The Cable

Clinton: International religious freedom backsliding

Governments worldwide restricted religious freedom in 2011 through the implementation of blasphemy laws and legislation that favored state-sanctioned groups, while religious minorities who experienced political and demographic transitions tended to suffer the most, stated the 2011 State Department International Religious Freedom Report, which was released Monday.

"Members of faith communities that have long been under pressure report that pressure is rising," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a speech Monday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "When it comes to this human right ... the world is sliding backwards."

The report highlighted the deteriorating situation in China, whose government continued to increase restrictions on religious practice for Tibetan Buddhist monks in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas. This repression resulted in "at least 12 self-immolations by Tibetans" last year, a trend that Tibetan prime minister Lobsang Sangay emphasized in a recent interview with The Cable. The Chinese government also cracked down on Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and religious groups unaffiliated with China's official state-sanctioned "patriotic religious associations," particularly Christian house churches.

Other designated "Countries of Particular Concern" included Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Burma, also known as Myanmar. According to the report, Burma eased some restrictions on religious freedom, though it continued to "monitor the meetings and activities of all organizations, including religious organizations, and required religious groups to seek permission from authorities before holding any large public events." The Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority, which the Burmese government refuses to recognize as citizens, were especially targeted.

In Egypt, where the population democratically elected an Islamist government, the country's post-Mubarak transition remains tenuous, as Coptic Christians still face persecution. On October 9, for example, hundreds of demonstrators -- mostly Copts -- were attacked by Egyptian security forces in the Maspiro area of Cairo.

"Now, I am concerned that respect for religious freedom is quite tenuous, and I don't know if that's going to quickly be resolved, but since 2011 and the fall of the Mubarak regime, sectarian violence has increased," Clinton said. "We don't think that there's been a consistent commitment to investigate and apply the laws."

Regarding recently elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook said during a briefing Monday that the U.S. government expects him follow through on his commitment to religious freedom and diversity.

"President Morsi has said publicly that in his new government, he will include Coptic Christians, secular citizens, and a woman," she said. "So we are looking for him to follow through on what his promise was."

The new government in Libya, which stopped enforcing Ghaddafi-era laws that restricted religious freedom and institutionalized the free practice of religion in its interim constitution, was cited as a case of tangible success.

"They [the Libyan government] have come to believe that the best way to deal with offensive speech is not to ban it, but to counter it with speech that reveals the lies," the Secretary said.

Another trend on the rise in 2011 was global anti-Semitism, fueled by anti-Israel sentiment in Egypt, Holocaust denial in Iran, the desecration of Jewish synagogues and cemeteries and France, and the openly anti-Semitic and nationalistic Jobbik party in Hungary.

The Cable

Report: State Department's Iraq police training program being scaled back even further

The State Department's flagship program in Iraq to train police officers is failing and is being further scaled back to 10 percent of the original plan, according to a new audit report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

The massive program, which has cost more than $8 billion since 2003, was meant to employ over 350 police training advisors but now will be scaled back to just 36 U.S. advisors, 18 in Baghdad and 18 in Erbil.

That means that this year each advisor will cost the U.S. taxpayer $2.1 million and next year that number will jump to $4.2 million, the report said. The police development program in Basrah is also being shut down and the overall future of the program is in jeopardy, SIGIR reported.

"The State Department wisely has reduced the scope of the program in light of the level of Iraqi interest," said SIGIR Stuart Bowen in an interview with The Cable. "It's an unfortunate consequence of poor planning and a lack of Iraqi buy-in."

State Department officials had touted the program as one of their premier efforts in Iraq following the departure of all U.S. military forces last December, but they never figured out how they were going to handle the task and were always on a different page than the Iraqis.

"The U.S. wanted a large program, but the State Department didn't have any inherent capacity to carry out this program when they took it over and the Iraqis were never clear what they wanted, which was apparently much, much smaller," Bowen said.

Even the drastically scaled-down program as it stands has little chance of fulfilling its mission to help the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI) train a modern police force that can maintain security and be part of a functioning law enforcement scheme, according to the report, mostly because the Iraqi government never wanted it and never committed to it in the first place.

"Without the MOI's written commitment to the program, there is little reason to have confidence that the training program currently being planned will be accepted six months from now," the report said.

What's more, the State Department has closed the brand-new, $108 million facility is built for the program, called the Baghdad Police College Annex (BPAX), which it couldn't use because of security concerns. It simply costs too much for security to get U.S. personnel and contractors from the embassy compound to the new facility, so the whole complex was just handed over to the Iraqis. They may use the fields there for sports, Bowen said.

"Although BPAX's facilities will be given to the Iraqis, its closure amounts to a de facto waste of the estimated $108 million to be invested in its construction," the report stated. "In addition, DoS [the State Department] contributed $98 million in PDP funds for constructing the Basrah Consulate so it could be used for PDP training. It too will not be used because the MOI decided to terminate training at that location. This brings the total amount of de facto waste in the PDP-that is, funds not meaningfully used for the purpose of their appropriation-to about $206 million."

The program's problems are not new. In SIGIR's last audit of the police program last October, the oversight group said that State had not done an adequate assessment or proper strategic planning for the program, and that State had not determined what the Iraqis actually wanted or needed.

One main reason for the problems is that State can't handle the security needs of implementing the police program since the U.S. military pulled out of Iraq last December. Ninety-four percent of the money spent on the program is spent on overhead, mostly security, Bowen said.

Another problem was that the Iraqis didn't like the training they were receiving, as SIGIR explained in its April 2011 quarterly report. Bowen said those criticisms were still being heard one year later.

"We did learn from Iraqi government reporting that they were dissatisfied with the quality of the training they were receiving," Bowen said. "Some of the training they were receiving was low quality."

As of June 30, 2012, there were 15,007 people supporting the U.S. mission in Iraq -- 1,235 U.S. government employees and 13,772 contractors. The size of the overall mission is expected to go down dramatically in the coming months.