Representatives of a US government commission met with officials in Raqqa, Syria, on October 28, 2020. The commission, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is a US government commission responsible for making recommendations on US foreign policy in terms of countries who suppress religious freedom.
Nadine Maenza, a commissioner of the USCIRF and a high-ranking US official on religious freedom, was one of the officials in the delegation. In a June op-ed co-written with USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava in the popular magazine Newsweek, Maenza said, “It is imperative that the U.S. and the international community consider the consequences of Turkey’s actions on religious freedom in Syria—particularly on Yazidis, Christians, and Kurds—and take action before it is too late.”
Maenza met with Abo Omar, Commander of Liwa al Shamal al Democrati (The Northern Brigade) of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Commander Omar and company gifted Maenza and another member of her delegation with tribal robes, and Omar expressed his desire for those in his hometown of Idlib to enjoy the right to religious freedom.
Maenza has made a number of statements on her Twitter account during her visit. In Raqqa, she posted a video from the site where a church had been bombed by ISIS, stating, “This used to be a church that was bombed by ISIS, and Raqqa is the former headquarters for the ISIS caliphate. But now it’s the headquarters for the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, a government that has the best religious freedom conditions in the Middle East, and has the best conditions for women. And so it’s really interesting that this used to be such a horrible place, and now it’s been transformed into this refuge for religious minorities.”
The US State Department also has an office on international religious freedom. That office is largely responsible for issuing reports and watching religious freedom closely, but is not as involved in policymaking as the USCIRF.