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ADF attorney named head United Nations committee on religious freedoms

Days after the U.S. withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council of 47 nations, a U.S. attorney has been named head of a multifaith nongovernmental group advising the U.N. on religious freedoms globally.

Alliance Defending Freedom International’s Kelsey Zorzi began serving June 28 as president of the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief, formed in 1991 to advocate for international agreements upholding such freedoms from within U.N. headquarters in New York.

The Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief is one of 5,083 NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) holding consultative status with the body, the U.N. said on its website. While the U.N. is comprised of 193 member nations, NGOs are part of a complex U.N. system including numerous affiliated programs, funds and specialized agencies with separate leadership.

“Religious freedom is being undermined in every corner of the globe,” Zorzi said in an ADF press release June 29. “The international community must unite to promote and protect this foundational human right. The NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief is committed to partnering with Member States, UN bodies, and other actors to highlight the current crisis and develop effective responses.” Zorzi was elected president of the committee after having served as acting president since June 2017.

Her post comes after U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s June 19 announcement of U.S. withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council, citing human rights failures of member nations.

“We have no doubt that there was once a noble vision for this council. But today, we need to be honest; the Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights,” Pompeo said in announcing the withdrawal. “Worse than that, the Human Rights Council has become an exercise in shameless hypocrisy, with many of the world’s worst human rights abuses going ignored, and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself.”

The withdrawal came after a year of U.S. calls for council reform, Pompeo said, citing council membership by “authoritarian governments with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights records, such as China, Cuba, and Venezuela,” and “the council’s continued and well-documented bias against Israel.”

Israel praised the U.S. for withdrawing from the council, countered by criticism from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty and others.

Zorzi represents ADF International at the U.N., providing key legal resources and language amendments that promote religious freedom and the inherent value and dignity of every person, ADF said on its website.

She will continue that work as president of the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief which, according to its website, coordinates NGO activities in New York to advance freedom of religion or belief, and to “reinforce U.N. efficacy in protecting the rights of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.”

The committee said it communicates with U.N. leaders in Al-Hussein’s office and others, U.N. member nations, and concerned NGOs in Geneva.

— by Diana Chandler | BP

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