Sustainable Lifestyle Design

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If you’re struggling with feeling out of control, lacking vitality, disconnected from the world, unmotivated and outright confused about where to start in your journey to lead a rich life…

then read on to discover HOW you can change all this.

(WITHOUT plundering the world around you)


It all starts with YOU and it all starts TODAY.

This ebook,


will empower you to be the change you want to see in the world.Sustainable Lifestyle Design

Too many people attempt to feel self-worth, freedom, and happiness in pursuit of financial wealth. The elusive pursuit of a ‘rich life’ is crushing the planet in unimaginable ways.

It’s time to jam the wheel of your mindless consumption and turn soul-crushing lifestyle choices into a modern sustainable life.


Imagine a life where you thrive in good health, have the time to do what you love and contribute to a better world. Sustainable Lifestyle Design reveals a step-by-step plan you can use today to save money, lower your carbon footprint, reclaim your health and live a truly richer lifestyle. It feels good to help the planet and as you’ll come to discover, it feels incredible to take back control of your own life.

Are you ready to start living on your terms?

That’s exactly what I’ve done and I’ll teach you how.

Hi! I’m Emily Uebergang!

Emily Uebergang - Sustainable Lifestyle DesignI’m a living, breathing example of how leading a sustainable lifestyle has helped to create the life I always dreamed of. For a long time I struggled with feeling depressed and disconnected because I had no idea where I fitted into the world. I felt like a leaf being blown about in the wind. Meaningless work and broken dreams left me feeling defeated. I wanted to do something that would not only bring richness to my own life, but to have a positive impact on this planet – rather than contributing to a world of unhappiness. Step by step I started to implement the principles I have laid out in this ebook. That’s when the SHIFT happened.   Over the years, I started bringing together everything I learned in the realm of sustainable and intentional living, and putting these things into practice. What I gained in life was far beyond my expectations. Not only were these lifestyle habits saving me money, but I started to experience a deep-seeded sense of richness in life that had been missing.

This is what “Sustainable Lifestyle Design” is all about.

You can grab your copy of the ebook here.

$14.97 USD

Buy-Now-buttonIn this ebook, you will:

green leaf

Find peace with what and how you eat so you don’t feel the guilt every time you pick up that fork

green leafShake your self-destructive habits that leave you drained of energy and feeling miserable facing each day

green leafConnect the dots between how you can help the world by helping yourself first


green leafWalk away with a positive attitude and direction for how you can by the catalyst of change and create the world that you want to live in

green leafStart making positive changes in your lifestyle from Day 1 that will allow you to save money and reduce your personal impact on the planet

green leafLead an authentically rich life that is full of purpose


green leafBe part of the revolution that starts with YOU!


If you feel that there is more to life than simply clocking in the hours at work and finding ways to mindlessly pass the hours of each day, then this book is for you. If you are sick and fed up watching the earth wither away, taking your soul along with it, then this book is for you. If you feel displaced and unsure where you fit in to the bigger picture, then this book is for you.


Through the choices you make each and everyday and by rewiring how you think, you can impact the course of mankind and influence the change in the world that you so desperately want to see. You will come to discover that this very practice of helping and healing the planet, will lead you on the path of self-healing.

I will teach you the how, and you will finish reading this book understanding your why.


$14.97 USD

Available as a digital PDF download. Once purchased, you will be redirected to the download page.

Executive Summary Sample

Executive Summary for the Week of 16/5/2012 – 23/5/2012

Egypt: Elections

All of the Think Tanks summarized below hold very different viewpoints concerning the same issue, the Egyptian elections; although, there are some statements that hold true throughout all of the think tanks. All believe that this is a very important time for Egypt and that the outcome of this election is very detrimental, possibly even predictive of the future of Egypt. The pieces primarily examine parliament and the role of the Islamists in Egypt. The Brookings Institution conducted a poll that is telling of what Egyptians want and see in their future, which shown alongside the Gallup poll can be disconcerting. The Gallup poll shows a more pessimistic view of the current political climate, whereas The Brookings Institution is more optimistic, this however can be attributed to the types of questions asked, as well as the depth of the questions. Both the Center for American Progress and Washington Institute for Near East Policy examined the role America can play in the transition process. The Center for American Progress, being more progressive, took a centrist approach to reinstating ties with the new Egyptian government; it was also the only report to provide more detailed background knowledge about the candidates. In contrast, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, under the guise of fostering stability, took a very American Exceptionalist approach to the elections, assuming the worst and even regretting the inability for the Obama administration to get involved. The second report from WINEP also indicates concern with the ability of Egyptians to monitor the elections for fairness and vote rigging. The Plofchan report from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, although not the first to talk about the Salafis and The Muslim Brotherhood, it was the first to chronicle, however briefly, the beginnings of the split between the two groups, as well as state some of the differences in beliefs amongst the two. Lastly, the Council on Foreign Relations report was the only report to put a face to a people, speaking of the obstacles Egypt may face and providing a more in depth look at what many Egyptians may be feeling.

Think Tank: Brookings Institution

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 21/5/2012

Author: Shibley Telhami

Type: Report

Title: What Do Egyptians Want? Key Findings from the Egyptian Public Opinion Poll


The Brookings Institution has conducted a poll surveying the Egyptian public about political preferences, leaders and regional issues, during May 4-10, 2012 in light of the first presidential election. The Brookings Institution places great emphasis on the importance of the inaccuracies of probable predictions, as there is no analytical model of voting behaviour as of yet. Egyptian voters have also shown a difference in criteria by which they judge parliamentary and presidential candidates.

Poll Results:

  • Abul-Fotouh led the polls with 32%, followed by Mousa (28%) then Shafiq (14%), Morsi and Sabahi at (8%).
  • In parliamentary elections, 24% a favoured political party determined their vote, whereas in presidential elections, personal trust is a determining factor for 31%.
  • Christians supported Mousa the most, with 43%, as well as voters outside of cities with 31% of the vote.
  • Abul-Fotouh led among university graduates with 35% and among youth, under age 25, with 36%.
  • 54% believe Turkey to be the model reflection in terms of Islam in politics, followed by Saudi Arabia with 32%
  • A majority of those polled hold very unfavourable views of the U.S., with 68% and 73% support Mitt Romney over Barack Obama.
  • 66% of Egyptians support Sharia as the basis of Egyptian law, but 83% believe Sharia should be adapted to modern times.
  • A majority of Egyptians admired the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, with 63%. When asked to include Egyptian leaders, Erdogan fell to 15%, with Sadat at 35% and Abdel Nasser at 26%.
  • Brokering Middle East peace and establishing a Palestinian State ranked highest (66%) in regards improving U.S. favourability, followed by stopping military and economic aid to Israel as 46%.
  • While 55% believe there will be no lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis, 46% would like to maintain the peace treaty with Israel and 44% would like to see it cancelled.
  • The two countries that pose the biggest nuclear threat are Israel (97%) and the U.S. (80%).
  • Egyptians have been in support of the rebels against Assad and the Syrian government, but only 18% wish to see external military interventions, 15% support a Turkish Arab military intervention and 43% wish to see no military intervention.

Think Tank: Center for American Progress

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 23/5/2012

Author: Brian Katulis

Type: Brief

Title: Previewing Egypt’s 2012 Presidential Elections

Address: tml/#1

This report by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank dedicated to public policy research, provides a brief description of Egypt’s first democratic presidential election since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, as well as recommendations for the American government to restore and reinforce ties with the new Egyptian government. In addition, the brief lists and describes the presidential candidates.

According to the report, it is believed that “no candidate will receive more than 50% of the vote,” which would lead to run-off elections in mid-June between the two top candidates. By June’s end a new president will be sworn in for a four-year term and military rulers will hand over power to the new government. However, the transition is still incomplete as a new constitution is to be written and their remains questions over:

  • The economy- Candidates have addressed unemployment and inflation, but have yet to address public-sector debt, the currency crisis, and energy and food subsidies.
  • Security, Law and Order- The drafting of the new constitution has been halted due to Egypt’s disunities over the identity of their new political system; ie. The role of Islam in the government and legislation.

The drafting of the constitution is set to take six-months to draft, although it could take longer to get approved and gain public support. The new constitution may also address a checks and balances system, as well as the role of parliament. The role Egypt is to take in the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional security is also a source of debate amongst the candidates.

The report suggests that the American government conduct a “major interagency review of its Egypt policy.” This review will prepare the U.S. administration for dialogue with the new Egyptian administration later this year. The dialogue should consist of:

  • A renegotiation of “basic terms of the relationship.”
  • Enhance bilateral relationship through common interests.
  • “Build a more stable foundation for U.S.-Egyptian bilateral ties.”

Results of these dialogues would redefine ties and include more parts of the Egyptian government that were not included in past years.

Egypt Presidential Candidate Profiles

  • Amr Moussa- He served under the Mubarak regime as Egypt’s Foreign minister, as well as the secretary general of the Arab League. His platform consists of a centrist political strategy. He has been labelled as a remnant of the Mubarak regime. He is known for his anti-Israel and America statements and has campaigned as the “alternative to Islamist candidates.”
  • Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh- His candidacy is opposed by the Muslim Brotherhood. He is an Islamist activist and “would implement Sharia as a formal legal code.” His platforms are “populist economics and “people first” economics.” He served on the Muslim Brotherhoods decision-making council for twenty-two years. He has the support of leaders from the Salafi Nour Party.
  • Ahmad Shafiq- He has served as prime minister, and air force commander under Mubarak, causing him speculation amongst “revolution minded voters.” His platform is to “restore law and order within 30 days of being elected.” Public perception of him has been negative. He is running as an “alternative to Islamist candidates. “
  • Hamdeen Sabbahi- He has nationalist ideologies, basing his campaign on criticism of the U.S. and Israel. He founded social and political organizations and worked as a journalist, in which he was arrested for his “public confrontation” with former President Sadat concerning “rising food prices.” He did not serve under the Mubarak regime and is not an Islamist. He has proposed an alliance with Iran and Turkey and severing ties with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
  • Muhammad Mursi- He is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party Leader. He has served in Egypt’s Parliament and is the Brotherhood’s leading spokesman. He plans to amend the peace treaty with Israel “to create a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and have Israel recognize the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees.”

Think Tank: Council on Foreign Relations

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 21/5/2012

Author: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh

Type: Expert Brief

Title: A New Presidential Authority in Egypt


This brief takes a more optimistic approach to the Egyptian elections, summarizing the possible obstacles for the newly elected official, obstacles pertaining to religion in politics, and while also providing a look at the voters’ demands and desire for dignity.

While Egypt has witnessed violence, protests and authority turnover in the last sixteen months, it has empowered Egyptians to take part in their political system. Current polls show “a clear majority of Egyptians continue to hold the military in high regard,” although not nearly as many Egyptians “support a military-dominated political system.” The SCAF has been contested by the public for the “Selmi principles,” granting “autonomy from elected civilian officials,” as well as for their “application of the State of Emergency.”

The Muslim Brotherhood votes are split between two candidates, Aboul Fotouh, who was expelled from the Brotherhood, and Morsi, who has been behind in the polls. Despite the parliament being a Brotherhood majority, the Brotherhood is not leading in the presidential polls, possibly due to a Brotherhood announcement against running in the presidential race, that was later followed by Morsi’s presidential bid.

Egyptians demand more accountability of politicians. Although economic strife “helped create an environment of misery,” in years prior to the uprising, “Egyptians were demanding freedom, justice, and dignity when they brought Hosni Mubarak down.”

One thing that may delay the transition process will be the role of Islam in politics. Within that lies the issue of whether the Salafis or the Islamists are to speak for Islam. It is anticipated that whomever wins the election must negotiate between different religious groups. If the organised labour parties can emerge in large-scale, they can be very influential in the economic and social policymaking.

Think Tank: Gallup World via The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 18/5/2012

Author: Mohamed Younis and Ahmed Younis

Type: Report

Title: Support for Islamists Declines as Egypt’s Election Nears


According to the Gallup poll, spanning from July 2011 until April 2012 the Islamists have seen a steady increase, followed by a sharp decline in overall support as well as in the areas of prime minister appointment and constitution drafting.

  • July 2011 saw Muslim Brotherhood support at 17%, steadily increasing and peaking at 63% in February, then sharply declining to 42% in April.
  • In July 2011 Salafi support was at 5%, steadily increasing and peaking at 37% in February, then sharply declining to 25% in April.
  • The Nour Party saw 5% support in July, peaking at 40% in February and declining to 30% in April.
  • The Freedom and Justice Party saw 15% support in July, peaking at 67% in February and declining to 43% in April.
  • In February 2012, 62% of Egyptians felt comfortable with parliament writing the constitution, in April 2012 that percentage fell to 44.
  • In February 2012, 46% of Egyptians believed the party that wins the most seats in the parliament should appoint the prime ministers. Egyptians supporting the newly elected president appointing the prime minister next summer was 27%.
  • In April 2012, 27% of Egyptians believed the party that wins the most seats in the parliament should appoint the prime ministers. Egyptians supporting the newly elected president appointing the prime minister next summer was 44%.
  • In February 2012, 62% of Egyptians thought a parliament influenced by the Brotherhood was a good thing; 27% thought it was a bad thing.
  • In April 2012, 36% of Egyptians thought a parliament influenced by the Brotherhood was a good thing; 47% thought it was a bad thing.

This dissatisfaction can be attributed to the economic decline and bouts of violence. The transition has been twisted by power struggles within parliament, as opposed to reversing “financial decline and working to hold former regime members accountable.”

Think Tank: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 22/5/2012

Author: Eric Trager

Type: Policy Analysis

Title: Presidential Elections Will Not End Egyptian Instability


This WINEP analysis focuses on American interests within the Egyptian elections and states that given the economic situation of Egypt and the lack of clarity in the role of a new president, the elections will not provide stability in Egypt, but could further instability. Trager states that Sabahi is considered a favourite amongst expatriate voters, and while Mousa appears to be leading in the polls, there is no anticipated winner. With 75% of the parliament being Islamists, “ongoing instability has damaged the Islamists’ popularity and raised the profile of former regime candidates,” such as Shafiq, who has sought the votes of former Mubarak supporters.

The analysis concentrates on the shift from an American friendly regime to the current stance of the candidates that express anti-Western platforms, with the exception of Shafiq who is the only candidate who is not anti-Western or pro-Sharia. 

Fair elections will not likely cause stability as the parameters of the role of the newly elected president are undefined, as the new constitution has not been drafted. The proposals to allow the SCAF “to retain absolute powers in reviewing its internal affairs, including its budget,” and the ability of the president’s power to dissolve parliament, are likely to “ignite a severe confrontation between the military and the Islamists.”

The Obama administration has not declared support for any candidate. Washington should insist the SCAF conduct the elections fairly and to “follow a credible constitutional process,” otherwise mass protests could occur. Such protests could suppress stability restoration. Concerned that Islamists may play a role in an uprising against the SCAF, Washington should “use its $1.3 billion in military aid as leverage,” to ensure proper SCAF administration.

Think Tank: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 22/5/2012

Author: David Schenker

Type: Policy Analysis

Title: Egyptian Elections: Beyond Winning


This policy analysis of the Egyptian elections by WINEP, often criticised for being pro-Israel, discusses the credibility and speculation surrounding the actual voting process in Egypt. Concern is raised over an Islamist sweep within the new government, as Islamists are the majority of the new parliament. WINEP believes that regardless of the election process, a group of Egyptians may not accept the results if their candidate does not win.

Egyptians have been to the voting polls four times in fifteen months, causing concern that Egyptians may be losing their enthusiasm to vote. The constitutional referendum in March 2011 saw 41.2% of eligible voters vote, but Shura Council elections in January and February 2012 saw only 6.5% of voters in the first round and 12.2% voters in the second. About 54% of voters cast their ballots for the People’s Assembly elections. The high turn out rate is thought to be because some Egyptians believed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would fine them for not voting. The threat of SCAF imposing an “interim constitution” could discourage voters or encourage voters to vote.

The Carter Center, the only American based democracy promotion organisation currently in Egypt  “will not be allowed to observe any single polling station for more than thirty minutes.” Thousands of Egyptians have volunteered to monitor the polling stations.

WINEP believes that in the event Shafiq or Mousa win, there may be “claims of SCAF fraud,” accompanied by mass protests. The key to stabilizing Egypt is in the credibility of the voting process.

Think Tank: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 16/5/2012

Author: Thomas K. Plofchan III

Type: Report

Title: Egypt’s Islamists: A Growing Divide


This report chronicles and examines the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi rivalry from the fall of Hosni Mubarak until more recently into the elections. The two organisations originally held similar positions on issues after the fall of Mubarak, although began to divide mid-2011.

Three Salafi organisations, The Nour Party, being the biggest, joined the Brotherhood led Democratic Alliance that soon dissolved afterwards. The Salafis then formed the Islamic Bloc that won approximately 27% of the parliament vote, despite political inexperience. “The Nour Party won 111 of the 508 parliamentary seats, making it the second largest part in the People’s Assembly, the lower house of parliament.” The Brotherhood won 40% of the vote. Both parties have stated little interest in forming an Islamist alliance in the parliament.

The media has recently depicted the Brotherhood in a negative light due to entering the presidential candidacy after stating they wouldn’t. The Salafi party supports Aboul Fotouh, an expelled Brotherhood leader, while the Brotherhood’s Morsi is behind in the polls.

Salafis “oppose the use of alcohol and exposure of women’s bodies,” in regards to tourism standards; The Nour Party encourages cultural tourism contrasting to resort tourism and the Brotherhood “have distinguished between Egyptians and foreigners traveling in the country.” The biggest contrast deals with the role of Sharia in the new political system. The Brotherhood supports the principles of Sharia in legislation, whereas the Salafis support Sharia judgment.

The 21 Day Sugar Detox By Diane Sanfilippo





The 21-Day Sugar Detox is a comprehensive, yet simple and effective real-foods based program to help break the chains sugar and carbs have on you – and help you find food freedom.  Click Here!

The Premium program package includes two printed books and membership to our online portal that contains our Quick Start Guide, comprehensive guides to program modifications (for athletes, pregnant or breastfeeding moms, those on AIP, and pescetarians), optional Daily Detox Emails, 23 days of audio support recordings, and an expertly moderated forum for world class support, 1:1, when you need it most.

What’s more, your membership doesn’t expire – and you’ll have access to all of the future materials we add to the site for just the low, one-time price.

So, if you decide to return for another round of the program, your materials, resources and our support team will all be there, waiting for you.


Get involved with Israeli Apartheid Week

Want to support Palestinian freedom, justice and equality?

Join #IsraeliApartheidWeek 2016

Each year, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) takes place in more than 150 universities and cities across the world. With creative education and action, IAW aims to raise awareness about Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid over the Palestinian people and build support for the nonviolent Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

In response to the impressive growth of BDS in the last few years, Israel and its right-wing allies in the west have launched repressive, anti-democratic attacks on the movement and the right to boycott, instead of fulfilling their obligations to end Israel’s violations of international law. This makes this year’s #IsraeliApartheidWeek more crucial than ever.

Support Palestinian popular resistance to oppression–join IAW 2016.

Check out and #IsraeliApartheidWeek to find out what’s happening in your area. More events in different cities are being added all the time, so do check back if there’s nothing in your city listed yet. 

Want to organise #IsraeliApartheidWeek events on your campus or in your city? Register your organisation here and you’ll receive an info pack full of ideas about how to organise #IsraeliApartheidWeek.

UK: February 22-28
Europe: February 29-March 7
Palestine: March 1-10
South Africa: March 7-13
Arab World: March 20-26
US: various, including March 27-April 3
Latin America: April 10-24
Canada: various throughout March, check with local organisers

Post-Zionist Critique on Israel and the Palestinians: Part 1 The Academic Debate

A presentation of Ilan Pappe’s 1997 article can be found here

#LoveMe Challenge: Day 19

Day 19


Something I feel strongly about: What do I feel strongly about? Well, hmmm, I believe really strongly in justice, education reform, humanitarian efforts, children, anti-racism, laughing, mental health, Palestine, freedom, family and love

Popular Palestinian resistance against Israeli oppression enters its second month


Since the start of October, Palestinians have been taking part in mass popular resistance against Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of people joined a huge demonstration in al-Khalil (Hebron) and similarly large demonstrations took place in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and across Palestine. Palestinians continue to take mass action on an almost daily basis in cities, towns and villages throughout historic Palestine.

This uprising is led by a generation of fearless young Palestinian Davids who are no longer intimidated by the brutality of the Israeli Goliath and who are asserting their right to self-determination and freedom. It comes as a response to the escalation of Israel’s criminal attacks on and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Israel’s repression of this ongoing uprising has been brutal. Israel has killed 74 Palestinians, mostly unarmed protesters and bystanders, including 15 children and a pregnant woman. More than 2,000 civilians have been shot with live and rubber coated bullets. More than 1,350 Palestinians have been arrested.

See our full update for a selection of photos and updates about the ongoing popular resistance.

Take action in solidarity with the Palestinian popular resistance:

  • Share our photos and update about the ongoing protests in Palestine and the mapping of resistance by our member organisation Stop the Wall.
  • Organise a protest or visually exciting, creative action in solidarity with Palestinian popular struggle. Take steps to ensure your actions are covered in the media and shared through social media. Please use the #SolidarityWaveBDS hashtag.
  • Read and share our Q&A on the ongoing popular resistance to try to counter some of the falsehoods and bias circulating in the media.
  • Read and share our briefing on how international military ties help Israel to repress Palestinian resistance.
  • Read and check out more ideas for action here

Many thanks, 

Palestinian BDS National Committee

REMARKS: Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein At the Release of the 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom


Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release


Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein

At the Release of the 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom


Press Briefing Room

Washington, D.C.

October 14, 2015

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  I want to thank the Secretary, not just for his remarks; he made a number of commitments of support for this work when I came on, and he has more than fulfilled those commitments.

The Annual International Religious Freedom Report provides an important opportunity for the United States to highlight an issue that continues to be a foreign policy priority for the Administration, documenting how, where, and when the universal right of freedom of religion or belief was violated or protected in every corner of the world.

Through the immense effort of countless State Department officials, particularly our knowledgeable and tireless staff of the International Religious Freedom Office and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in Washington, as well as dedicated staff in each one of our embassies across the globe, the 2014 report maintains the high standards of objectivity and accuracy for which we strive.

A little over a year ago, I stood at a podium next to Secretary Kerry here in this room when he announced my nomination for the position of Ambassador-at-Large, and during my 10-month tenure I have been gratified by the support from both the Secretary and the President in implementing so many of the priorities I identified in my confirmation hearing and my swearing-in speech.  We have since increased the number of staff in my office, allowing us to expand our country monitoring work and better address a variety of issues – from the importance of religious freedom and countering violent extremism to the terrible global impact of blasphemy laws.  Simultaneously, we have expanded foreign assistance programs that strengthen religious freedom. 

I’m also deeply appreciative of President Obama’s and Secretary Kerry’s support for the appointment of Knox Thames as special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia; I’m delighted that he’s able to be with us today.  Knox will build upon our already intense efforts on behalf of these minorities over the past year, including our work to protect Yezidis in those early days and weeks on Mount Sinjar in Iraq and the Assyrian Christian communities of the Khabur River area of Syria.  Knox will help guide the U.S. Government-wide efforts to promote conditions in these countries that will allow members of displaced minority communities to be able to return home.

Since January, I’ve also worked to build deeper partnerships with foreign governments to advance religious freedom as these global challenges require a global response.  Thanks to the leadership of my Canadian counterpart, Ambassador Andrew Bennett, we have forged an intergovernmental contact group bringing together likeminded nations to devise common strategies to promote and protect religious freedom for all.

Now, during my tenure I’ve noticed certain enduring truths.  In many countries, religious freedoms flourish; people are free to choose their faith, change their faith, speak about their faith to others, teach their faith to their children, dissent from religion, build places of worship, worship alone or in fellowship with others.  In such societies, denominations and faith groups organize as their leaders and members see fit.  Interfaith cooperation flourishes, religious communities contribute significantly to the social welfare and serve as a moral compass to their nations.

Yet in far too many countries people face daunting, alarming, growing challenges on account of their beliefs.  In countries where once proud traditions of multi-faith cooperation, positive coexistence was the norm, we have witnessed growing numbers of religious minorities being driven out of their historic homelands.  And in too many countries, prisoners of conscience suffer cruel punishment for their religious beliefs and practices.  This report gives a voice to all those around the world who are seeking to peacefully live their lives in accordance with their conscience or religious beliefs.

In the pages of this report, we strive to put a human face on this incredibly important human right that touches so many people across the globe and remains central to the identity of the American people.

A number of trend lines stood out in this year’s report.  The first one, the Secretary has already mentioned, is the single greatest challenge to religious freedom worldwide, or certainly the single greatest emerging challenge, and that is the abhorrent acts of terror committed by those who falsely claim the mantle of religion to justify their wanton destruction. 

In both Iraq and Syria, Daesh has sought to eliminate anyone daring to deviate from its own violent and destructive interpretation of Islam.  Targets include non-Muslims, Shia, Sunnis alike.  It has displaced individuals from their homes based on their religions or ethnicity.  Similarly, Boko Haram has killed thousands in both indiscriminate violence and deliberate attacks on Christians and Muslims who oppose its radical ideology.  It has subjected the peoples of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, to unspeakable acts of terror, sexual violence, abductions, and fatal attacks on places of worship.

Secondly, the impact of blasphemy laws and apostasy laws in countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, and in a number of others – as well as laws that purport to protect religious sentiments from offense.  The United States uniformly opposes such laws which are used to oppress those whose religious beliefs happen to offend the majority.  Such laws are inconsistent with international human rights and fundamental freedoms, and we will continue to call for their universal repeal.  The existence of such laws has been used in some countries as pretext to justify violence in the name of religion to create an atmosphere of impunity for those resorting to violence and/or leads to false claims of blasphemy.

Third, repressive governments routinely subject their citizens to violence, detention, discrimination, undue surveillance, for simply exercising their faith or identifying with a religious community.  We see this dramatized by the plight of countless numbers of prisoners of conscience.  We remain deeply committed to seeing such individuals freed everywhere in the world.

In my travels to Vietnam, I saw firsthand how religious groups are forced to undergo onerous and arbitrary registration process to legally operate.  As Vietnam considers amending its religion laws, we stand with the country’s religious communities in calling for the easing of such restrictions.  And in Burma, Ambassador Bennett of Canada and I spoke out forcefully together against a series of discriminatory laws banning interfaith marriage and restricting conversion.

Many governments have used the guise of confronting terrorism or extremism to broadly repress religious groups for nonviolent religious activities, or by imposing broad restrictions on religious life.  Russia continues to use vaguely formulated anti-extremism laws to justify arrests, raids on homes and places of worship, and the confiscation or banning of religious literature.  Tajikistan bans people under age of 18 from participating in any public religious activities, supposedly on the ground that exposure to religion will lead youths to violence.  Chinese officials have increased controls on Uighur Muslims’ peaceful religious expression and practice, including instances of banning beards and headscarves. 

And a word about China:  During my visit in August, I found that despite widespread, continuing government abuses and restriction, many places of worship were nonetheless full and flourishing.  In areas of the country where the government’s hand was lighter, faith-based social service and welfare agencies operating homeless shelters, orphanages, soup kitchens, made highly positive contributions to the wellbeing of their society.  We’ve urged the Chinese Government to use that as a model of what can work nationwide.  But far more often restrictive policies still stifled religious life, preventing Chinese people from experiencing such benefits.  This reality has only been exacerbated by the growing crackdown on human rights lawyers in China, including those seeking to work within China’s legal system to enhance religious freedom.  And this does include Zhang Kai, a peaceful, respected, Christian human rights lawyer who was detained just prior to a meeting with me and whose whereabouts remain unknown.

A fourth trend is the role of societal violence and discrimination, that which emanates not from the government itself but from other societal groups.  And the question is:  What does the government do to try and ameliorate the conditions that lead to such violence, and what does it do to protect harassed minority communities?  In Europe, many governments are struggling to cope with the aftermath of terror attacks such as those in France, Belgium and Denmark, along with increased anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim actions and sentiments.  As hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and others have fled into Europe in recent weeks, we urge governments to uphold their obligations for humane treatment of refugees and ensuring that individuals do not face harassment or discrimination on account of their Muslim faith.

Now, despite these many challenges detailed in our report, we also see governments and individuals working to improve their communities and societies.  Following the terror attacks in Copenhagen in February, thousands of people of different faiths formed in Denmark a human ring outside the synagogue where the murder occurred.  In September of 2014, Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional court ruled part of the country’s problematic religion law unconstitutional, a decision we hope will ease registration requirements for minority religious groups and enable members to engage in peaceful religious activities more freely.

After years of growing religious tensions and violence in Sri Lanka generated by hardline ethnic Buddhist groups, a new government has taken office and staked out a much more tolerant view of religious diversity.  Since that time, some of these tensions have noticeably eased. 

In closing, while the challenges are daunting, we are deeply inspired by the work of countless religious communities, civil society organizations, and individuals around the world working alongside us to ensure that their governments live up to their international commitments to protect freedom of religious and belief.  We dedicate our work to their struggle and continue to fight for a world in which every individual is free to live out the core of his or her conscience.

I’m now happy to answer any questions.

MR TONER:  Any takers?  Go ahead, David.

QUESTION:  You’ve sketched out a number of things that are going badly and a few things that are going well.  Is it possible to look at a global trend?  Are things better than they were when you took office or worse, globally?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  If you look at the Pew reports that I believe are a year behind our reports, over the last several years there’s been a steady increase in the percentage of people who live in countries that are – that have serious restrictions on religious freedom.  And of course, as both the Secretary and I pointed out, the escalation of the violence perpetrated by non-state actors, often in the name of their interpretation of religion, is a new phenomenon that has really escalated in the last 18 months.  So on that level, there are trends that are deeply troubling.

At the same time, if you look and for – just take one example in Europe, and you look at the acts of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim activity that took place, across Europe leaders of the different countries and civil society leaders and religious leaders have all spoken out condemning these acts, taking steps to help prevent these acts, standing in protection of minority communities with many governments deploying either police or militia to protect endangered minority communities.  And we’ve seen enormous expansion of interfaith efforts on almost every continent to try and address the challenges.

So it’s hard to give you the sum between the dangerous and the encouraging parts of it.  This report doesn’t make those kinds of judgment.  It just states in facts what is happening in each and every country. 

MR TONER:  Barbara.

QUESTION:  Just to follow up the China situation, have the Chinese Government responded in any way to your questions about the detention of this Zhang Kai, I think his name is?  And also, what are the circumstances of the people who were detained around the same time?  And sorry – finally, how do you explain that balance or that kind of mixed message between religious – a certain amount of religious freedom or expression, but on the other hand increasing restrictions, especially when you were actually there?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  So let me clarify what the situation was.  At the very end of our time in mainland China, these detentions took place.  One was of somebody – someone with a human rights legal background who had met with us to give the analysis that that person brought to bear on the subject, who was detained the next day in house detention. 

About 10 of the people from the community of Wenzhou – now that, I’m sure, many of you have read about.  That’s a community where there’s been an escalation of efforts to take down crosses from a few hundred churches, to dismantle some churches in Wenzhou.  And we wanted to meet with people there.  We were denied permission to actually travel there, but we were allowed to go to the capital of that province.  And that group of people – including three human rights lawyers, four pastors from the area, three or four other activists, a group of about 10 people – were all detained. 

Several of them have been released.  Several of them still face the possibility of charges.  And with Zhang Kai, who really is one of the most respected human rights lawyers in China, someone who has argued over and over again that they have to work within the legal system of China in order to win these battles and has proved very skilled at doing that, representing a range of religious groups, he and I believe one or two or the others are still in locations where we’re not sure where they are.  This is not an uncommon occurrence.  And on – our human rights bureau has reached out in all their encounters.  We’re trying to talk about these problems in a structural level.   We have continued to ask questions.  We will continue on this.  And we hope that we will get answers.

Just on one foot – again, the report doesn’t make the judgments about why these disparity of experiences, these encouraging signs and these deeply discouraging signs, live side by side in the same country.  It just sets out the facts and allows you folks to provide the interpretation. 

MR TONER:  Nicole.

QUESTION:  Thanks for doing this, Mr. Ambassador.  The report talks about a wave of anti-Israel sentiment in Europe in 2014 that crossed the line into anti-Semitism.  And I’m wondering if you could explain to us how you defined where that line was.  What constituted anti-Israel action or sentiment versus anti-Semitic?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  We actually have a very brief paper on that.  If you’d like, we can provide that to you.  But just very quickly here, criticism of the public policy of any nation – Israel, the United States, China, a European nation, African nation, Asian nation – no matter what the nation is, that’s appropriate.  That’s part of the free marketplace of ideas and discourse. 

Where it has often crossed the line is when groups try to argue that Israel is an inherently illegal state and doesn’t have a right to exist as a Jewish state here and takes actions to de-legitimize those fundamental rights.  It comes – it’s right on the cusp of that line when it holds one country to different standards than it would hold any other country.  Normally we think of that as the denial of rights to a person that are given to other similarly situated people, or the imposition of obligations on a person not applied to other people.  We normally think of that as racism.  And this, in the minds of many, feels that when it steps over that line, that it constitutes anti-Semitic activity and not just anti-legitimate discourse about Israel’s policies.

MR TONER:  In the back.  Michele.


QUESTION:  Hi, how are you?  When you look at what ISIS is doing in the Middle East, would you describe that as a war on Christians?  What more could the U.S. do to protect communities like that or to help resettle people here?  And then finally, what would you tell Russia about Bashar al-Assad’s record on protecting minorities in that country?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  That’s a broad range of issues.  Let me try to do this quickly, working backwards.  The – Assad’s record is absolutely clear.  We have made that clear to the world.  I think there’s overwhelming consensus in the global community about the horrific abuses of human rights that the Assad regime has been engaged in.  And so Russia’s intervention doesn’t change what our message on that has been.

In terms of bringing people here, the President has announced an expansion in the number of refugees that we will be taking in.  It is presumed a number of those will include – of the expansion will include people from that – will include people from that region.

We have worked vigorously on the issue of protecting the minority communities.  ISIL is certainly targeting the Christian community, but is also targeting the Mandaeans, the Shabak, certainly the Yezidis that explicitly said it wanted to wipe out here.  So it is trying to decimate and eviscerate the presence of those very communities here.  And we know that if there’s going to be a possibility to bring them home, we know what the ingredients are going to be.  I’ve spoken on this publicly to a number of the major Christian groups who are concerned about this, but also the groups that are concerned about the – in meetings with the Yezidi, the Shia Muslim groups from the area who are affected by this as well.

That is, we need to sustain them where they are in place at a condition that they’re going to be willing to stay – mostly in Kurdistan – until ISIL’s presence is removed.  And we clearly need to remove ISIL’s presence for them to return home.  That means there have to be schools for their kids, there has to be better health care, there have to be job opportunities for their kids who are graduating school, et cetera.  And the United States is the lead factor in providing that kind of humanitarian aid.

Secondly, there needs to be a security system when they return home in which they can trust, because a lot of that trust was breached when ISIL came in.  And they need their own – the right to have their own effective defense forces that have to be integrated with the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces.

Third, there has to be a restorative justice, a transitional justice system.  People go back to their communities; some of their former neighbors have taken over their businesses, their homes.  There has to be a system that will fairly adjudicate that and hold people responsible who assisted ISIL.

Fourth, at a macro level in Iraq, there has to be a change in the governance structures that allow those minority groups to have a real role in shaping the future of the country.  Prime Minister Abadi has made clear that that is his intent.  We see some of that represented in appointments that he’s made, and the United States is working with the Iraqi Government on that day in and day out.

And finally, there has to be an internationally engaged plan on the economic rebuilding so that people will have a sense of hope for the future.  We know what those ingredients are.  The United States, often together with the UN or other nations, are working on planning in this.  And that’s very important because if it were – we waited until ISIL was pushed out, it would leave a vacuum that chaos would potentially descend.

And so we know what needs to be done.  We’re working on those things – and pushing very hard – that will benefit the Christian community.  I mean, think about it.  There’s been a Christian community there for 1600 years.  Across the Nineveh plain, church bells have pealed for 1600 years.  Today they are silent.  And we are not going to rest until people have a right to live out their religious lives back in their home communities in accordance with their conscience.

MR TONER:  A couple more questions.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  On North Korea and on religious freedom and human rights in North Korea, in North Korea they detained many of the religions and the pastors for past years, then they are still in prisons.  So how – would you please tell us:  How many U.S. citizens still in the North Korean prisons?  Can you guess how many U.S. citizen pastors or religions or whatever citizens?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  First, as you know, Korea remains a country of particular concern for us.  It is one of the worst violators of human rights in the entire world.  We have talked about that over and over again.  The countries of particular concern who were this past year continue this year.  I think everyone knows that list – Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

Secondly, we continue – we don’t have direct relations, so we continue through international partners and by mobilizing these international coalitions to put continuing pressure for North Korea to ease its restrictions on religious freedom and to let every one of those prisoners of conscience – and there are far, far too many, and they often face brutal conditions in the prisons – to go.

And finally, the United States Government is always working, day in and day out, to ensure that its citizens who are imprisoned unjustly without due process and for the exercise of fundamental internationally protected rights are allowed to go free, and/or encounter a judicial system that does provide due process and fairness.  We do that as best we can through the international contacts with North Korea going on every day on an ongoing basis.

The question of how many, I actually don’t know the answer to.  The specific cases we can’t comment on.  American privacy laws protect us from – protect them from allowing us to talk about their situation, and they’re not in a position to give us authority and permission to do that.  So we can’t comment on the individual cases.


QUESTION:  In your outreach to countries to address religious freedom concerns, do you ever get pushback from governments who may view the idea of religious freedom as a Western concept?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  We do, and it has been somewhat of a growing phenomenon.  Here – we therefore make it clear over and over again we are not trying to impose the standards of Western countries, of countries of any particular majorities – religious majorities – here, or American, European standards on any of these countries.  Almost all of these countries we’re dealing with are signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Article 18 is quite clear about a robust application of religious freedom.  We regard these as internationally protected rights, and it is within that guise that we deal with it.

Let me just point out, however, that we respect the varied traditions of people up to the point it violates those international norms.  We try to engage with them on their terms to find ways to address what concerns they might have about defamation of religion, about attacks on religion, about the questions of what religiously would be – would constitute blasphemy by finding non-legal ways to deal with that.  The passage of UN Resolution 1618 is a prime example of that.  It enjoyed the support of the OIC in passing it.  It looks at non-penal ways to address some of these questions. 

And we have set up a very effective training program drawing on the Justice Department, the Homeland Security Department, and the State Department.  Working with other experts around the world, we’re out in other countries doing training programs about this, and the countries – it’s been a handful of countries we’ve done a test run on, and now we’re going to be expanding this in a much more global reach.  It’s one of the things that I’m focused on doing.  And that’s where we engage people where they are and try and bring them in ways to address their concerns within international legal norms.

MR TONER:  Really, last few questions.  In the back there and then Nicole.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ambassador, for your time.  The Syria Catholic patriarch last week said that Christians in the Middle East feel like the West has abandoned them.  How do you respond, and how can this report help in their crisis right now?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  Sometimes there are competing truths – two things that are absolutely true here.  There is a robust effort of the developed world – of the democratic world, excuse me – to help protect the Christian communities.  They are – all of the efforts that we’re doing in terms of supporting the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees, of Iraqi refugees; of working with the Government of Iraq in the lines – along the lines that I was talking about in the international community manifest that.  Day in and day out there isn’t a single day that we are not doing more and more.  The – bringing Knox Thames, such a respected advocate of religious freedom – for those of you who don’t know Knox, he had been the director of policy and research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, widely respected in the field – who hit the ground running when he came on just within the last couple of weeks, he’s going to be working side by side with me and with our international counterparts and with every arm of our government that is doing programs, working on defense training and work with countries in the area here (inaudible) the intelligence communities, all of the human rights work that we’re doing here, to help really strengthen the work on behalf of these minorities. 

That’s one reality.  I mean, I could talk for hours about what is being done, the programmatic work that’s being done – the relief and humanitarian work, et cetera.  They’re in the middle of a horrific war situation.  Every day their lives could be imperiled.  There’s no magic button that can fix this.  It is – as the President has said, it is going to be long, steady progress here until we can reach the kind of goals that we want.  If you’re living there and you fear for the well being of your family every day, certainly you’re going to feel like the world isn’t doing enough about it.  It’s a paradox.  We recognize that reality.  We do everything we can to ameliorate that, to offer greater protection and to meet the needs of these communities, and we won’t cease doing so until they really are able to live in freedom in accordance with their conscience.

MR TONER:  Nicole, last question (inaudible) sorry.

QUESTION:  Does the State Department consider efforts by Western countries to ban the Muslim headdress or the Muslim covering for women as a repression of religious freedom?

And second, very quick, if you can.  Iran, Saudi Arabia – which one is more respectful of religious freedom?  Thanks.

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  Both of them, as you heard, are on the list of the countries of particular concern here and continue to be on that list, Nicole.  So we don’t make judgments about which are better and worse.  Both of those countries have structural, systematic, egregious violations.  Minority in Saudi Arabia – no one other than Muslim community can worship openly, can partake in their religious life openly.  Even when they do it privately, often they’re harassed and interfered with.  These are very serious challenges and problems.  In Iran, we have very serious problems as well.  Again, the Shia Muslim community – interpretation of Islam dominates the legal structure, the culture of the country.  Other Muslims find themselves – Mahdi Muslims find themselves in trouble; in the Baha’i community, systematically oppressed.  Almost every minority group faces restrictions and are discriminated against in one form or another. 

So they are both – have very serious problems.  Read the report; you would have to make the judgment yourself which is the worst here. 

QUESTION:  And the headdress issue?


QUESTION:  The headdress issue?

AMBASSADOR SAPERSTEIN:  Yeah – yes.  We have taken a position in our approach to this that exercise of freedom of religion and belief allows people to make determinations about what their appropriate re0ligious garb would be.  If women feel they have to have their heads covered, if Sikhs believe that they have to wear turbans, this is their right.  If Jews believe they have to wear yarmulkes, kippot to cover their head, this should be the determination that each and every person makes.  There may be circumstances in which there are compelling reasons – simply the need to identify someone or safety reasons – you can’t wear a turban working around equipment that could catch a turban.  If you got to wear a safety helmet, you got to wear a safety helmet. 

So accommodations should be made as far as possible.  Those exceptions are really few and far between.  We believe that people’s right to live in accordance with their conscience includes the right to use religious garb and religious dress.  We’ve been critical of other democratic countries as well as nondemocratic countries that have put such restrictions, and we hope in the future things will ease enough that – and will be seen in a different perspective that this restriction of religious freedom will be allowed to fade away.

MR TONER:  Thank you all, appreciate it.  Thank you, Ambassador. 


# # #

REMARKS: Secretary of State John Kerry At the Rollout of the 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom





Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release



 Secretary of State John Kerry

At the Rollout of the 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom


Press Briefing Room

Washington, D.C.

October 14, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, today we present the department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2014.

And I particularly want to thank David Saperstein and his entire team for producing a report that reflects a vast amount of objective research and that will provide a uniquely valuable resource for anybody who cares about religious freedom in all of its aspects.  And I am very grateful for David’s willingness to come on board.  He has provided important new energy and focus on this, is building a terrific team, and I think you’re going to hear more and more from the Department with respect to our fight to protect people’s right to exercise religious freedom.

The message at the heart of this report is that countries benefit when their citizens fully enjoy the rights to which they are entitled.  And this is not a hopeful theory; this is a proven reality.  No nation can fulfill its potential if its people are denied the right to practice, to hold, to modify, to openly profess their innermost beliefs.

I should emphasize that the concept of religious freedom extends way beyond mere tolerance.  It is a concept grounded in respect for the rights and beliefs of others.  It is deeply connected to our DNA as Americans – to everything that we are and everything that we came from.  It’s a concept that is based on respect, and respect, in turn, demands legal equality.  It demands that the practitioners of one faith understand that they have no right to coerce others into submission, conversion, or silence, or to literally take their lives because of their beliefs.

The purpose of this annual report is to highlight the importance of religious freedom not by lecturing but through advocacy and through persuasion.  Our primary goal is to help governments everywhere recognize that their societies will do better with religious liberty than without it.  The world has learned through very hard experience that religious pluralism encourages and enables contributions from all; while religious discrimination is often the source of conflicts that endanger all. 

By issuing this report, we hope to give governments an added incentive to honor the rights and the dignity of their citizens; but the report also has the benefit of equipping interested observers with an arsenal of facts.

And one of the more consequential facts of our era has been the convergence – really, the development of a sort of new phenomenon of non-state actors who, unlike the last century and the violence that we saw and persecution that we saw that emanated from states, are now the principal persecutors and preventers of religious tolerance and practice.  Most prominent, and most harmful, obviously, has been the rise of international terrorist groups such as Daesh, al-Qaida, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram.  And all have been guilty of vicious acts of unprovoked violence. 

Under their control, captives have been given a choice between conversion or slavery or death.  Children have been among the victims, and also among those forced to witness or participate in executions – sometimes even of their own family members.  Entire populations of religious minority groups have been targeted for killing.  Terrified young girls have been separated out by religion and sold into slavery.  

The repugnance of these acts is only multiplied when the perpetrators seek to justify themselves by pointing a finger at God and claiming somehow that God licensed these acts.  We are, and we will continue, to oppose these groups with far more than words of condemnation that are contained in this report.

We will also continue to help the survivors.  In the Middle East, and in Africa, we are assisting local partners in responding to the needs – both physical and psychological – of women and girls who have escaped or been released after having been held captive by terrorist groups.  Each victim, each nightmare, each wound is another reason to urgently address the root causes of violent extremism.

And before closing, I just want to make three general points. 

First, as much as we oppose the actions of terrorists, we do not agree with governments that use those crimes as a pretext for prohibiting religious activities that are in fact nonviolent and legitimate.  Those who misuse the terms “terrorist” and “extremist” are not fooling anybody, and trying to dictate an artificial conformity of religious expression is not a prescription for harmony.  It is a prescription for frustration, anger, and rebellion.  And we have learned time and again that if citizens are denied the rights to practice and express their beliefs peacefully, they are far more likely to explore other and more often than not dangerous alternatives.

Second, the right to religious freedom is not contingent on having a large number of followers.  Religious minorities – including those who profess no faith – should have the same rights as religious majorities, and that is a fundamental belief.  Sadly, the pages of this report that is being released today are filled with accounts of minorities being denied rights in countries like Burma, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, many others.

And finally, I want to emphasize the importance and urgency of the work that is being carried out by Ambassador Saperstein and his office, including the addition of a new special advisor on religious minorities.  Among their initiatives is a groundbreaking effort to build a coalition of likeminded nations to uphold the international standard of religious freedom for all. 

In that connection, I urge the release of men and women detained or imprisoned anywhere in the world for the peaceful expression and practice of their religious beliefs.  This includes Mr. Zhang Kai, a Chinese Christian human rights lawyer who was detained in late August just prior to a scheduled meeting with Ambassador Saperstein, and whose present whereabouts are unknown.

In closing, I note that religious bigotry is present to a degree in every continent and every country, and sadly, even including our own.  It may be expressed through anti-Semitism or prejudice against Muslims; through the persecution of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others; or it may come in the guise of attacks against religion itself, as we saw so tragically in Oregon at the beginning of this month. 

In response, we all have a responsibility to affirm our faith in the principles of religious freedom that the world community has endorsed so many times and that have helped to uplift America and define our country since the 17th century, when Roger Williams issued his call for soul liberty, and when, some years later, Seneca chief Red Jacket told a missionary delegation from Boston, “Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion.  We only want to enjoy our own.”  That’s the fundamental principle of tolerance that guides us, and it is a value worth fighting for.

With that, I am pleased to yield the floor to Ambassador David Saperstein, who will give you a little more detail about the report.  Thank you all.


TRANSCRIPT: Foreign Press Center Briefing with Matt Matthews




FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2015, 2:00 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR:  [I’m Mark Zimmer,] Media Relations Officer for East Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Press Center.  We’re very pleased today to have Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. senior official for APEC, Mr. Matt Matthews.  He’s going to offer a preview of the 2015 Australia-U.S. Ministerial consultations. 

We’re on the record.  We’re going to record this.  We’ll put out a transcript later.  We are not broadcasting this event.  We’ve got a New York office on the line.  If anybody has a question, they’ll come up to the screen, so we’ll do it that way.  We’ve got about a half an hour today, and again, we’ll ask the Deputy Assistant Secretary to make a statement and then we’ll open it up for questions.  Thank you.

MR MATTHEWS:  So again, all right.  So I just wanted to say, first of all, I’m really delighted to be here and we are very excited to be welcoming Foreign Minister Bishop and your new Defense Minister Marise Payne to Boston next week for the AUSMIN.  This is our 30th AUSMIN, and we are also celebrating the 75th anniversary of U.S.-Australian relations – very close relations.  And it is also the 10th anniversary of the signing of our Bilateral Free Trade Agreement which was signed back in 2004. 

Accordingly, we are very excited to be holding this important meeting in Secretary Kerry’s hometown of Boston, and we’re very pleased to welcome the new defense minister there, to congratulate her as the first woman in Australia to hold that position.  We hold AUSMIN each year to reaffirm the close bilateral relationship and a strong military alliance between Australia and the United States. 

Over the past 75 years, Australia and the United States have become indispensable global partners.  I think as you all know, the United States is Australia’s largest foreign direct investor with I think somewhere on the order of $760 billion in investment in Australia.  We are your third largest trading partner, if I’m not mistaken, and you are our 11th largest export market.  So there is a very important economic relationship that underpins the relationship.  We also have a million and a half tourists travel between the United States and Australia every year – something that we encourage all people to do.  And there are 13,000 students studying in both our countries as well. 

Both countries engage in robust exchange in the areas of science and technological innovation, ranging from neuroscience to clean energy to information technology, and of course, our space-related cooperation that NASA has been doing in Australia for years that goes back to the time before they made the movie “The Dish,” right?  So it’s like if you’ve ever been outside of Canberra and been to visit that site, it’s kind of classic.

Australia and the United States have also a shared history of sacrifice across the globe, and we have dedicated ourselves to maintaining peace and security throughout the world, and that has been enshrined in our 1951 security treaty.  But I would say that it’s clear that even today Australia is contributing significantly to the coalition to fight ISIS, to provide personnel and aircraft to the coalition for air combat and support missions.  And Australia and the United States also continue to work as partners in the Asia Pacific region to uphold freedom of navigation and overflight with respect to international law and unimpeded lawful commerce. 

Australia and the United States worked together tirelessly with a number of other Pacific nations to successfully conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership just earlier this week, and we will continue to promote this agreement as one of the most expansive, high-quality trade agreements, and as a major opportunity to increase commerce, investment, and create jobs with increasing prosperity for all those participating economies.

America is a Pacific nation.  Its future is very closely tied to the Pacific.  The Australians are some of our closest friends there, and in fact, our closest friends in the world.  We are delighted to host them for AUSMIN, and at this time I’d just like to open it up and take your questions.

QUESTION:  Assistant Secretary, I’m Michael Vincent [of ABC Australia].

MR MATTHEWS:  It’s – just to downgrade myself to my proper rank, I’m a Deputy Assistant Secretary.

QUESTION:  Mr. Deputy Assistant Secretary – (laughter) – so, look, are you expecting any what you guys like to call deliverables out of the meeting at AUSMIN or is it kind of expected to be a sort of, I don’t know, what’s the —

MR MATTHEWS:  I think the best way to describe AUSMIN is a chance for our senior leaders at [the] cabinet level to get together and ensure that our comprehensive understanding of the way we look at the world and the challenges we face are really tightly matched.  Naturally, during the course of the year we have many interactions at lower levels in the U.S. and Australian governments between our diplomats from State or military folks from DOD.  But this is the premier event which really kind of sets the general framework and where both sides can reassure each other that we do – are coming from the same place.  And where there needs to be discussion, then discussion takes place.

QUESTION:  So when you – sorry, guys, just a quick follow-up on that.  When you say reassure each other you’re coming from the same place, you mean on policy goals and —

MR MATTHEWS:  Yeah, I think —

QUESTION:  — on defense and trade and that sort of stuff?

MR MATTHEWS:  Yeah, we actually – we don’t really need to assure each other, since we really are very tightly intertwined and we have a very close set of views about the challenges we face in the world.  But it provides – as issues arise and as they will, it provides that opportunity to be discussing them at a senior level.  And I think it’s always a very healthy thing to do.  That’s why we do it on a regular, annual basis.

QUESTION:  Australia has a new prime minister and also a new defense minister.  What are the U.S. Administration’s expectations of relations going forward with Australia?  I mean, I’d note Tony Abbott – I think it would be widely accepted he ensured there was strong relations between the U.S. and Australia under his leadership. 

MR MATTHEWS:  I think we are very confident that through the decades and through changing administrations on both sides the relationship has been extremely robust, and we fully expect that they will continue to be so.  We have a very talented team led by Prime Minister Turnbull, and I’m sure we’ll have excellent interaction and the relationship will continue to be as strong as ever.

QUESTION:  So you’d expect continuity?


QUESTION:  The ground beneath these meetings is shifting rapidly, though.  Isn’t it because apart from the change of leadership in Australia, the situation on the ground in Syria has massively changed in the past couple of weeks.  Is that going to be a focus of the talks?

MR MATTHEWS:  I think it’s – first of all, I would say that the grounds for the relationship are firm and stable and sure.  They’re globally based, they’re regionally based, and they’re bilaterally based.  So that’s a really strong, stable framework in which we operate in.  There are challenges that arise like Syria, ISIL in particular.  And how we go about meeting that challenge does present new problem sets to solve, but I think you’ll find that the United States and Australia are working quite well together in dealing with it. 

QUESTION:  Will the talks – do you expect the talks to focus on how the Australian contribution to the coalition fighting ISIL can operate alongside other coalition members, led by America, in parallel to another war going on being led by Russia?

MR MATTHEWS:  Well, they may get into issues like that.  I don’t know specifically whether that will happen.  ISIL and Syria will be on the agenda to discuss.  But certainly to date, that coalition has been working effectively, and whatever challenges we face in managing our coalition activities side-by-side with increased activity from Russia – well, if that comes up, that would be perfectly natural and —

QUESTION:  You talk about Australia and the U.S. having similar objectives, and I think an example used was freedom of navigation in the Asia Pacific waters.  I assume you meant —

MR MATTHEWS:  Anywhere in the world.

QUESTION:  Yeah, the South China Sea is obviously very topical at the moment.  What role do you see Australia playing in helping to ensure there is freedom of navigation in the South China Sea?

MR MATTHEWS:  Well, in the case of the South China Sea, there has been rising tension over the past several years due to the fact that there are multiple overlapping claims, and China has taken a more aggressive stance in asserting its claims.  The United States has a very clearly defined position.  We don’t take a position on territorial claims themselves, but we take a very strong and clear position that resolution of any of those claims has to be done consistent with international law, and it has to be done in a way that is free from bullying or coercion and should be done consistent with international institutions that are aligned to help deal with them.

So I think we have sought in international fora, including the EAS, including the ASEAN EMM, etc, to enunciate that position.  And we have called upon likeminded nations to do the same to ensure that the temperature and the level of tension is reduced by all parties adhering to reasonable means of addressing their overlapping claims, those that are consistent with international law.

We have also asked that all activities in the South China Sea that would intend to change facts on the ground, to change their positions, be halted, and we call upon China and other claimants to adhere to that halt.  And we appreciate it when other nations in the region share in promoting that view as a way of lowering tensions in the South China Sea.

QUESTION:  So Australia, in other words, being an advocate —


QUESTION:  — of the similar values that you were just espousing now.

QUESTION:  Given the Secretary’s very necessary focus on Syria and before that – well, and continuing, I imagine, dispute in Israel and around – in these talks, will he seek to reassure Australia of the State Department and the Administration’s ongoing commitment to a Rebalance?

MR MATTHEWS:  I think you can be well assured that the United States’ Rebalance takes place within the framework of whatever other challenges we face.  The United States has a fundamental position, which is that the future growth of the world is centered in Asia.  The highest, the greatest amount of global growth will be occurring in Asia and America as a Pacific nation with deep ties throughout Asia, and we need to have our efforts and our resources applied commensurate to that problem and to those opportunities.  So you can fully expect the Rebalance to continue, and I’m sure the Secretary will make that clear statement.

QUESTION:  Could you just – on that, can you just explain to us whether there will be any discussions about an increase of rotation for U.S. forces to Australia as part of the Rebalance or whether there’s going to be any other increase in joint exercises with neighboring countries of Australia, say Indonesia, which I think the U.S. is, I think, going to be hosting next month?

MR MATTHEWS:  Well, I don’t know all the specifics about future plans for rotations, but under the general force posture agreement I think there is a longer term plan currently there – the rotations involve about a 1,200 Marine – is that right? – in and out of Darwin on a rotational basis?  And over time that builds up to 2,500.  So it would be perfectly natural that folks are talking about how you actually do the implementation of that plan.  But I don’t know the specifics of how they plan – that’ll be done between the defense minister and our Secretary of Defense.

QUESTION:  Okay, but there’s no – like I said at the outset, in terms of deliverables from this meeting, it doesn’t sound like there’s going to be any major changes to it being defense agreement, be it personnel rotations, [inaudible], be it intelligence sharing, or not that you’d probably discuss that with us anyway.  But it doesn’t sound like apart from just checking in the head of (inaudible) or whatever which is coming up in November, there’s – it doesn’t sound like there’s going to be any major announcements.

MR MATTHEWS:  Well, I think what you would expect is that their discussions will focus on the implementation of the force posture agreement as it stands. 


QUESTION:  Just back on the South China Sea, there’s been reports in the last 24 hours that the United States is planning to sail warships in a peaceful nature within 12 nautical miles of disputed islands.  I mean, would Australia have any role in such a maneuver, or is our role more limited to a more advocacy, diplomacy role that you sort of alluded earlier?  Is that where our sort of strength comes into any situation such as that?

MR MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess first and foremost I’d just say that the United States has a longstanding robust freedom of navigation program and you can expect that to be ongoing.  The United States has naval resources in the South China Sea in any particular day, but I don’t and cannot comment on any specific plans.  For Australia’s plans, I refer you back to the Australian Government.

QUESTION:  On that, do you expect Australian Government plans to change underneath the new leadership.  Obviously not the underpinning of the relationship, but say contribution levels to the coalition joint effort.  Is that a matter you expect to be discussed?

MR MATTHEWS:  I hate to say it, but I just – I’m not sure of whether that is on the agenda or not —

QUESTION:  There was some —

MR MATTHEWS:  — and whether that – how that would be affected.  I mean, I would again refer you to the Australian Government on what its plans are for its future assignment of forces for particular coalition engagements. 

QUESTION:  It was reported some weeks ago in Australia that Australia requested the United States in turn request that Australia contribute to their coalition – contribute fighter aircraft.  Can you comment on that?

MR MATTHEWS:  Well, what I would say is that we are in a coalition.  We welcomed Australia’s decision to participate.  That’s a decision for the Australian Government, and we’re happy that they are a part of that coalition.

QUESTION:  You can’t comment on the – how that came about?

MR MATTHEWS:  I’m not clear on the specifics, but a decision was made by the Australian Government and we’re happy they’re a part of the coalition.


QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

QUESTION:  You go, Michael.  It’s all right.

QUESTION:  All right, just quickly.  I’m just trying to (inaudible) out what we’re going to be doing next Tuesday.  So aside from discussions about the coalition (inaudible) coalition in Syria and Iraq outside the South China Sea and these sort of defense issues, force posture discussion (inaudible).  Are there any other major defense issues or any – are there any other major foreign affairs issues that you think we should aware of ahead of these talks?

MR MATTHEWS:  Well, like I say, like, the – I guess the three major brackets of things to discuss in AUSMIN are bilateral issues broadly speaking.  You’d expect that TPP and discussions about TPP, although it’s now concluded – we’re all celebrating that conclusion, but all of us have work to be done to do the legal scrubs and then begin moving that agreement through the ratification process.  I would expect that’ll come up.  You can expect that there will be regional discussions, as we said, as well as broader global issues.  And among global issues, that can cover the – a very broad array.  With COP 21 coming up towards the end of the year, I think you should not be surprised if the issue of climate change and commitments on climate change going forward comes up as well.

QUESTION:  Since the new government’s taken power in Australia, some foreign policy experts, not all, have suggested or speculated that Malcolm Turnbull may have a more independent foreign policy of the U.S., not to say he wouldn’t be still a strong supporter of the U.S.-Australia alliance.  He has strong relations in China.  Is there any concerns within the Administration about that particular speculation?

MR MATTHEWS:  I don’t think there’s any concerns in the Administration on the strength of the U.S.-Australian alliance, period.

QUESTION:  Is countering violent extremism slated to be a matter of discussion?

MR MATTHEWS:  Yeah, countering violent extremism will be a topic of discussion.  As you know, it’s a challenge and the amount of disruption taking place in the Middle East – in Iraq and in Syria – the problem of foreign fighters, fighters going to the Middle East and at some point returning is an issue of real concern to nations around the world.  That would naturally be something that you would expect will be discussed in the course of the AUSMIN discussions.

QUESTION:  In particular the issue of foreign fighters and what —

MR MATTHEWS:  I would just say that would naturally be an element.

MODERATOR:  So we have a last question, maybe?

QUESTION:  Is there going to be – I believe there’s going to be a review of the troop levels in Afghanistan.  I think it’s been hinted at by the U.S. Administration.  It’s been reported in Australia that Australia is considering, I think, retaining high levels there if the U.S. does.  Could you comment on that?

MR MATTHEWS:  I really can’t.  That I will refer you to the Defense Department on.

MODERATOR:  Michael, anything final on your side?

QUESTION:  No, I’m good.  But I think that’s a very good overview of what we’re going to get.  I appreciate your time, Deputy Assistant Secretary.

MR MATTHEWS:  It’s my pleasure to speak to all of you.  Take care.


QUESTION:  See you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Michael.

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