DEDE LAUGESEN, Executive Director of Save the Persecuted Christians, talks to Frank Gaffney about the current state of affairs:
- The United States’ role in tracking religious freedom violations around the world
- What countries are on the U.S. “special watchlist” for religious violations?
- Is Antony Blinken doing his job with respect to tracking these violations?
- Laugesen’s personal experience visiting villages where Christians are being persecuted in Africa
Frank Gaffney: Welcome back. And I very pleased to announce a new feature of this program. We are going to be highlighting some of the partnerships that we at the center for Security Policy have been engaged with and are very committed to. Promoting as well as facilitating. And one of the most important of those is an organization I’m proud to be. In addition to my work at the center as its executive chairman, the president and CEO of Save the Persecuted Christians, an organization that we stood up a few years back, building upon a kind of pickup team of what we call the Save America Save Persecuted Christians Coalition. And the executive director of this not for profit organization is my friend and colleague, Dede Lawson. Many of you are familiar with her through her Vanna White routine with our Committee on the Present Danger China webinars. But she’s an indispensable force for good. Um, deeply committed, Christian and devoted especially to the cause of saving those who are persecuted, both abroad and increasingly, here in the United States. Dede, it’s great to have you with us, and thank you for stepping up to be a co-host for these segments with me. I so appreciate it.
Dede Laugesen: Thank you, Frank. It’s a pleasure to be here and to participate with you in securing America for the future. Thanks.
Frank Gaffney: Thank you. That was the larger mission, that’s for sure. So, Dede, um, one of the things that we have confronted in our efforts to help persecuted Christians has been, um, the absence all too often and sometimes the downright malfeasance of the United States government in addressing matters that by law, it has a responsibility to address, uh, most especially in terms of simply reporting on what’s happening to those denied religious freedom, Christians and others, of course, around the world, but also to. Interject where it can to help those who are suffering such persecution. Um, talk about this new State Department annual report and, uh, the response to it from the community we work with of international religious freedom activists.
Dede Laugesen: Thanks, Frank. In 1998, the International Religious Freedom Act was passed, and that mandated that the US State Department would track instances of egregious religious violence against people of faith around the world and and sanctioned them and hold them accountable for these crimes against humanity. Uh, since then, it took a long time to get everything in place. Uh, the US uh, Commission on International Religious Freedom was established with that law. So was the State Department, uh, International Religious Freedom Office and the office of the International Religious Freedom Ambassador. Uh, Secretary Blinken is mandated by law to give a Congress a report every year on the state of religious freedom violations in every country in the world by. And they have to do this by May. Just last week, they released their designations for countries of particular concern, those countries that are on the special watch list and also entities of particular concern. Frank, on a regular basis, uh, Secretary Blinken has disregarded the advice coming from the independent bipartisan commission of of Userve. They continually disregard their reports, and they are also tracking and monitoring, uh, these these the this violence all around the world, which is now subjecting some 360 million Christians to heavy persecution and a record number of countries. So, uh, what happened is that, uh, this, uh, Secretary Blinken named 12 countries onto the countries of particular concern, but left off the most egregious violators and those being Nigeria, India and Vietnam. Vietnam was put on the special watch list. But, uh, Yusuf insisted that they be put on the countries of particular concern because of the cases that exist there. Frank. Okay.
Frank Gaffney: So let me just, you know, try to unpack some of this. Yusuf, that you’ve referred to several times is the US, uh, Commission on International Religious Freedom. And it’s a kind of independent watchdog, really, on what’s happening, sort of a second opinion and, and the response on the part of those folks to and by the way, there are some people that I consider to be dubious customers on that commission, but nonetheless, they have taken to task the State Department for its failures, notably in Nigeria and several other countries. And I want to talk with you a little bit more about Nigeria, but just just, um, a word about, uh, what it says about the serious defects of this State Department, uh, inventory when, uh, Yusuf is, is coming forward. So, uh, well, rather forcefully for them, especially, uh, in in decrying some of its shortcomings.
Dede Laugesen: You know, in the Yusuf, uh, is continually trying to work together to, to get the State Department to take action. As I said, Blinken is just doggedly rejecting their recommendations.
Frank Gaffney: And and by taking action, you mean basically just citing that they are of particular concern. What what is so heavy lift about that, for heaven’s sakes?
Dede Laugesen: Exactly. Well, by designating them such, the State Department is then able to place sanctions on them and withdraw aid from the country. But,
Frank Gaffney: Doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll do that. It just gives them a basis for doing so.
Dede Laugesen: Four of these countries immediately received waivers from sanctions. So they they designated them and then said, we’re not going to, you know, hold you accountable. Nonetheless, we’re going to continue working with you on this and hoping to draw you forward. Nigeria was designated as a country of particular concern, which we worked very hard to achieve, at the end of the Trump administration Under Secretary Mike Pompeo. When Blinken came in the very next year, one of his first acts, was to take Nigeria off that list of countries of particular concern, even though nothing had changed within the state, within the country. And it is getting much worse. We just saw.
Frank Gaffney: If anything’s changed, it is continued to become.
Dede Laugesen: Yeah, we just saw a Christmas massacre in the Plateau State of Nigeria.
Frank Gaffney: And indeed you were there, uh, in country, uh, in the course of last year, you made a fact finding mission for our Save the Persecuted Christians team, and, uh, I know came away powerfully affected by what you saw there. So when you see set aside, Yusuf, when you see when when the community of religious freedom champions some of them, you know, our friends in Nigeria, but many elsewhere see this kind of what else to call it but whitewashing of the. The Nigerian government and the conduct it’s engaged in. Sometimes just ignoring the brutal massacres like on Christmas and in other cases actually contributing to them. Know what? Give us your your actual independent view of all this as well.
Dede Laugesen: Right, Frank? I was there this time last year just before the presidential elections in Nigeria. Violence continues in the Middle Belt without being addressed after the election of Bola Tinubu. When I was there, I visited, I went to the places where our US diplomats refuse to go. They will not go out into the territories and visit with the victims and hear from them themselves. They refuse to do that. It is unsafe. We we traveled with a soldiers carrying AK 47. It is definitely unsafe. It was unsettling to be traveling through Nigeria from Benue State, up into Plateau State, through many of the areas that since May of this last year have just been pummeled again and again. We’re talking thousands of Fulani militants coming into small villages with AK 47s shooting and hacking to death everybody they find and burning them to death in their homes, pastors, mothers in front of their children, children in front of their parents. What Israel experienced on October 7th is happening in Nigeria every single day. And the US State Department while, you know, feigning shock and awe at October 7th events, just pushes it all under the carpet in Nigeria. And that has to do with the fact that China is gaining ground in Nigeria. The Chinese navy has visited. They’ve built a port there through the Belt and Road Initiative, the Lekki Deep Water Port, in Nigeria. So, you know, there are some pressures from the Chinese.
Frank Gaffney: Naval vessels have been using that port. Is that what you’re saying? Well, surprise, surprise, because we know that that’s one of the things the Chinese are putting this Belt and Road infrastructure into support is the power projection of their forces.
Frank Gaffney: So, Dede, we have to wrap it up. But, for this purpose today, what can people do who are concerned about your report, concerned about the State Department’s, uh, well, malfeasance, I would call it.
Dede Laugesen: Representative Chris Smith has put forth a resolution demanding that Nigeria be put back onto the countries of particular concern that a special envoy be appointed to Nigeria, which we have advocated for. So please do call your members of Congress and tell them to support Representative Smith’s resolution on Nigeria. And, we will be in DC at the end of this month for the International Religious Freedom Summit and are bringing Nigerians with us.
Frank Gaffney: Good. Well, one of the things that, uh, I think has been very powerful about the Save the Persecuted Christians effort is we are trying actually to hold the people engaged in the persecution accountable. And if you’d like to learn more about that, folks, go to SavethePersecutedChristians.Org. We’d appreciate your support. It’s vitally needed, especially at a time such as this.
Frank Gaffney: Dede, we have to leave it at that? Thanks for joining us. Come back soon. We’ll talk to you next week. In fact.