U.S. Ambassador at Large Rashad Hussain maintained conversations with Uzbekistani Ambassador Sidikov in the conference room of the Office of International Religious Freedom in Washington D.C. The two had met several times before, but this time, the conversation was particularly important.
Hussain is the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a position created in 1998 to promote religious freedom as a fundamental human right around the world. Appointed to the role by President Biden in 2022, Hussain serves as principal advisor to the Secretary and advisor to the President on religious freedom conditions and policy. He leads the Department’s efforts to monitor religious freedom abuses, persecution, and discrimination worldwide. He also oversees policies and programs to address these concerns. He works to build diverse and dynamic partnerships with the broadest range of civil society, with equitable and meaningful inclusion of faith actors globally.
Sidikov, on the other hand, is the Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the United States. Uzbekistan had a complex history and a diverse population, but it had a poor religious freedom record. A series of authoritarian leaders had ruled the country since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and had struggled with issues related to human rights and democracy.
As the two ambassadors sat down to begin their meeting, they both knew that religious freedom would be at the top of their agenda. It was an issue that had been the subject of much discussion between their two countries in recent years, and there was still much work to be done.
Hussain began by outlining the challenges facing religious minorities in Uzbekistan. He spoke about the reports of forced labor in the cotton industry, which had affected many Muslims in the country. He also talked about the restrictions on religious practices, including the government's control over the appointment of imams and the prohibition of certain religious groups.
Sidikov listened carefully to Hussain's concerns and acknowledged that these issues needed to be addressed. He spoke about the steps that the Uzbekistani government had taken in recent years to improve religious freedom, including the release of some political prisoners and the promotion of interfaith dialogue.
But Hussain was not satisfied. He pressed Sidikov on the need for more concrete action, including the release of all political prisoners and the lifting of restrictions on religious practices. He also emphasized the importance of protecting the rights of religious minorities, including Muslims, Christians, and others.
As the conversation continued, the two ambassadors were in a spirited debate about the best way to promote religious freedom in Uzbekistan. Hussain argued that the United States needed to continue to pressure the Uzbekistani government to make real progress on this issue. At the same time, Sidikov maintained that change needed to come from within the country itself.
Despite their differences, the two ambassadors managed to maintain a respectful and constructive dialogue throughout the meeting. They both recognized the importance of the issue at hand and were committed to finding solutions that would benefit all citizens of Uzbekistan.
After the meeting, Hussain took to his official social media to share his thoughts on the conversation. He wrote, “Looking forward to working together toward significant progress on religious freedom in the near future.” It was a hopeful message and one that reflected the optimism and determination that both ambassadors felt about the issue. As the world continues to grapple with issues related to religious freedom and human rights, the example set by these two ambassadors serves as a reminder that progress is possible when people of different backgrounds and perspectives come together to find solutions.