Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the United States would create a new international body to campaign for religious freedom, following a major meeting in Washington.
Dubbed the International Religious Freedom Alliance, Pompeo said that details of the group 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 organized related conferences.
Pompeo in his remarks harshly criticized U.S. adversaries Iran and China for their human rights records, calling Beijing’s incarceration of more than one 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 energized 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 United States as justification for anti-gay policies.