Remarks by AIT Director Sandra Oudkirk
at the 2022 Regional Religious Freedom Forum
“An Indo-Pacific Civil Society Dialogue on Religious Freedom in Challenging Times”
August 30, 2022
President Tsai, Foreign Minister Wu, Legislative Speaker and Taiwan Foundation for Democracy Chairman You, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Chair Turkel, distinguished guests, good morning! On behalf of the American Institute in Taiwan, I am honored to join you here today at this important gathering focused on protecting and promoting the right to religious freedom in the Indo-Pacific region.
So much has happened since the inaugural regional religious freedom forum convened in Taiwan in 2019, from the global pandemic to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Through these challenging times we have seen Taiwan remain a steadfast defender of shared democratic values, including – of course – religious freedom.
As Secretary Blinken mentioned in his remarks to launch this year’s annual International Religious Freedom report, religious freedom is one of the United States’ deepest held values and a fundamental right. When the right of each person to practice their faith –or to choose not to observe a faith – is respected, people can make their fullest contributions to their community and entire societies are better off. Taiwan is an excellent case study for this. Taiwan’s success in providing legal protection to and respect for a wide range of faiths enables a diversity of religious communities in Taiwan to flourish, benefitting both Taiwan and the international community.
For example, the Tzu Chi (慈濟) Buddhist Compassion Relief Foundation and affiliated hospitals have continued to play a vital role on the front lines of disaster response both in Taiwan and worldwide by sending food and medical supplies to areas hard hit by both man-made and natural disasters. For instance, Tzu Chi (慈濟) has provided both direct financial support to Ukrainian refugees in Poland and donated $10 million to the UNICEF emergency response effort to support vulnerable children and families impacted by the ongoing war in Ukraine and those who have fled to neighboring countries. The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan has also provided financial assistance to Ukrainian refugees in Hungary. This is all in addition to Taiwan providing massive amounts of pandemic relief around the globe, including to the United States, and MOFA raising and donating approximately $33million to Central European countries to support the humanitarian needs of Ukrainian refugees. Taiwan models the powerful synergies that result from different sectors within society upholding universal values and coming together in support of democratic partners in need.
This forum is an opportunity for all of us to learn from one another as we continue the important work of promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific. By using this forum as a platform to connect survivors of religious repression and advocates for religious freedom in the Indo-Pacific region, we acknowledge the important role of civil society and encourage all partners to advance the critical work needed to keep the people who call the Indo-Pacific region home free from coercion, free to exercise democratic agency, and free to practice their religion of choice.
Before I conclude, I want to extend a warm welcome to the Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Nuri Turkel for joining us in-person to deliver the keynote. Also, while U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain could not be here in-person, he has shared pre-recorded remarks in support of the forum.
To close, I wish you all productive discussions over the next two days. As you carry the lessons learned back to your home countries, please know that the United States stands ready to support your efforts to promote religious freedom and to ensure that democracy and other fundamental freedoms continue to grow and thrive throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
Thank you all for coming!