May 5, 2001
Financial Pressure to Promote Religious Freedom
U.S. Panel Has Recommendations Regarding Investments
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Zenit.org)
- The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom published its annual
report this week, with some pointed recommendations for putting pressure on
At an April 30 press conference, USCIRF Chairman Elliott Abrams noted that his
panel's job is not to provide a country-by-country review of religious-freedom
violations. That task is done in the State Department's annual International
Religious Freedom Report.
"Our job," Abrams explained, "is to study that report and gather
additional information ... and to come up with creative policy solutions that
the U.S. government can implement to promote religious freedom abroad."
Chairman Abrams is also president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The
commission vice chairman is Firuz Kazemzadeh, special adviser to the National
Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States. Commission members
include Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C.; Rabbi David Saperstein,
director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Nina Shea,
director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House.
Abrams noted that the countries in the report do not constitute the entire list
of serious violators of religious freedom, nor are all of them equally bad. The
nature of problems also differs widely. In Indonesia and Nigeria, he observed,
the problem of violations of religious freedom lies with local and state
officials and private citizens, rather than with the central government.
China's expanding crackdown
In China, the commission noted, the government in the past year "has
expanded its crackdown on unregistered religious communities and tightened its
control on official religious organizations."
Authorities have intensified their crackdown against Falun Gong followers, and
confiscated and destroyed up to 3,000 unregistered religious buildings and sites
in southeastern China. Government controls over the official Protestant and
Catholic churches also have increased, and officials continue to interfere in
the training and selection of religious leaders and clergy.
With regard to India, the commission noted a "disturbing increase in the
past several years in severe violence against religious minorities in that
country." This violence has coincided with the increase in political
influence of a collection of Hindu nationalist groups, of which the ruling
Bharatiya Janata Party is a part.
The report admitted that India "generally respects religious freedom,"
but added "there is concern that the government is not doing all that it
could to pursue the perpetrators of the attacks and to counteract the prevailing
climate of hostility."
As for Indonesia, the U.S. panel reported a rise in the number of disputes in
which religion or religious freedom is a factor. The situation is particularly
grave in the Moluccas, where 5,000 to 8,000 people have died since the outbreak
of Muslim-Christian fighting in January 1999.
Moreover, "there are numerous reports that elements from the Indonesian
military and local police forces have done little to stop the fighting,"
the commission noted. "Rather, it is alleged that they have contributed to
-- and perhaps even initiated -- it."
In Iran, the panel said, "the conditions of religious freedom are very
poor," particularly with respect to minority religious groups that are not
officially recognized by the state and those perceived to be trying to convert
Muslims. Members of the officially recognized non-Muslim minorities --
Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians -- are subject to legal and other forms of
official discrimination, the report noted.
Muslims also suffer, the report noted, including some Shiite religious leaders
who have opposed the government and have consequently been targets of state
Regarding Africa, the commission singled out Nigeria and Sudan for scrutiny. The
report observed that "the threats to religious freedom, including reports
of religious discrimination, are serious and ongoing." Recent events
suggest the situation will worsen. Outbreaks of Muslim-Christian violence
"threaten to divide further the populace along religious lines and
undermine the foundations of religious freedom in Nigeria," the report
In Sudan, meanwhile, the situation has deteriorated further, the USCIRF said.
Its report lamented that "the issue of Sudan for the most part remained on
the back burner of U.S. policy." The commission urged the Bush
administration to mount a "sustained campaign" of protest against the
abuses committed by the Khartoum government.
In Russia, the USCIRF judged that the future of religious freedom "remains
uncertain at a critical moment in that nation's history." About 1,500
religious groups face "liquidation" after the government refused to
extend a deadline for their registration.
Moreover, the government of President Vladimir Putin "has yet to establish
an effective way to ensure that local and regional laws, policies and practices
do not abridge religious freedom," the report said.
Apart from specific measures related to each country, the commission also
recommended that the United States use its weight in financial markets to
promote religious freedom.
The report noted that information about companies doing business in
"Countries of Particular Concern" -- CPCs -- is being withheld from
the U.S. investing public. Foreign companies are able to raise capital in U.S.
markets without disclosing their business interests in these countries.
The report called for all issuers of securities to disclose the nature and
extent of their business dealings, and those of their affiliates, in CPCs.
The companies should also disclose the extent to which they or their affiliates
support the discriminatory religious practices of the local authorities, the
panel urged. On the issue of economic sanctions, the report recommended that the
U.S. government examine how the structuring of securities transactions or the
manipulation of corporate relationships by non-American issuers can be used to
circumvent U.S. economic sanctions.
The report also observed that there are significant religious-freedom violations
in some countries that receive U.S. foreign aid. The panel recommended that no
such aid be given to any governmental or private body that, at any time during
the last 24 months, has committed or abetted acts of violence or discrimination
against individuals on account of religion.
USCIRF made clear its displeasure at the lack of action taken in the preceding
year by then Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright against countries
notorious for religious freedom violations. The report also highlighted that
Robert A. Seiple, the first ambassador-at-large for international religious
freedom, stepped down from his office, and that his post remained vacant.
The commissioners' terms expire May 14. This gives President George W. Bush a
chance to name their successors, as well as a new ambassador -- and to show how
much priority he gives to religious freedom.
Free Trade Is Too Much of a Good Thing
The Benefits Are Unevenly Distributed
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Zenit.org)
- Free trade has lots of advocates. But not everyone is ready to give it free
Last weekend the finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of
Seven countries held their regular spring meeting here. Among the matters
discussed was the question of free trade and the World Trade Organization (WTO)
negotiations. In the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting the
participants stated, "We strongly support efforts to launch a new WTO round
later this year, to reduce trade barriers in both industrialized and developing
A senior World Bank official said that developing countries could gain $200
billion more a year to combat poverty if industrialized nations lowered trade
barriers and increased foreign aid, the Wall Street Journal reported April 30.
Nicholas Stern, the bank's chief economist, said if industrialized nations
reduced trade barriers to the products of developing countries, the latter could
gain $100 billion a year in revenue to help their economies and improve basic
The WTO has scheduled a ministerial meeting in Qatar for November in an effort
to revive progress on the next round of tariff reductions. But many difficulties
WTO Director-General Mike Moore wants to have 95% of the agenda for the Qatar
meeting agreed upon by the end of July, the Financial Times reported March 27.
Opponents of a new round are unconvinced, however, and industrialized countries
remain split on the agenda.
The Financial Times reported that many poorer nations argue that the agreements
negotiated in the 1993 Uruguay Round accord failed to bring the promised
benefits and have burdened them with onerous legal and administrative
obligations that they are struggling to fulfill.
WTO's Moore has made a number of appeals recently in an effort to stimulate
interest in lowering trade barriers. In a speech March 12 at the London Business
School, the WTO director-general affirmed that "the economic case for a new
WTO round is compelling." Cutting barriers to trade in agriculture,
manufacturing and services by one-third would boost the world economy by $613
billion, he said.
A number of recent articles point out the benefits of lowering trade barriers.
In April the Globe and Mail newspaper of Canada ran a seven-part series
defending globalization and free trade.
An April 12 article noted that the volume of world trade has grown 16-fold since
the founding of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade half a century ago.
Global exports as a share of global output have risen to 24% from 14% since
1970. An article on April 13 argued that "the spread of global trade and
investment is quite simply the best anti-poverty program the world has ever
seen, far better than even the most generous foreign aid."
According to the Globe and Mail a large number of studies show that countries
that embrace trade and foreign investment grow faster than those that do not --
about twice as fast on average, says one report by the Organization of Economic
Cooperation and Development.
Another article, April 14, rejected the idea that increased trade will damage
the environment. In fact the opposite will occur, because as countries grow
richer through trade, more prosperous and better-educated citizens will demand
action from governments to protect the environment. Increased wealth also means
companies can afford anti-pollution measures. They quoted a 1994 study by two
U.S. researchers, Alan Krueger and Gene Grossman, showing that pollution levels
in developing countries start to fall when they reach income levels of about
$8,000 a head.
Economist Paul Krugman, in the New York Times on April 22, said it's
understandable that people are concerned about world poverty, but it is wrong to
blame this on free trade. Many protest about the sweatshop conditions of Third
World factories, but Krugman argued that these workers are in fact better off
than those who remain in the rural villages.
Fareed Zakaria, in the April 30 edition of Newsweek, accused the
anti-globalization protesters of advocating "policies for their own
sheltered communities in rich Western countries" which will slow growth in
Third World countries and keep them in poverty. He also argued that promoting
free trade and economic liberalization would consolidate democracy.
Some criticisms of free trade
Free trade also has its detractors. In the Washington Post on April 25, Michael
Kelly argued that when jobs migrate from developed countries to the Third World,
the job losses impose heavy costs. In the long run, he said, global free trade
may lead to the greater good of all, but in the short and even medium run, in
any developed country, it is to the greater pain of many for the greater gain of
Irwin M. Stelzer, in the Weekly Standard magazine April 30, said it is
undeniable that a good part of the post-World War II prosperity and economic
growth is attributable to the liberal trading regime. But, Stelzer noted, it is
also true that "the benefits of trade are unevenly distributed," and
that "other considerations can be more important than increasing the
efficiency of the international economy."
He added: "We Americans do not live only to maximize the flow of goods and
services in international commerce."
Third World countries also think that free trade has its defects. Mark Curtis,
head of policy at the United Kingdom organization Christian Aid, argued in an
April 23 article in the Guardian that often liberalization means promoting
protectionism for First World companies. He cited as an example the patenting
laws for AIDS drugs -- in his words, "a case of massive corporate
protectionism at the expense of the poor."
And Dani Rodrik, professor of international political economy at the John F.
Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, in an article published in
the March-April issue of the journal Foreign Policy, alleged that the enthusiasm
of global financial institutions and First World leaders for free trade has been
exaggerated, up to the point where it has become "a substitute for a
The almost exclusive focus on free trade and economic liberalization means that
governments in poor nations divert resources and attention away from matters
such as education, public health, industrial capacity, and social cohesion,
argued Rodrik. The Harvard professor admitted that international markets are a
valuable source of technology and capital, but he also maintained that
"globalization is not a shortcut to development."
Rodrik observed that many successful Asian countries liberalized trade only
gradually, over a period of decades, not years. Moreover, significant import
liberalization did not occur until after a transition to high economic growth
had taken place.
In John Paul II's address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on April
27 he stated that "globalization, a priori, is neither good nor bad."
He added: "Globalization, like any other system, must be at the service of
the human person; it must serve solidarity and the common good." Proponents
and adversaries of free trade alike would do well to heed these words.