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The Need for a Special Envoy to Advocate for Religious Minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. WOLF. Mr. Speaker, today I am joining with my colleague Rep. Anna G. Eshoo in reintroducing legislation to create a special envoy position at the State Department to advocate on behalf of vulnerable religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.

In countries like Iraq and Egypt, ancient Christian communities are being driven from the lands they have inhabited for centuries. In Iran, Baha'is are imprisoned and some cases executed simply because of their faith. In Pakistan, Ahmadi graves are desecrated. In Afghanistan, a country where America has sacrificed greatly in both blood and treasure, the most basic right to freedom of religion or belief is not recognized in the constitution. This is but a snap shot of the grave challenges facing these communities.

If the international community fails to speak out, the prospects for religious pluralism and tolerance in the region are bleak.

Last Congress the House, to its credit, overwhelmingly passed, by a vote of 402-20, bipartisan legislation, H.R. 440, to create a special envoy position at the State Department charged with focusing on the plight of religious minorities in these regions. Sadly, in the face of State Department opposition, the Senate failed to act.

There is a historic precedent for special envoys--including the Sudan special envoy and the North Korea human rights special envoy--whose positions were created in response to an urgent need for focused attention on a critical issue. The dire challenges facing Coptic Christians, Baha'is, Chaldo-Assyrians, Ahmadis, the small remaining Jewish population and countless other religions minorities throughout the Middle East and South Central Asia is surely such an issue.

While there is no guarantee that a special envoy will be able to single-handedly solve the problem, it certainly cannot hurt to have a high-level person within the State Department bureaucracy who is exclusively focused on the protection and preservation of these ancient communities. Such an envoy would send an important message to both our own foreign policy establishment and to suffering communities in the Middle East and elsewhere that religious freedom is a priority--that America will be a voice for the voiceless.

President Reagan once said that the U.S. Constitution is ``a covenant that we have made not only with ourselves, but with all of mankind.'' I believe the United States has an obligation to speak out for the voiceless around the world and urge my colleagues to join me cosponsoring this critical legislation.

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