Aug 01, 2011

US Congress Passes HR440 to Create Special Envoy Protecting Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia

The U.S. House of Representatives approved bipartisan legislation to create a special envoy at the State Department in the wake of increasing violence, targeted attacks and heightened discrimination against religious minorities such as the Assyrians in Iraq and other groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

On July 28, 2011, HR 440, a bill that would create a special envoy to address the concerns of religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia, passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support, including 80 co-sponsors and 402 votes in favor.  The special envoy would hold an ambassador rank and would focus on religious minorities in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as recommended by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The responsibilities of the special envoy with respect to religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia include the following:

-promote the right of religious freedom

-monitor and combat acts of religious intolerance and incitement

-work to ensure the unique needs to the religious minority communities are being met

-work with foreign governments to address laws that are inherently discriminatory

-coordinate and assist preparation of reports regarding the development of religious minorities

Congressional Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) co-chairs the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus and worked to introduce this bill with Representative Frank Wolf (R-PA).

During a hearing to review the violence and hardship faced by Middle Eastern religious minority, Representative Eshoo testified about the plight of the Assyrians who face continued threats and violence.  She affirmed her Assyrian identity several times during the hearing and her statement at the consideration of HR 440, including a reference to her knowledge of the Aramaic language. :

“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," Eshoo said. "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. I'm hopeful that the special envoy created by this legislation will elevate the crisis of the Middle East's religious minorities, giving them the diplomatic attention they so badly need and deserve.”

UNPO’s core values include the recognition and protection of collective rights through free expression of religious beliefs.  UNPO regularly calls for peaceful and effective approaches to address the issues of our Members and thus applauds the work of Representative Eshoo and her colleagues for the principles embodied in HR-440.  The bill now passes for consideration in the U.S. Senate.

For more information, please find attached a transcript of Representative Anna Eshoo’s statement and the adopted House Bill HR-440.

For recorded proceedings, please click here