Troubled religious freedom commission gets new director

By Michelle Boorstein Will a new executive director help boost the flagging morale at the U.S. Commission on International Religious … Continued

By Michelle Boorstein

Will a new executive director help boost the flagging morale at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom?

We recently wrote about the commission, which is charged with promoting and monitoring religious freedom issues overseas, and allegations by staffers, former staffers and former commissioners that the place is not run well. The allegations range from:
_ commissioners picking priorities arbitrarily and with religious and political bias
_ crippling staff-commissioner infighting
_ bickering among commissioners that translates into tit-for-tat voting

And recently, an EEO complaint was filed by a former staffer alleging that her contract was broken (and she wasn’t hired) because she is Muslim and used to work for a Muslim advocacy group some critics see as too soft on Muslim extremism.

This week, the commission announced it has hired as executive director Jackie Wolcott, a former ambassador to the United Nations Security Council and a former deputy assistant secretary at the State Department who has focused on nuclear non-proliferation, particularly in Iran.

One thing missing from her resume: any work related to religious freedom.

(UPDATE: Specifically, that is. Commissioners and commission staff find that statement inaccurate, they told me today, noting that Wolcott has worked in the human rights field, including several years as a State Department executive tasked with working with the U.N. Human Rights Commission and on human rights issues with the U.N. General Assembly.

“We assumed that, from the positions Ambassador Wolcott has held, people who are generally familiar with international freedom of religion would know that she delved into the subject. But that apparently is not the case, at least for some. Hopefully this clarifies the record,” Leonard A. Leo, chairman of the USCIRF wrote to me.)

In my many interviews with religious freedom advocates, they have seen their field as an expertise within the broader human rights world, an area with its own very complex politics, knowledge and nuances. But point taken.)

However, some commission-watchers are suggesting Wolcott’s work at the State Department may help USCIRF, as a key part of its mission is to make suggestions and watchdog the State Department and typically its words are ignored.

According to her bio, Wolcott was a key adviser to President George W. Bush on nuclear non-proliferation issues and is currently a member of the Advisory Board of United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing a nuclear Iran and exposing Iran as a major violator of human rights at home and abroad

In her capacity as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, a position she held from 1990-93 and then from 2001-03, Ambassador Wolcott worked on a number of resolutions and other matters dealing with international freedom of religion issues, including: combating defamation of religions; the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities; the
elimination of all forms of religious intolerance; the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which
specifically included the work of the Special Rapporteur on
Freedom of Religion; and the situation of human rights in Turkmenistan, which specifically included the issue of compulsory military service affecting objecting religious minorities. She also met with a number of religious minorities to discuss their plight, including Baha’is. Her work revolved around resolutions that were brought before the Commission on Human Rights, the General Assembly, and ECOSOC.

It also bears noting that, when Jackie Wolcott served as Ambassador to the UN Security Council from 2006-08, in the context of a number of regional conflicts she had to deal with, religious persecution was an important part of the deliberations, including in connection with Sudan, Eritrea, and Burma.

From Leonard A. Leo, USCIRF chairman: We assumed that, from the positions Ambassador Wolcott has held, people who are generally familiar with international freedom of religion would know that she delved into the subject. But that apparently is not the case, at least for some. Hopefully this clarifies the record.

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  • kitbigelow

    Thank you so much, Michelle, for writing about the new director of the Commission on International Religious Freedom, Ms. Jackie Wolcott. I noted that there is an impression that she had no religious freedom related work history. As a representative of the Baha’is, I had the pleasure of working closely with Ms. Wolcott during her two tenures at the State Department Bureau of International Organizations. She was involved in both developing and implementing U.S. strategy at the United Nations on Iran’s human rights violations, including the persecution of the Baha’is and other religious minorities.We look forward again to working closely with Ms. Wolcott and the Commission as it continues to monitor religious freedom worldwide and to make policy recommendations.Warmly,

  • jckdoors

    Abolish the commission. Enough with letting the magical-thinking believe crowd influence government policy.

  • brattykathyi1

    The US doesn’t need religious freedom. The US needs freedom from religion.

  • probashi

    An example of political expediency at its worst.Yesterday, news about the White House embracing recommendations of the Chicago Council about incorporating religious principles in our foreign policy; today we read about appointment of a new executive director of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. brattykathyi1 | February 25, 2010 9:13 AM said it right: “The US doesn’t need religious freedom. The US needs freedom from religion.”