Washington, DC (July 27, 2018) — Over the past week, leaders of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) participated in the first ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by the US State Department.
As a direct initiative by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Sam Brownback of the Office of International Religious Freedom, the event served as a pronouncement for global audiences of the Trump Administration’s prioritizing of religious freedom as critical to American foreign policy.
“The multi-day event was the State Department’s declaration to both the international community and US lawmakers that promoting religious freedom must be a top priority on par with trade, security, and other interests,” remarked Suhag Shukla, Esq., HAF Executive Director.
“However, what received scant mention,” Shukla added, “is a fundamental principle that’s been a key to America’s success in this realm — that is the healthy distance between religion and state. It’s our abiding hope that as our country seeks to promote religious freedom abroad, we not forget the principles which have made religious liberty possible at home.”
Beginning with two days for civil society to exclusively engage with US government officials with no foreign governments or media allowed, hundreds of religious leaders and NGO officials, mainly from Abrahamic faith communities, from across the United States and around the world congregated in the main conference space of the State Department.
Several panels in the plenary sessions as well as in breakout rooms were led by State Department and other agency officials were convened to facilitate input from civil society on improving the US government’s ability to facilitate religious freedom initiatives.
Survivors of persecution were invited to share their stories before the audience, revealing gruesome details of torture and daily denial of their basic human rights. Many parts of the day were dedicated to informal networking with individuals from around the world.
“The Ministerial provided an invaluable opportunity to meet face to face with activists and advocates promoting religious freedom in several of the countries we have monitored for the past 15 years,” said Samir Kalra, HAF Managing Director and author of the organization’s annual human rights report.
“Conversations with those on the front lines in countries like Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, where Hindus and other religious minorities face daily human rights atrocities, promise to lead to greater coordination between like-minded groups and ultimately respite and justice to those who are suffering,” Kalra concluded.
Over the years, HAF has facilitated dialogue between the State Department and human rights leaders from across the Indian Subcontinent to bolster American foreign policy makers to ensure Hindu minority communities were also accounted for.
HAF leaders were pleased that these efforts resulted in an invitation to Dipangkar Ghose, Organizing Secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, working to establish equity, equality, human rights, and social justice for all in Bangladesh.
Ghose noted that, “We have a good working relationship with the Hindu American Foundation, whose human rights work touches us directly and personally in Bangladesh. We are grateful for this because our partnership ensures the voices of Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and all minorities of Bangladesh are heard throughout the world.”
Ghose and Jay Kansara, HAF Director of Government Relations, attended a private reception hosted by Ambassador Mohammad Ziauddin in honor of Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali, one of 80 ministers leading official delegations from around the world for the third and final day of the Ministerial. Kansara and Foreign Minister Ali spoke on the need to protect religious minorities during the upcoming election in his nation. Minorities have historically been targeted with violent attacks during campaign seasons.
Kansara, who regularly attends in the International Religious Freedom Roundtable — an informal group that now meets with Ambassador Brownback weekly — stated, “We look forward to contributing to subsequent Ministerials, and will work with our friends at the State Department to ensure voices from marginalized Hindu minorities are more prominently highlighted.”