WASHINGTON (EWTN News) — The House of Representatives has passed a bipartisan bill that would establish a special envoy for religious freedom in countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The U.S. government needs an individual who can respond and focus on the critical situation of religious minorities in these countries, whose basic human rights are increasingly under assault,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., the bill’s sponsor, on July 29. “If the international community fails to speak out, the prospects for religious pluralism and tolerance in the region are bleak.”
If the position is established, the special envoy will monitor religious-rights violations and minority communities’ needs and speak out on behalf of these communities in diplomatic settings. The envoy would also work together with foreign governments of Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries to promote legal fairness and religious freedom.
In addition to Egypt and Iraq, the envoy’s Middle Eastern duties would include the monitoring of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In Central Asia, the envoy would assume responsibility for religious rights in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
“In a time of partisanship and polarization, it’s gratifying when members from both parties can come together to address the humanitarian crisis that’s been unfolding in the Middle East and has not been given the attention it deserves,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who co-sponsored the bill.
“As the daughter of Assyrian and Armenian immigrants who fled the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East, it’s terrifying to see history repeating itself in today’s Iraq,” Eshoo noted.
She hopes the legislation, which now goes before the Senate for consideration, “will elevate the crisis of the Middle East’s religious minorities, giving them the diplomatic attention they so badly need and deserve.”
Eshoo and Wolf, co-chairs of Congress’ Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, have long called upon the State Department to focus on preventing religious persecution in Muslim-majority countries. Both representatives say that campaigns of targeted violence have forced long-established Christian populations to leave their homelands, particularly in Iraq.
On Aug. 2, four days after the bill’s passage, an early-morning car bomb attack struck a Catholic church in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, injuring 23 people. On that same day, security forces disabled two other similar car bombs parked outside two other churches in the northern Iraqi city.