Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered his remarks during the release of the 2016 International Religious Freedom Annual report Tuesday. He singled out U.S. foes like ISIS, China and Iran, which was expected; but surprisingly, he also criticized some Washington's allies in the Persian Gulf.
"Religious persecution and intolerance remains far too prevalent. Almost 80 percent of the global population live with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion," he said. "Where religious freedom is not protected, we know that instability, human rights abuses, and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root," Tillerson added.
Tillerson held ISIS responsible for genocide along with crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing against the Yazidi, Christian and Shiite minorities in Iraq and Syria. He vowed that the protection of these groups and others that are targets of violent extremism remains a human rights priority of the Trump administration.
Other non-U.S. allies that were mentioned are Iran, China and Pakistan. Tillerson noted that Iran used "vague apostasy laws" to execute 20 members of religious minorities last year. China persecutes Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong members while Pakistan continues to impose capital punishment for blasphemy and apostasy.
Tillerson chided Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for their imposition of strict Sharia law. He also criticized NATO ally Turkey for failing to protect non-Sunni Muslims from "discrimination and violence." America's top diplomat also demanded the Turkish government to release U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson.
Oddly enough, Tillerson failed to mention Russia, which is included in the report. The U.S. Commission on International Freedom designated it as one of the top 10 countries of concern for criminalizing religious speech not sanctioned by the state which led to the banning of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
On the same occasion, Tillerson lauded the appointment last month of Sam Brownback as the new envoy for the State Department's international religious freedom. He described the former Kansas governor as "the highest-ranking official ever to take up this important post" and expects his swift confirmation.