How USAID Translates The Executive Order On Advancing International Religious Freedom Into Action – Forbes

In June 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Executive Order on advancing international religious freedom, setting forward a vision for the U.S. Government to better address challenges faced by persecuted religious communities across the globe. The Executive Order mandates that the U.S. Secretary of State develop a plan to prioritize international religious freedom in the planning and implementation of United States foreign policy and the foreign assistance programs of the Department of State and USAID by December 2020. It also provides at least $50 million in funding per fiscal year to promote international religious freedom programs.

Thousands of Yezidis fleeing from Daesh in August 2014. (Photo credit: Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu ... [+] Agency/Getty Images)

In addition to an action plan and funding, the order empowers USAID and the U.S. State Department to further integrate freedom of religion or belief into the U.S. foreign policy. This is partially done through the Executive Orders calls for the development of recommendations to prioritize the appropriate use of economic tools to advance international religious freedom in countries of particular concern, countries on the Special Watch List, and any other countries that have engaged in or tolerated violations of religious freedom. The Executive Order was a powerful response to the deteriorating situation of religious minorities in many parts of the world.

However, what tangible steps is USAID taking to translate the Executive Order into action? USAIDs Chief Religious Freedom Advisor Samah Norquist and Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Hal Ferguson confirm that the work is well underway.

One tangible change so far is how the Executive Order emboldens USAID to work with more small local organizations through its New Partnership Initiative (NPI), a program championed by the USAIDs Acting Administrator John Barsa. Traditionally, USAID has worked with larger organizations like the UNDP to provide assistance, but in recent years, has also worked to integrate smaller NGOs into its partnership portfolio that have strong local ties and can deliver assistance quickly. A key example is the USAID work in Northern Iraq, where Christians and Yazidis suffered genocide at the hands of Daesh. This adds to the work that USAID and the U.S. State Department have done in Northern Iraq over the last few years and since 2017, having provided over $400 million to rebuild Christian and Yazidi communities that were devastated by Daesh. Furthermore, since the emergence of Daesh in 2014, the U.S. has provided over $1.2 billion in humanitarian assistance, becoming the single largest donor to Iraq.

As Samah Norquist and Hal Ferguson say, responding to genocide differs from responding to, for example, a natural disaster. Responding to genocide requires a variety of activities that are needed to stitch traumatized communities back together. It requires more than just rebuilding infrastructure. For example, there remains a lot of trauma within the targeted by Daesh communities that still requires attention. In response, USAID and the State Department have focused on using different tools to try to help these communities in a holistic way, addressing both physical and mental health needs. This is also an important lesson for other countries who respond to cases of genocide. As such, it may be crucial for states to monitor and make their interim determination of genocide (as the US State Department has done in the case of the Daesh genocide) that will help them better deploy a proper response.

Understandably, the U.S. is not alone in assisting persecuted communities in Northern Iraq. Hungary, Poland, Germany, the UK and others also have contributed assistance to persecuted communities. For example, Hungry has worked directly with local communities and churches in Northern Iraq. Since the launch of its cross-governmental humanitarian aid framework program the Hungary Helps Program in 2017, the Hungarian Government is committed to exploring and implementing the most effective, efficient routes for aid delivery. The driving goal is to provide humanitarian relief and rehabilitation support to the communities in need in the most direct ways, rather than extending aid through indirect channels.

Among other milestones of progress USAID has made on the Executive Order, every USAID regional bureau now has a freedom of religion or belief primary point of contact which is making bureaus better equipped to incorporate freedom of religion or belief into their regional development efforts. This is incredibly important for the long-term success of ensuring freedom of religion or belief is a key component of USAID's assistance. The Executive Order is working to better educate USAID staff on freedom of religion or belief issues. In fact, going forward, all USAID Foreign Service Officers (FSO) whether posted domestically or overseas, will have to complete the Promoting Religious Freedom online course, which a significant number of FSOs have already completed. The USAIDs goal is to have a 95% compliance rate when the U.S. Secretary of State submits the implementation plan by December 2020.

The Executive Order has also already begun bearing fruit through further integration and coordination of USAID and State's efforts related to freedom of religion or beleif. This can already be seen in both the USAID and U.S. State Departments public diplomacy and public affairs efforts.

USAID deserves credit making progress and continuing to prioritize freedom of religion or belief internationally. The next months and years will only show the effects of this work to help the persecuted communities.

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How USAID Translates The Executive Order On Advancing International Religious Freedom Into Action - Forbes

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