Senate confirms Biden administration’s nomination for U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom
IRF Ambassador Hussain encouraged to prioritize advocacy against blasphemy laws
Washington D.C. (17 December 2021) – The United States Senate has confirmed a new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom (IRF) on Thursday. Rashad Hussain was confirmed in an 85-5 vote to serve as the next IRF Ambassador, six months after President Biden put forward his nomination. The position was previously held by Sam Brownback and plays a vital role in global advocacy efforts for religious freedom.
“All countries are called to protect the right to freedom of religion or belief, including the United States, which has long been a leader on this issue. The Senate’s confirmation of an IRF Ambassador is necessary for the U.S. to uphold its commitments to supporting religious freedom worldwide. We are thankful for the progress Ambassador Brownback made in the global movement for religious freedom, and we hope to see Ambassador Hussain follow in the footsteps of his predecessor,” says Sean Nelson, Legal Counsel for Global Religious Freedom.
Advocating against blasphemy laws
Hussain was formerly the Special Envoy to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) under President Barack Obama, as well as the Special Envoy for strategic counterterrorism communications. He is the first Muslim to hold the IRF Ambassador position. As the Special Envoy to the OIC, he raised concerns regarding apostasy, blasphemy and “defamation of religion” laws, which continue to impose significant challenges to the free practice of religion or belief, particularly for religious minorities. More than 70 countries criminalize blasphemy, and in countries like Pakistan, those accused can be sentenced to death.
“We are encouraged by Hussain’s track record of advocating against apostasy, blasphemy, and similar laws, which continue to undermine the right to religious freedom throughout the world. We urge the new Ambassador to make advocacy against the enforcement of these laws, as well as state censorship of religious and religious minority speech, a top priority in his role as IRF Ambassador,” continued Nelson.
Ambassador Brownback’s legacy
The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 established the Ambassador-at-Large position and created the Office of International Religious Freedom within the State Department. The IRF Ambassador is charged with being the “principal adviser to the President and the Secretary of State regarding matters affecting religious freedom abroad.”
Former IRF Ambassador Sam Brownback made significant strides with the Ambassadorship. Earlier this year, Brownback hosted the first International Religious Freedom Summit, the world’s largest civil-society-led event on international religious freedom. Ambassador Brownback also formed the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance (IRFBA), spearheaded the U.S. State Department’s two Ministerials to Advance Religious Freedom, and raised the international profile of the IRF Ambassador position.
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