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Keep religious liberty push amid military strikes, panel tells Bush

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States “should not compromise its commitment” to religious liberty and other human rights while building a coalition against terrorism, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has told President Bush.

The commission’s members support the government’s commitment to fight terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States but are concerned about alliances it is making with some countries in that effort, USCIRF chairman Michael Young said in a Oct. 5 letter to Bush.

The United States has sought the aid of “several governments that are among the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom and other human rights,” Young wrote. Some potential members of the anti-terrorism alliance also are on the State Department’s list of governments that support terrorism, the letter said.

“As the United States works with these governments, it should make clear that their current commitment to cooperate to eradicate terrorism does not mean that the United States will lose interest in the conditions of human rights in their countries,” Young wrote. “Cooperation in the fight against terrorism does not grant them license to continue to abuse the rights of their own people.

“We urge you to continue to declare that the United States will defend religious freedom and to demonstrate its commitment to doing so.”

One of the new members of the commission is Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Bush named Land and two others to the nine-member panel in September.

Although Young did not name any of the countries, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan would seem to be ones about which the commission is concerned. They are among countries the United States apparently has sought cooperation from in its new anti-terrorism campaign.

In August, the USCIRF recommended Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan be designated by the State Department as “countries of particular concern,” meaning they have engaged in or permitted especially severe violations of religious liberty. The commission also cited India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as governments guilty of participating in or allowing “grave violations” of religious freedom, although it did not call for their designation as CPCs.

The State Department has designated Sudan as one of seven CPCs the last two years. The USCIRF has described the militant Islamic regime in the African country as the “world’s most violent abuser of the right to freedom of religion and belief.”

In September, Bush appointed former U.S. Senator John Danforth as a special envoy in an attempt to bring peace in Sudan. An 18-year civil war has plagued the country, with the Khartoum regime supporting a genocidal campaign against Christians, as well as animists and moderate Muslims.

Land and other religious leaders met with Danforth Oct. 9 in Washington.

“I was very impressed with former Senator Danforth’s depth of commitment to alleviating this suffering within Sudan and his testimony to the president’s concern about what is going on in Sudan and the necessity that it stop,” Land said. He attended the meeting in his capacity as ERLC president and not as a USCIRF member, Land said.

At the meeting, the participants heard reports of recent bombings of civilians by Khartoum, Land said. The dropping of 260 bombs took place in the four days immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes in the United States, the Institute on Religion and Democracy reported. The raids killed 23 people and injured numerous others, Bishop Bullen Dolli of the Episcopal Church of Sudan reported, according to IRD. The raids also resulted in the slaughter of 1,000 cattle and the burning of villages and grain fields, Dolli reported.

The USCIRF sent a letter to Danforth Oct. 2 with four recommendations for his negotiations with Sudan. They were for the Sudanese government to enter into a total ceasefire with opposition forces, remove all bans on food-relief flights, demonstrate a willingness to participate in internationally monitored peace talks and guarantee religious liberty.

Christian Solidarity International, a human rights organization active in Sudan, also has written Bush with concerns. In an Oct. 4 letter, John Eibner, CSI’s acting executive director, asked the president not to dispense “favors of appeasement to the jihad-terrorists in Khartoum.”

CSI reported it bought the freedom of more than 4,000 slaves during a Sept. 23-30 trip to Sudan. Slave raids of Christian and animist villages have been a common practice by Khartoum-supported forces in recent years. More than 200,000 women and children remain enslaved in northern Sudan, CSI reported.

While Sudan has been on the State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern,” Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan have yet to be designated as CPCs. The USCIRF expressed its disappointment last year when the State Department failed to do so despite the commission’s recommendation.

In addition to Sudan, other CPCs the first two years were Burma, China, Iran and Iraq, as well as the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Milosevic regime in Serbia. The Milosevic regime is no longer in power, and the Taliban regime is under attack by the United States and its allies for protecting terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.