Mr. RATCLIFFE. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks and to include any extraneous material on the bill under consideration.
Mr. ROYCE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, tragically, religious persecution around the world continues. I thought I would give one example that we heard in our committee last week, the Foreign Affairs Committee, from ``Bozi,'' who is a young 20-year-old Yazidi woman from Iraq. She told us the story.
She very bravely recounted her brutal captivity and the abuse she faced at the hands of ISIS. As we are talking about religious freedom, she explained that, in her village, the 700 men and boys were killed, including several of [Page: H6809]
her brothers. One small brother survived because he had a bullet in his head and they thought he was dead. But, other than that, her family is all gone.
She was bought by an American who had been recruited to ISIS about 4 years prior, she said. He bought 10 of the girls, sold 9, and kept her as a concubine.
She recounted how he explained to her that, because she was a Yazidi, she was an infidel, in his mind, and she was a Pagan, in his mind; and, therefore, he had the right to enslave and rape and sell Yazidi women and children, and he does this.
After about a year, she escaped. But she reported that there were about 3,000 girls and women in ISIS captivity, Yazidis, who faced the same fate that she faced while she was in that captivity.
These crimes are just the latest outrage against people of faith which continues in so many parts of the world, whether it be against Yazidis or Christian minorities in the Middle East or the Baha'i in Iran or religious communities attempting to worship without official supervision by repressive regimes, for example, in Burma or in North Korea. Anti-Semitism also is on the rise, including in Europe.
This legislation, which was passed unanimously by the Senate last week, will continue the good work of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Congress created this Commission as an independent Federal entity back in 1998.
The reason it was created was because, while the fundamental freedom of religion was under siege around the world, it did not receive enough attention in U.S. foreign policy circles.
This Commission is a body of experts who speak out on behalf of persecuted believers of any faith and push for accountability, accountability beyond what the State Department or the White House may view as diplomatically feasible.
The Commission's independent voice remains critical today, as the State Department too often pushes religious freedom to the side. For example, the State Department's Ambassador at Large for religious freedom sat vacant for 2 years during the start of this administration and again for another 10 months before the appointment of the current Ambassador, Rabbi David Saperstein.
And this year, after a 3-year lapse, the Department finally made the legally required designation of ``Countries of Particular Concern'' for religious freedom, 3 years of the State Department shirking its legal responsibility.
But, as the Commission has found, another eight countries should also be placed on that list and were not placed on the list. Those countries include Vietnam, whose recent so-called amnesty of more than 18,000 prisoners included convicted murderers, convicted drug dealers, human traffickers.
But what it did not include was prisoners of religious conscience, such as the Venerable Thich Quang Do of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. I have visited him under house arrest. They did not include Father Nguyen Van Ly, the Catholic priest who has been repeatedly beaten. These were not the people released. No. It was the human traffickers and the murderers.
So this Commission is critical in calling out these abuses.
This bill extends the authorization of the Commission for 4 more years and includes new strategic planning and transparency improvements in the act. This should ensure that the Commission's important work remains strongly bipartisan and represents the diverse American consensus on the importance of our first freedom: religious liberty.
I want to thank Senators Corker and Cardin and their colleagues who worked to craft this bill, which received unanimous support in the other body.
I also want to recognize the important work of the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), the author of the House side reauthorization bill, who has been a legislative leader on religious freedom issues throughout his career.
And, as always, I appreciate the cooperation of the ranking member, Mr. Eliot Engel of New York, and the gentleman from Rhode Island (Mr. Cicilline) in bringing this legislation to the floor today.
So this bill, which has the unanimous support of the Senate and all nine current Commissioners, deserves our support also. With its passage, it goes to the President's desk. With his signature, it will ensure that freedom of religion under continuous threat from extremists and authoritarian governments remains front and center.
I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. ROYCE. Mr. Speaker, I yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith). He worked on the original authorization of the Religious Freedom Act, and he is the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. I thank the chairman for his leadership and for his commitment to human rights, particularly religious freedom, and I want to thank Senator Corker for helping to shepherd this legislation through the [Page: H6810]
Senate when there were some contentious issues.
Mr. Speaker, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created as part of the landmark International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, originally authored by my good friend and former colleague Frank Wolf, who provided exemplary service and leadership in this House.
The creation of USCIRF made the promotion and protection of religious freedom a priority of U.S. foreign policy; and believe me, before the passage of this law, it was not. Since its inception, USCIRF has been a valuable, independent, and bipartisan source of information and policy recommendations for the Congress, U.S. Government, and the American people.
Mr. Speaker, USCIRF gives voice to persecuted religious groups and raises prisoner cases, individual cases, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government. USCIRF's annual report--and I encourage Members to read it--often provides a fuller view of violations of religious freedom than the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report. As an independent body, USCIRF has the political freedom to report the facts and provide critical insight and recommendations on countries like Vietnam,
Pakistan, India, Cuba, or China, countries where the U.S. Government may be hesitant to draw attention to religious rights violations because it is concerned about upsetting foreign governments.
It needs to be noted that in the beginning, the Clinton administration actively opposed passage of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. I know because I chaired the hearings. We heard from people like Assistant Secretary John Shattuck, who said it would create a hierarchy of human rights, which it did not. It put religious freedom in its rightful place. Of course, years later, people from the administration pointed out that none of that happened and it was a very important addition
to our work. I also want to note that a very broad coalition supported and continued to support IRFA in general and USCIRF in particular. In the end, President Clinton did sign the legislation into law.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops endorses USCIRF's reauthorization, as do over 80 different
nongovernmental organizations and religious groups, part of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable. These groups sent a letter to every Member of Congress and said, in pertinent part, ``while there is very little we agree on theologically, or politically, we all agree on the importance of religious freedom.''
Mr. Speaker, bipartisan cooperation is critically important at a time when religious freedom is under siege through the world. Anti-Semitism, pervasive in most of the Middle East, has spread like a cancer to parts of Europe. The increase in violence perpetrated against Christians, Muslims, and other religious minorities has reached staggering proportions, including disturbing reports of torture, rape, imprisonment, forced exile, and murder.
Mr. Speaker, the world faces a deepening crisis of religious freedom restrictions and abuses by governments. The Pew Foundation estimates that over 75 percent of the world's population lives in countries where severe religious freedom abuses are commonplace. Ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria are on the verge of extinction, and other religious minorities in the Middle East face a constant assault from ISIS. ISIS, as we all know, has committed and is committing genocide, mass atrocities,
and war crimes.
China continues to suppress religious practice broadly and with impunity. It has been another punishing year for the Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, Christians, as well as Falun Gong practitioners who face restrictions, imprisonment, and torture.
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Burma is a problem; Rohingya Muslims face problems. In Pakistan, as we all know, there are problems; in Iran, not just with the Baha'i who are persecuted again and have been facing that with unrelenting pressure, but also other Christians who live there and other Muslims.
Mr. Speaker, the need for USCIRF is clear, and I hope all Members will support this important human rights legislation.
I thank the Chair, and I thank my friend for yielding.
Mr. CICILLINE. Mr. Speaker, I do not have any more speakers, so I yield myself the balance of my time.
First, again, I want to thank our chairman, Ed Royce, and our ranking member Eliot Engel for, once again, the bipartisan way in which the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee is conducted, evidenced again today with strong bipartisan support for this bill. I also want to acknowledge the great leadership of Congressman Smith, who has worked in this area for a very long time.
Mr. Speaker, my home State, Rhode Island, was founded by Roger Williams, searching for a place that respects religious freedom. Rhode Island is home to the oldest synagogue in America, the Touro Synagogue, where President Washington famously wrote to the Hebrew congregation at Touro Synagogue to reassure them that this new, young Nation will be a place that respects religious freedom of all its citizens. It is this Commission that continues to promote that work around the world, to ensure
that religious freedom is respected everywhere in the world.
Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge all of my colleagues to support this legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. ROYCE. Before I close, Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Poe), the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade.