On July 24-26, 2018, the U.S. State Department will make history.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is hosting the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. There have been other State Department ministerials in the past, but never one on global religious freedom.
So what is a “Ministerial”? It is a gathering of state-level government ministers from around the world. At last count, governments from 80 countries were sending representatives. They will meet with participants from civil society, religious organizations and churches, and non-governmental-organizations such as human rights groups and religious freedom advocates. The agenda according to the State Department:
- Discuss challenges
- Identify concrete ways to combat religious persecution and discrimination
- Ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all
Furthermore, the Ministerial “will focus on concrete outcomes that reaffirm international commitments to promote religious freedom and produce real, positive change” according to the State Department.
Below is my open letter to Secretary of State Pompeo, thanking him for his concern about religious freedom and for this Ministerial, which makes a strong statement about where his priorities lie. I urge particular attention to the plight of Christians around the world. And I also express my concern over the reported acceptance in the United States of Sudan’s head of National Intelligence (and master torturer) Mohammed Atta al-Moula as the new Charge d’Affaires at the Sudan Embassy in Washington, DC. This appointment could not only affect religious freedom for those in Sudan, but also threaten our own national security.
The Honorable Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of the State
United States Department of State
Dear Secretary Pompeo:
Thank you for making international religious freedom a priority of the State Department and for caring about the most vulnerable among us – those who are persecuted for their faith. As someone who has been doing advocacy for persecuted believers around the world for 24 years, I can tell you that it is refreshing and encouraging to see this level of concern for and determination to defend those who suffer for their faith.
I have been part of the team of advocates that helped to pass the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the 2002 Sudan Peace Act, and the 2004 North Korea Human Rights Act. We sometimes experienced opposition, if not hostility, to our endeavors from some U.S. government agencies. So the work that you and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback are doing to promote this issue could justly be termed “Providential.”
The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), founded in 1981 with the advice and direction of such luminaries as Father Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, George Weigel, and Carl Henry, believes in religious freedom for those of all faiths and no faith. That is why, for example, in addition to working for persecuted Christians around the world, I speak every summer at the rally for freedom in China sponsored by the Falun Gong, and why I am an advocate for Muslims from Darfur, Nubia, the Nuba Mountains, and the land of the Beja in Sudan.
But, as you well know, more Christians are being persecuted for their faith than any other religious believers. So I urge you to ensure that the Christians – whether in Iraq or Syria, Iran or Egypt, Nigeria or Pakistan, China or Sudan, or elsewhere – receive the attention their situation merits. For too long innocent Christians like Mrs. Asia Bibi in Pakistan and Pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey have been languishing in prison cells where their very lives are under threat. IRD is proud to be a founding member of the Save The Persecuted Christians coalition that is working to raise awareness for our suffering fellow believers and to see that the perpetrators of persecution are held accountable.
Finally, Mr. Secretary, I would hate to see all of the good that is being done be undone by the acceptance as a diplomat to the United States of the man who is largely responsible for the torture and persecution of Sudan’s marginalized people. My fellow Sudan advocates and I in Sudan advocacy group Act for Sudan were appalled to hear that Mohammed Atta al-Moula, the head of Sudan’s infamous National Intelligence and Security Services, is slated to be the next Charge D’Affaires at the Sudan Embassy in Washington, DC.
Here is what we know about Mohammed Atta al-Moula:
Atta has been a member of Sudan’s brutal National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) since 1992, serving as the Deputy Director of NISS between 2002 and 2009, when he became the Director of the organization until February 2018. Atta has helped to establish and has lead an organization that is responsible for genocide, mass atrocities, war crimes, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, murder as well as cooperating with international terrorist organizations. Atta belongs in prison not in a position of influence in the United States of America. He has an intelligence network with terrorists across the globe. He is a threat to U.S. security.
Mr. Secretary, you are doing such great work on behalf of our nation. I am aware that plans to normalize relations with Sudan extend back to the previous administration. But please know that for the 24 years that I have been working in this space, Sudan has been underestimated and because it has been underestimated, it has been allowed to perpetrate multiple genocides (southern Sudan, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, Darfur, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile II) and to train jihadists from Boko Haram to al Shabaab, and from Hamas to al Qaeda. Now Sudan is facilitating the movement of the Islamic State throughout Africa as it also works to destroy South Sudan and “punish Salva Kiir” (the words of Omar al Bashir) for taking South Sudan out of the Islamic Republic of Sudan.
A good way to start identifying concrete ways to prevent religious persecution in Sudan – and by Sudan’s proxies, throughout Africa and beyond – is to refuse to allow Mohammed Atta al-Moula into the United States. We would see far less religious persecution globally if we stopped underestimating Sudan.
Once again, thank you so much, Mr. Secretary. Having you as Secretary of State and Ambassador Brownback as our International Religious Freedom defender, I know that we can make a real difference for millions around the world. May God bless you and give you His wisdom and courage for this hour.
Faith J. H. McDonnell
Director, International Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan
Institute on Religion and Democracy