US secretary of state Mike Pompeo discusses 'the state of religious freedom around the world' in an address to the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the state department in Washington, the US, July 18 2019. Picture: REUTERS/MARY F CALVERT
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo discusses 'the state of religious freedom around the world' in an address to the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the state department in Washington, the US, July 18 2019. Picture: REUTERS/MARY F CALVERT

Washington — Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that the US will create a new international body to campaign for religious freedom following a major meeting in Washington.

Pompeo said that details of the group — dubbed the International Religious Freedom Alliance — were still being worked out but that it would “bring like-minded countries together” to make the issue a priority.

“It will provide a space for the work that we do here to flourish throughout the year and, importantly, it will defend the unalienable rights of all human beings to believe, or not to believe, whatever it is that they choose,” Pompeo told the ministerial-level meeting.

The three-day gathering at the state department, which is being held for the second straight year, is bringing together dozens of countries and hundreds of activists to promote religious freedom.

Pompeo said Albania, Colombia, Morocco and the Vatican were planning events to follow up on the Washington ministerial. After the first year’s edition, Britain, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates organised related conferences.

Pompeo in his remarks harshly criticised US adversaries Iran and China for their human rights records, calling Beijing’s incarceration of more than 1-million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking people “truly the stain of the century”.

Uighur activists say that China has sought to indoctrinate peaceful Muslims, forcing them to eat pork, among other actions that are sinful in Islam.

China describes the camps as vocational training and says it is trying to root out extremism.

Religious freedom has been one of the few human rights causes that has energised President Donald Trump’s administration, which counts on support from an evangelical Christian base.

While the state department has kept the focus of the meeting on international issues and welcomed representatives of all faiths, “religious freedom” is also increasingly cited by right-wing Christians in the US as justification for anti-gay policies.

AFP