IRLA Joins Call for South Central Asia and Near East “Religious Minorities Diplomat"

A range of faith groups in the region are under social and legal pressure, says expert


The precarious situation of minority religious groups in places such as Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan needs special attention from the United States State Department, according to a letter signed by 36 religious and advocacy organizations and sent to members of the US Congress.

The letter urges Senate and House representatives to support legislation that would create the role of Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia.

 “This would be a timely move by the US government,” according Mr. Dwayne Leslie, IRLA Deputy Secretary General, who signed the letter on behalf of the IRLA. “With the recent political shifts in this region, now is the time to work to ensure that freedom of conscience and belief will be protected under future political arrangements.”

He points out that religious repression in this region is on the upswing, with a range of faith communities—including Baha’i; Jews; Zoroastrians, and Christian groups, such as the Coptic, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, and Armenian communions—feeling increased pressure and isolation, both social and legal. According to the letter sent to Congress, the situation is now critical: “These ancient religious communities which have survived centuries and even millennia of persecution are now in danger of disappearing from the Middle East and South Central Asia altogether,” it says.

The Special Envoy position would be aimed at assessing the plight of these religious minorities, raising awareness of abuses, promoting protection of religious freedom, and informing US foreign policy in the region. Both a House and Senate version of the legislation have been introduced (H.R. 440 and S.1245) and the letter urges swift action to pass the bill.