US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has condemned the prevalence of religious persecution across the world, alongside the release of the state department's 2016 International Religious Freedom Report.
Not only is religious freedom an imperative of American values, Tiilerson said, but a global failure to protect it 'breeds instability, terrorism, and violence'.
The spectre of the Islamist threat of ISIS was underlined by Tillerson. He wrote in his preface to the International Religious Freedom Report 2016: 'ISIS has and continues to target members of multiple religions and ethnicities for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and death. ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controlled.
'ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities. The protection of these groups – and others who are targets of violent extremism – remains a human rights priority for the Trump Administration.'
The annual report is the state department's first since President Trump took office.
In yesterday's remarks on the report, Tillerson reflected: 'Almost 20 years after the law's passage, conditions in many parts of the world are far from ideal. 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. Where religious freedom is not protected, we know that instability, human rights abuses, and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root.'
Summarising the report, the secretary of state noted various instances of religious freedom coming under threat across the world. These included the oppression of Baha'is and Christians in Iran, controversial 'blasphemy' laws in Pakistan, the targeting of Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and the stringent suppression of certain religions in China.
He said the US would continue to advocate for the release of US pastor Andrew Brunson, 'who has been wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey'.
He added: 'No one should have to live in fear, worship in secret, or face discrimination because of his or her beliefs. As President Trump has said, we look forward to a day when, "people of all faiths, Christians and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according to their conscience."'
Tillerson concluded the report's preface: 'We are firmly committed to advancing the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The release of this report gives voice to all those worldwide seeking to live their lives peacefully in accordance with their conscience.'
The full International Religious Freedom Report 2016 can be read here.