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U.S.: Commission Urged To Monitor Rights Violations

By Nataliya Khyzhnyak

A U.S. commission charged by Congress to monitor religious freedom around the globe was told at a hearing on 27 November that the United States should monitor violations of human rights while at the same time fight against terrorism.

Washington, 28 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United States is capable of fighting both against terrorism and for human rights, according to witnesses who addressed a U.S. commission that monitors religious freedom around the world.

But the witnesses -- who are natives of predominantly Islamic nations, including Egypt and Somalia -- told the panel yesterday that it is important that American policy-makers learn more about the cultures of the Middle East and South Asia. They said this includes becoming more familiar with Islam.

The Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the U.S. Congress. Its chairman, Michael Young, said yesterday that the U.S. is fighting terrorism with the cooperation of some governments that are among the world's worst violators of religious freedoms and other human rights.

Young said some of these countries have been formally designated by the U.S. government as "countries of particular concern" for those religious freedom violations. And he added that it is important that these countries understand their broader responsibilities in the campaign against terrorism.

"As the United States works with these governments, it should make clear that their current cooperation does not mean that the U.S. will lose interest in the conditions of human rights in their countries. Cooperation in the fight against terrorism does not grant them license to continue to abuse the rights of their own people."

The hearing also addressed how residents of predominantly Muslim countries perceive the intentions of U.S. President George W. Bush as he pursues the campaign against terrorism.

One witness at the hearing -- Mamoun Fandy, a native of Egypt who is now a professor at the U.S. National Defense University -- said the Bush administration is misguided in the way it tries to promote American values, including press freedoms, in his native land.

According to Fandy, Americans must learn more about this and other countries first: "We are doing the wrong thing, we are engaging the wrong media. Instead of focusing on mainstream channels to talk to the Arabs and Muslims, we are focusing on channels that a PR company told us that this is the great channel in Arab world. So it's just a terrible lack of understanding of mechanisms and the nature of debate. [It] complicates the issue."

Another witness was Susan Rice, the managing director of Intellibridge International, a Washington policy center. Speaking on U.S. foreign policy in Africa, she said Washington must help poorer countries that have the will to cooperate in the war on terror but lack the means.

Rice said the Bush administration seems to have the will to do so, but has yet to take any concrete action: "I was pleased to hear President Bush say in his speech to the UN General Assembly that we would help such countries. But we do not have in place any strategy to do so. And we certainly have not set aside the resources to implement such a strategy."

Fandy, Rice, and other witnesses told the panel that until the U.S. understands the cultures of these countries better, and is willing to help them become more self-sufficient, it may become frustrated in its efforts to win its war against terrorism.