Thank you, Elaine. I’m delighted to be here. As some of you may know, I have a longstanding association with the Kokkalis Program, and I have a great deal of respect for the work the program does here at Harvard. In fact, one of the core goals of the program, the integration of Southeastern Europe into Europe as a whole, is precisely what I want to talk about today. This is a region that is vital to Europe’s future and for that reason it is the focus of continued and intensive engagement by the Obama Administration.
Obviously, Southeastern Europe is not an issue that dominates the headlines the way Afghanistan or Iran does – or indeed as it did in the 1990s when the Balkans were beset by war. But I want to be absolutely clear that the ongoing stabilization and integration into Europe of the area from the Adriatic to the Black Sea is an important focus of this Administration’s foreign policy agenda. And I want to begin my remarks by explaining how and why Southeastern Europe fits into our broader conception of European security.
Secretary Clinton gave a speech last month in Paris in which she laid out the principles that animate the Administration’s approach to European security. One of the core themes she emphasized was our commitment to the indivisibility of security – the view that there cannot be security for part of Europe without there being security for all of Europe. This is a clear lesson from history. She also made clear that, contrary to speculation in some quarters that the United States is preoccupied with other regions, Europe is an essential partner of the United States and our own security and well-being requires a strong and secure Europe.
As we consider this Administration’s strategic objectives with respect to Europe, we are pursuing three main goals. First, we seek to work with Europe on the whole range of global challenges that we face together. And on issues as diverse and important as Afghanistan, Iran, and restoring the global economy, we have shown that we are working together closely and productively.
Second, we have sought to restore more constructive relations with Russia. That means we want to cooperate where our interests converge, while still being honest and firm about issues where we disagree. We are proud of the progress we have made together in the last year in negotiating a follow-on to the START Treaty, working to help stabilize Afghanistan, establishing a binational Presidential Commission, and dealing with the nuclear challenges posed by Iran and North Korea.
Finally, we seek to complete the historic work of building a democratic, prosperous, unified, and secure Europe. The last two decades have witnessed extraordinary success as the newly free nations of Central and Eastern Europe have joined the European project. But it is a project that is not yet finished. To fully achieve European – and therefore American – security, it must extend to all countries across the continent.
Which brings me to this Administration’s specific approach to engagement with Southeastern Europe. We have a vision of a democratic, peaceful, and prosperous region and we believe the path to achieving this vision for Southeastern Europe is through integration into Europe’s political and economic institutions.
Perhaps the best way to understand the logic of this approach is to briefly consider the troubled history of this part of Europe. Think about what Southeastern Europe looked like at both the beginning and end of the twentieth century. The Balkan wars preceding World War I and those of the 1990s saw the region racked by ethnic rivalry, hyper-nationalism, and bloody interstate war. These conflicts demonstrate the stakes of politics in the region – for the citizens who live there and for outside powers that were inevitably drawn in. Though the experience of the 1990s differs in many ways from that of pre-World War I Europe, I think it is fair to say that the fundamental problem that lay behind this history of conflict was the mismatch between geopolitical and ethnic boundaries and the absence of adequate political mechanisms to deal with this mismatch. What this difficult history teaches us is that attempts to resolve this contradiction through force are doomed to foster only further conflict and violence.
Other parts of Europe have faced these same challenges, and the experience of Western Europe after World War II and Eastern Europe after the Cold War demonstrates that there is another and better way: the path of political and economic integration. The solution lies in transnational cooperation and institutions that guarantee the rights of citizens, promote economic freedom, ensure the inviolability of borders, and provide a reliable forum for the peaceful resolution of disputes. Moreover, the opportunity for political engagement that crosses national borders reduces the salience and pressure of ethnic and regional disputes within nations. That is the promise of the project of European integration: the peaceful resolution of disputes through a common political enterprise and shared wealth and opportunity through a common market. The lesson of the 1990s is that significant portions of Southeastern Europe did not share in this experience and we saw the tragic human consequences. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, our work is not yet done: we want to extend this vision to Southeastern Europe and fully integrate it into the zone of democracy, stability, and prosperity on the continent.
The progress we’ve seen in Europe over the last six decades owes to the hard work of generations of Europeans bolstered by the sustained engagement of the United States. Two institutions, above all, have acted as the twin pillars of European freedom and prosperity: NATO and the European Union. They have offered security and economic opportunity to the nations of Europe, underpinned by a commitment to democracy. They began as essentially Western European clubs and eventually enlarged to encompass almost the whole of the continent. The United States wants to work with our European partners to bring Southeastern Europe fully into these institutions. But the responsibility for bringing that outcome about does not lie with the United States. European countries and institutions of course have an essential role to play in engaging with the region in a strategic and sustained manner. But the responsibility ultimately lies with the countries of the region themselves who must do the hard political work of reform and reconciliation.
When we look at Southeastern Europe today, many of the same challenges that have bedeviled the region throughout the last century still exist: finding ways to protect minority rights and to create stable, multiethnic politics. But there has been tremendous progress as well. The Balkans are a case in point. When I was last in government, in the late 1990s during the Clinton administration, war in Bosnia was still a fresh memory and Kosovo was consumed by violence and ethnic “cleansing.” Today, following a decade of hard work, we have witnessed dramatic political and social transitions. With Montenegro’s peaceful separation from Serbia in 2006 and Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, the final chapter in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia was closed. Now the nations of the Balkans are on the path toward integration into Europe’s community of political and economic freedom. Nearly every country in the Balkans has taken steps toward EU membership. Croatia has moved forward in its EU accession negotiations, Macedonia is a candidate, and Serbia and Albania have submitted membership applications. The European Union has an indispensable role to play in encouraging these countries’ commitment to reform by speaking with one voice on enlargement and by providing a clear path to membership. The countries of the region are also well on their way to integration with NATO. Croatia and Albania became members of NATO in 2009. Macedonia is on NATO’s doorstep and will receive an invitation to join as soon as the dispute with Greece over its name is resolved. At the end of last year, Montenegro embarked on a Membership Action Plan and Bosnia will do the same when it completes the necessary reforms.
The dramatic changes in the U.S. relationship with Serbia in the last decade are another example of the progress we have made. Just over ten years ago, the United States was bombing targets in Serbia. Last year, Vice President Biden traveled to Belgrade and delivered the message that the United States was ready to turn the page on this troubled recent past and wants to be a partner with Serbia. Serbia, in turn, is now led by the most democratic and pro-European government it has ever had. We support Serbia’s EU candidacy and the door to NATO membership for Serbia is open, if and when it is ready. While we have agreed to disagree on Kosovo, we should work together to improve the lives of Serbs and other minorities, and Serbia needs to do its part to ensure stability in Kosovo as a responsible EU aspirant. I sincerely believe that, with good will on both sides, U.S.-Serbian relations could be a model of productive partnership by the end of this Administration’s first term.
This record of change in the Balkans demonstrates what is possible but also what remains to be done. So let me turn to some of the remaining challenges in the Balkans, as well as what Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey can do to contribute to the full integration of all of Southeastern Europe into the institutions of Euro-Atlantic unity.
Beginning with Bosnia, the progress that we have seen since the mid-1990s has slowed recently and we must not allow it to stop. For the better part of the last three years Bosnia’s political leaders have not demonstrated the political will necessary to advance the reforms that their country needs. They have been stuck in a vicious cycle where narrow ethnic and short-term personal political interests have trumped long-term objectives that would benefit all of Bosnia’s communities. In an effort to break this corrosive dynamic, last October the United States and the EU started intensive consultations with political party leaders in Bosnia to encourage them to take the steps necessary to move Bosnia forward. These talks, led by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, became known as the Butmir process, named for the base near Sarajevo where the talks took place. The goal of this initiative was to reach consensus among the parties to improve the functioning of the Bosnian state so as to position Bosnia for EU candidacy and the NATO membership process. It was not an attempt to radically change the structures created by the Dayton Accords, to create a centralized state, or to alter Bosnia’s two-entity structure. Unfortunately, the parties so far have not been willing to agree on how to proceed. The United States remains engaged and willing to help Bosnia move forward. We also look forward to working closely with the EU and High Representative Ashton, who is in the region this week. The EU and the United States have not always been on the same page with respect to the Balkans but the intensive joint diplomacy of recent months have shown how closely our visions are aligned, something which is essential for progress in the region. Ultimately, however, the burden of achieving Bosnia’s aspirations rests on Bosnia’s political leaders, and their willingness to compromise for the greater good. If they fail to do so, it is they who will have to explain to their voters why Bosnia’s neighbors are moving ahead with visa-free travel to Europe, EU candidacy, and NATO integration, while Bosnia is left behind.
Kosovo provides a hopeful example of how much can be achieved in a short time by cooperative and committed political leadership. Kosovo is in fact celebrating the second anniversary of its independence today. The country has made tremendous progress in solidifying its democracy, promoting reconciliation, and playing a constructive role in regional and international economic cooperation. Sixty-five countries from all around the world have now recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state. It is now a member of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Although the International Court of Justice has yet to render its advisory opinion on Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the United States will remain committed to Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Kosovo’s independence is irreversible. Kosovo’s young democracy is also growing with recent successful elections. In the period leading up to the vote, the government of Kosovo made an important effort to ensure Kosovo Serb participation, which contributed crucially to the positive nature of the process.
There is, however, still a lot of work to do. The important task of decentralizing government must continue – there must be ongoing outreach to Kosovo’s Serb communities, particularly in northern Kosovo, and protection of Serb cultural and religious sites. Municipalities need support as they exercise new functions and provide services to citizens. Getting decentralization right will ensure people have access to government services throughout the country and that Kosovo provides a prosperous future for all of its citizens. On the economic front, the government must implement the reforms necessary for the private sector to grow. We are working closely with the Kosovo government, the EU, and other international partners to implement these reforms, fight corruption and organized crime, and move forward on privatization projects. Finally, the rule of law is a high priority for international assistance to Kosovo – because it is the key to success in other areas. Kosovo will need to pass and implement a series of critical laws that will modernize Kosovo’s judicial process and update its legal codes. With these reforms in place, Kosovo can continue its steady progress toward fulfilling its promise as Europe’s newest country.
There is a role for regional powers, in particular Greece and Turkey, to play as well in the development and political integration of Southeastern Europe. The Balkans are Greece’s immediate neighborhood and Athens has played an important leadership role in the region commensurate with its influence as one of the region’s largest investors. The 2003 Thessaloniki Summit, which took place under Greece’s EU Presidency, provided a historic boost to the EU aspirations of the Balkan countries and provided a roadmap for the region’s integration into Europe. We applaud the effective role Greece played during 2009 as the OSCE’s Chair-in-Office and welcome the role Greece is continuing to play in integrating the Balkans. The Greek vision of achieving the full integration of the Balkans into Europe by 2014, one hundred years after the start of World War I, is an admirable goal. A remaining challenge is the dispute between Greece and Macedonia over the latter’s name, which is an obstacle to Macedonia’s EU and NATO integration. We understand that this is a difficult issue but now is the time for courageous political leadership that will resolve this issue and promote the political stability and economic prospects of Southeastern Europe.
Cyprus is another example of an issue where regional leadership is necessary for progress. Though not strictly a matter of Greek-Turkish bilateral relations, both Greece and Turkey can play important and constructive roles in urging the Cypriot parties toward a lasting solution to their differences. The United States continues to support the Cypriot-led negotiations under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General. Both sides have put considerable effort into these negotiations and Cypriot leaders should seize the opportunity these talks offer for a just and lasting settlement that reunifies Cyprus into a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation. The notable progress that Greece and Turkey have made in their own bilateral relations in the last decade, and especially the reinvigorated dialogue in recent months between Prime Ministers Papandreou and Erdogan, provides a hopeful and instructive example of the power of personal diplomacy and we look forward to supporting both countries as they continue to strengthen their relationship.
Turkey itself is an example of the case for the further integration of Southeastern Europe into Europe’s institutions. It is of course a very different situation than that of the Balkans: Turkey has been a valued and active member of NATO for decades and its candidacy for EU membership is already in the negotiation phase. While we recognize that the decision is not ours, we continue to strongly support Turkey’s accession to the European Union and urge Turkey to continue progress on the democratic and political reforms necessary for membership. These reforms not only further Turkey’s EU accession bid, but they also democratize and modernize Turkey. Important gestures like reopening the Halki Seminary and further movement on Turkey’s “democratic opening” to the Kurds, as well as progress on Cyprus, will also propel Turkey’s EU prospects forward.
As President Obama has said, these reforms, and Turkey’s eventual accession, are good for Turkey and good for the EU. They will cement Turkey’s place in Europe and ensure the continued vitality and strength of the EU itself. To achieve these goals, Turkey and the EU should in our view jump-start the accession process by working closely together to meet the remaining requirements of EU membership. The EU for its part can ensure that this forward momentum continues by making clear that it is fully committed to engaging Turkey’s bid for membership as the country meets reform goals.
Let me close by saying that I think this discussion of the challenges remaining in Southeastern Europe today reveals two things. First, some of the same fault lines of ethnicity, language, and religion that have caused so much strife in the region over centuries still exist. We are fortunate that they do not burn as intensely today as they have in the past. But they are still there. The second lesson is that there is a clear solution for meeting and overcoming these historic obstacles: the path of economic and political integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions.
The United States is committed to the progress and prosperity of Southeastern Europe and the nations of the region have an engaged and interested partner in the Obama Administration. The EU plays an essential role in the region’s development and clear and consistent political engagement from the organization could make the difference between success and failure. After all, the stability of Southeastern Europe is first and foremost a European interest. But the ultimate responsibility lies with national leaders – in the Balkans, in Cyprus, in Greece, and in Turkey – who must make the bold political choices that will produce real change. We will stand with them. The choices are hard. But the goal is worth the effort: an ever more democratic, peaceful, and prosperous region, fully integrated into Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community.
Response of the United States of America to Recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Council
AMBASSADOR DONAHOE: On behalf of the United States, I thank the Chair, the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review, especially the Troika Members — France, Japan, and Cameroon — and the Secretariat for their hard work. I am honored to introduce Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Adviser of the U.S. State Department, who will provide an initial response to the recommendations we received during the interactive dialogue.
LEGAL ADVISER KOH: As indicated in our written report and in our presentation last Friday, the United States is very proud of its human rights record. We always strive for a “more perfect union” to help promote a “more perfect world.” To do that, the Obama Administration is developing a thoroughgoing approach with respect to human rights in our country that recognizes that progress requires the coordinated action of many federal government agencies — eleven of which appeared at our initial presentation — as well as the collaborative efforts of state and local governments, and civil society, many of whom attended our Town Hall here at the Palais last Friday.
The recommendations received fall into three broad categories. First, many of the recommendations fit well with the Obama Administration’s existing approach to human rights, and can be implemented in due course. Second, several recommendations are plainly intended as political provocations, and cannot be taken seriously. Yet a third group of recommendations invite fuller discussion within our government and with our own civil society. Because we take this process seriously, we now plan to conduct a considered, interagency examination of all 228 recommendations, and to give our formal response at the March 2011 Council session. But our initial review suggests that the recommendations fall under ten broad headings:
1. Recommendations about politics and pending judicial cases: A small set of comments do not make bona fide recommendations for the UPR. These statements, those styled as “recommendations,” are actually political criticisms of U.S. policies or polemical comments about judicial cases, based on unsubstantiated or false allegations, which refer to individual matters that are either ongoing or already completed under court proceedings conducted under due process of law.
2. Recommendations regarding treaties: This largest group of recommendations urged us to either ratify or consider ratifying treaties — or to consider withdrawing reservations and understandings to treaties that are already ratified. Under our Constitution, treaty ratification requires not just executive approval, but also the consent of our Senate, which requires a supermajority two-thirds vote. That is why the United States has often pursued a practice of “compliance before ratification,” in contrast to the practice of “ratification before compliance” that some other nations may pursue. The Obama Administration is working to obtain Senate advice and consent to a number of human rights treaties, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
3. Recommendations on criminal justice: This set of recommendations focused on the role of race, trafficking, police brutality, violence against women, juvenile justice, and the death penalty. The U.S. criminal justice system rests on the protection of individual human rights and basic principles of due process and fair and equal treatment. We will leave no stone unturned in our effort to eliminate racial profiling in law enforcement, to ensure that juveniles in our justice system are treated with respect, and to guarantee humane treatment in detention. Many recommendations concern the administration of capital punishment by those governments within our federal system that still apply it. While we respect those who make these recommendations, we note that they reflect continuing policy differences, not a genuine difference about what international human rights law requires.
4. Recommendations to combat discrimination: The United States is committed to end discrimination by ensuring equal opportunity for political participation by all qualified voters through enforcement of voting rights laws, and by vigorously enforcing laws to ensure equal access to housing, credit, employment, educational opportunities, and environmental justice. We are committed to ensuring that distinctions such as race, gender, disability, religion, age, ethnicity, or sexual orientation do not interfere with opportunities to live a fulfilling life.
5. Recommendations respecting immigration: In the last five years, we welcomed over 5.5 million new permanent residents, over 3.5 million new naturalized citizens, and nearly 425,000 refugees – who will, as President Obama recently noted, “help us write the next great chapter in our history.” With respect to immigration, the United States is committed to addressing concerns about detention, discrimination, and racial and ethnic profiling. We are committed to advancing comprehensive immigration reform as an alternative to piecemeal state and local measures.
6. Recommendations regarding national security: Most of these recommendations referred to our country’s continuing armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and against Al Qaeda and associated forces. The Obama Administration abides by all applicable law in these armed conflicts, including laws respecting humane treatment, detention, and use of force. We defend the legality under the laws of war of using detention to remove adversaries from the conflict, but do not — and will not –countenance torture or inhumane treatment of detainees in our custody, wherever they are held. Allegations of past abuse of detainees by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo have been investigated and appropriate corrective action taken. The Administration is committed to closing Guantanamo as expeditiously as possible, but will need the help of our allies, Congress and the courts to do so. The International Committee of the Red Cross has access to Guantanamo, and an independent review ordered by President Obama found the conditions there far surpass the standards of Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions. Military Commissions procedures have been amended by Congress to address human rights concerns, and both terrorism and electronic surveillance laws have been scrutinized to respect privacy and protect human rights. Finally, this morning I participated on behalf of the United States in the signing ceremony of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, which has been developed as a follow-on to the Montreux Document.
7. Recommendations respecting indigenous issues: We acknowledge the many challenges faced by Native Americans — poverty, unemployment, health care gaps, violent crime, and discrimination — but note the many laws and policies we have put in place to address health care reform, to improve criminal justice, and empower the tribes and their members to deal with those challenges. Tribal consultations are at an all-time high after President Obama hosted the White House Tribal Nations Conference, where he directed agencies to submit plans for and progress reports on implementation of the Executive Order on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments. And we are reviewing our position regarding the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a decision made in response to calls from tribes and other indigenous groups and individuals.
8. The eighth set of recommendations concern freedom of expression and religion: The United States is committed to vigilance in the continued protection of fundamental freedoms of expression and religion for all, including laws and policies to protect Muslim, Arab, and other Americans from discrimination and to secure their freedom to practice their religion.
9. The ninth set of recommendations concern economic, social and cultural rights: We have continued to establish programs that empower our citizens to live what FDR called a “healthy peacetime life.” The recent landmark healthcare reform is the latest major example, and we are committed to continue pursuing policies that will build an economy and society that lifts us all.
10. And the tenth set of recommendations concern domestic implementation of human rights: The most common recommendation in this category highlighted an issue currently under discussion in our country: to create a national, independent human rights institution, which follows the Paris Principles or similar guidelines. We believe the best human rights implementation combines overlapping enforcement by all branches of the federal government working together with state and local partners.
In closing, let me express our deep appreciation to our own civil society for continuing to work with us to achieve a more perfect union. Civil society has made invaluable contributions to our UPR report and presentation and will continue to be our partner as we consider these many recommendations. At a time when the United States has its first African-American President and Attorney General, a female Secretary of State, our first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, an Arab-American and two Asian-American cabinet members, we see visible progress in our national quest for equality and fair treatment. While we are humbled by the work that remains, the United States of America is proud of our record of accomplishment. We are determined to extend it, and we are committed to continuing this dialogue as we go forward.
Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of my country, my sincerest thanks.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon. It’s my pleasure to join you today for the release of the State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. Every year, the State Department prepares a comprehensive review of the status of religious freedom in countries and territories around the world. We do this because we believe that religious freedom is both a fundamental human right and an essential element to any stable, peaceful, thriving society.
This is not only the American view; it is the view of nations and people around the world. It is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and it is guaranteed by the laws and constitutions of many nations, including our own, where religious freedom is the first freedom listed in our Bill of Rights.
Because we believe in religious freedom and because we are committed to the right of all people everywhere to live according to their beliefs without government interference and with government protection, we are troubled by what we see happening in many, many places. Religious freedom is under threat from authoritarian regimes that abuse their own citizens. It is under threat from violent extremist groups that exploit and inflame sectarian tensions. It is under threat from the quiet but persistent harm caused by intolerance and mistrust which can leave minority religious groups vulnerable and marginalized.
During the past year, al-Qaida issued calls for further violence against religious minorities in the Middle East. Sufi, Shia, and Ahmadiyya holy sites in Pakistan have been attacked. So was a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad just a few weeks ago. We received reports from China of government harassment of Tibetan Buddhists, house church Christians, and Uighur Muslims. And several European countries have placed harsh restrictions on religious expression.
These infringements on religious freedom strain the bonds that sustain democratic societies. With this report, we hope to give governments, NGOs, and citizens around the world valuable information about the status of religious freedom and a call to action for all of us to work together more effectively to protect it.
Our Office of International Religious Freedom and our embassies and consulates around the globe have worked for months to compile these 198 Country Reports. They have been assisted by NGOs, think tanks, news outlets, religious groups, and other governments. And I want to thank everyone who offered information and analysis, in particular the courageous activists who shared their stories with us, sometimes at great personal risk.
Now, one country that is not included in this report is the United States, and that is because the Department of Justice monitors threats to religious freedom in the United States and issues reports throughout the year. As some of you know, I said upon becoming Secretary of State that if we were going to issue reports on other countries, we would start issuing reports on ourselves. And we are keeping true to that position. And these reports on the United States are publicly available for review by everyone.
Obviously, we, like every country, must be vigilant in protecting the rights of religious minorities and building a society in which people of all faiths and people of no faith can live together openly and peacefully.
With this report, we do not intend to act as a judge of other countries or hold ourselves out as a perfect example, but the United States cares about religious freedom. We have worked hard to enforce religious freedom. We want to see religious freedom available universally. And we want to advocate for the brave men and women who around the world persist in practicing their beliefs in the face of hostility and violence.
This report reflects a broad understanding of religious freedom, one that begins with private beliefs and communal religious expression, but doesn’t end there. Religious freedom also includes the right to raise one’s children in one’s faith, to share one’s faith peacefully with others, to publish religious materials without censorship, to change one’s religion – by choice, not coercion, and to practice no religion at all. And it includes the rights of faith communities to come together in social service and public engagement in the broader society.
We have seen the valuable contributions made by religious communities in the global fights against poverty, disease, and injustice. Here in our own country, religious people, people of faith, have played a key role in many of our most important reform movements, from the abolition of slavery to the modern-day campaigns against human trafficking and forced labor. When the work of these communities is constrained or blocked, we all lose out, regardless of our particular beliefs.
Now, some people propose that to protect religious freedom, we must ban speech that is critical or offensive about religion. We do not agree. The Defamation of Religions Resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council again this year, and now pending before the General Assembly, reflects the other view. And the United States joins in all nations coming together to condemn hateful speech, but we do not support the banning of that speech. Indeed, freedom of speech and freedom of religion emanate from the same fundamental belief that communities and individuals are enriched and strengthened by a diversity of ideas, and attempts to stifle them or drive them underground, even when it is in the name and with the intention of protecting society, have the opposite effect. Societies in which freedom of religion and speech flourish are more resilient, more stable, more peaceful, and more productive. We have seen this throughout history. And as this report reflects, we see it in the world today.
So with this report as our guide, the United States will continue to advance religious freedom around the world as a core element of U.S. diplomacy. President Obama’s speech in Cairo in June of last year signaled a significant increase in our engagement with Muslim-majority countries and with religious communities around the world. Compared to previous years, many of the chapters in this year’s report provide much greater detail about what the United States Government is doing to engage faith-based groups and address the issues that affect them. Our embassies will continue to support inter-faith dialogue and work with religious groups across a full range of issues. And we will continue to speak out against the curtailing of religious liberty wherever and whenever it occurs.
I would now like to welcome Michael Posner, our assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, to elaborate further on this report and to answer your questions. Michael.