite tricky for diplomats, especially those not well versed in religion, to know who, when, where, and how to engage.
But the why is always clear. As Melissa Rogers, Director of the White House faith-based office, said at the launch event last week, "The potential for religious communities to spark both positive and negative movement makes it essential for the United States to understand these communities and to engage with them. As the State Department does its work around the world, it must have a firm grasp of these dynamics and it must know how to address them in ways that are informed and intelligent."
In other words, diplomatic engagement with religious groups is in U.S. national interests. That's ultimately why it matters. And that's why the faithward evolution of the State Department's culture and the creation of the faith-based office are such promising developments.

by Judd Birdsall

BirdsallIn February I wrote an article asking, Will Kerry Bring Faith to Foreign Policy?  Six months into Kerry's tenure as Secretary of State the answer appears to be an emphatic yes -- though now begins the hard work of implementing his vision for religious engagement.

Last week Kerry officially launched the State Department's new Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives. The culmination of several years of concerted effort by Obama administration officials and their allies outside government, the new office has a mandate to, in Kerry words, "engage more closely with faith communities around the world, with the belief that we need to partner with them to solve global challenges."

To lead the office, Kerry turned to his friend Shaun Casey, a seminary professor who served as a faith outreach advisor on Obama's 2008 campaign. A Harvard-trained ethicist with expertise in just war theory, post-conflict reconstruction, and poverty, Casey is well suited to serve as Kerry's special advisor on faith-related issues.

As the State Department now has a multitude of specialized offices led by special advisors, it's easy to miss the special significance of Casey's new shop.

American diplomacy has taken a great leap faithward. It wasn't long ago that some scholars and former diplomats excoriated the State Department as "the home of secular fundamentalism," an agency afflicted with "secular myopia" and "Religion Avoidance Syndrome."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 August 2013 16:39
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