November 1, 2012

Congressman Wolf Urges Envoy for Persecuted Minorities

Congressman Frank Wolf (VA-Re)

Last week U.S. Representative Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urging the creation of a special envoy to focus on persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia. The bipartisan House bill, H.R. 440, to establish such a position passed overwhelmingly in July of 2011. But in the Senate, this critical legislation is being held up by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) at the request of the State Department. Wolf had written previously to Webb over this issue.

Wolf notes in his October 25, 2012 letter that even though the introduction of the bill “pre-dated the so-called ‘Arab Spring,’ the dramatic changes in the region over the year have only made these communities more vulnerable.” Vulnerable communities, like the Copts, Baha’is, Jews, Chaldo-Assyrians, Mandaeans, Yezidis, Ahmadis, and the marginalized Christians of Pakistan, are at more risk than ever due to the increasing power of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic supremacists.

The congressman, a long-time defender of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities around the world told Clinton that he was concerned that “time was running out — both in terms of the legislative calendar for this year and in terms of the plight of these communities.” Both the House-passed legislation and the companion bill introduced in the Senate by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Carl Levin (D-MI) are “languishing in the Senate.”

Another obstacle to the legislation appears to be the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Commitee, Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Senator Webb indicated that he “is uncomfortable with the legislation moving forward absent a hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.” So Wolf made repeated requests to Kerry, as did many human rights organizations, to hold a hearing on the subject, but he has never held one.

Wolf warns that the “devasting trend” of persecution and flight by Middle East and South Central Asian religious minorities has “broader geopolitical implications” as well. “Religious pluralism is central to any vibrant democracy and religious minorities have historically been a moderating influence in these parts of the world,” he says.

“Despite the strategic imperative and the moral obligation to act, the State
Department seems unable or unwilling to address the issue with the urgency it
demands,” Wolf concludes. But part of the tenacious Mr. Wolf’s long history as a defender of human rights and religious freedom has been in countering resistance from all quarters — even the State Department. The moral obligation to act may win out yet.

Those who wish to see the creation of this special envoy position may wish to send a message to Secretary of State Clinton themselves. Virginia residents may wish to ask Senator Webb to lift the hold on the bill. Massachusetts residents may wish to ask Senator Kerry to hold a hearing on the subject.