Amidst Election Uncertainties, the State Department Continues to Press for Human Rights

November 11, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made headlines this week when he was asked about transitioning to a Biden administration in January and cheekily responded, "There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration."

Asked about his comments on "Washington Watch" yesterday, he emphasized the importance of a transparent American election to set the example for developing democracies around the world, and of projecting strength in an uncertain time. "Our adversaries should know that we're ready. We're continuing to work, we will work all the way through January. And then on January 20th, we'll have a transition, whether it's to a Trump administration... or to an administration led by former Vice President Biden."

Election confusion hasn't slowed Pompeo down. He is heading on a Middle Eastern tour to seven countries this week. Pompeo knows just how critical his work is to the American people and the world, and he's not looking to waste time.

Even in the past week, the State Department has continued to press China on human rights issues, raising the ire of Chinese leaders.

Just days after the election, the U.S. removed the now-defunct East Turkestan Islamic Movement from its official list of terrorist entities, severely undermining the Chinese government's excuses for its crackdown on the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.

And on Monday, the U.S. announced visa bans and financial sanctions on four Chinese officials responsible for implementing the new national security law in Hong Kong, which U.S. leaders have criticized as an attack on basic freedoms in the semi-autonomous city.

As the future remains in question, Pompeo may be looking to secure the Trump administration's legacy as being tough on China and solidify their wins. The momentum to counter China will likely fade under a Biden administration. President Trump has been uniquely effective because he is not afraid to ruffle the feathers of the foreign policy establishment.

The Trump administration's foreign policy has become known for prioritizing religious freedom. But what will happen if a new presidential administration ends all that? Pompeo says, "it will just be an enormous reduction in the ability of human beings to live the way God wants us to live." When governments suppress the ability of individuals to practice their faith as they see fit, Pompeo stated, "the reduction in human dignity is of staggering proportions."

A Pew Research Center report released yesterday confirms just how important high-level religious freedom advocacy is at this time. Pew found that the governments of 56 countries around the world enforce "high" or "very high" levels of restrictions on religious practice, an all-time high since they started tracking religious freedom. Meanwhile, believers in 53 countries experience "high" or "very high" levels of social hostilities toward religion.

Pompeo believes that advancing religious freedom ultimately makes the world a more secure and prosperous place for all people. "We've seen this in countries in the Middle East, where advances in religious freedom leads to more prosperous people and a nation that is more stable. Those are good things for America, to have that around the world. That makes Americans more secure as well."

The Trump administration has elevated the issue of religious freedom on the world stage. Pompeo hopes that his successors will build on his efforts to protect this fundamental human right: "I hope that whoever is leading this country forward will continue to keep this work that we've done here at the State Department on religious freedom at the top of their agenda." Given the immense scale of the problem as demonstrated by the Pew study, international religious freedom deserves to be addressed regardless of who is in power.