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Commission Elects Elliott Abrams as Chairman, Firuz Kazemzadeh as Vice Chairman

June 1, 2000

Lawrence J. Goodrich, Communications Director, (202) 523-3240

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom today elected Commissioner Elliott Abrams to serve as Chairman during its second year of operation. Commissioner Firuz Kazemzadeh was elected as Vice Chairman.

The two will serve until May 14, 2001, when the terms of the current Commissioners expire. They replace Rabbi David Saperstein and Michael Young, who served as Chairman and Vice Chairman during the Commission's inaugural year. A yearly election is required by law; Commissioners decided in June 1999 that they would rotate officers each year.

Mr. Abrams is currently President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. After serving on the staff of Sens. Henry M. Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the 1970s, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, and Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs during the Reagan Administration. He was a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute from 1990 to 1996, when he moved to the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Abrams holds a B.A. from Harvard College, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and a Master's degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics.

Dr. Kazemzadeh, of Alta Loma, California, recently retired as Secretary for External Affairs of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States. He is Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University, having taught Russian history there from 1956 until his retirement in 1992. During his tenure at Yale, Kazemzadeh also served variously as Director of Graduate Studies in Russian and Eastern European Studies; Chair of the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies; Director of Graduate Studies in History; and Master of Davenport College. He is the author of several books relating to Russia and Central Asia.

"Rabbi Saperstein and Dean Young provided extraordinary leadership in steering the Commission through its first year, during which it organized itself, hired staff, moved into offices, held important public hearings on Sudan and China, and issued its first Annual Report," Abrams said. "Every one of us on the Commission, and indeed the cause of international religious freedom, is indebted to them both. Fortunately they will remain active members of the Commission during the coming year."

"The Commission has had a real impact on U.S. policy toward Sudan this past year," Abrams added, "and the strong position the Commission took on PNTR for China also demonstrates that we can play a real role in the debate over American foreign policy. We will be looking at a larger number of countries in the coming year, seeking to have an even broader impact. I look forward to this challenge with enthusiasm, and am lucky to have Professor Kazemzadeh as a partner in this work."

The Commission, which first met in June 1999, was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. It consists of nine appointed Commissioners and one non-voting Commissioner, who is the Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department. Three Commissioners are appointed by the President, three by the House of Representatives, and three by the Senate.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments, and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and the Congress." src="https://www.uscirf.org/images/layout/subbottomtext1.gif" />

Hon. Elliott Abrams,Chair
  • Dr. Firuz Kazemzadeh,Vice ChairRabbi David SapersteinLaila Al-Marayati, M.D.Hon. John R. BoltonDean Michael K. YoungArchbishop Theodore E. McCarrickNina SheaJustice Charles Z. SmithAmbassador Robert Seiple,Ex-OfficioSteven T. McFarland,Executive Director