President Obama has created a new special envoy position to address the persecution of religious minorities.
Knox Thames was appointed to the long-awaited position of special envoy for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia to coincide with the visit of Pope Francis to the White House last week.
The region covered by Thames, which includes Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, has higher levels of religious hostility than anywhere else in the world, according to the Pew Research Centre.
Thames has previously worked as the Director of Policy and Research at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and before that at the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.
Steve Oshana, Executive Director of A Demand for Action, who campaign to protect religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, told Christian Today that he welcomed the appointment but warned that, so far, not enough had been done: ‘At this point, considering the severity of the crisis, I don’t know that anything is going far enough. The humanitarian catastrophe is so grand and on such a large scale, what has been done so far hasn’t really done anything to solve the longer term crisis.’
The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, a US-based organisation that advocates for religious freedom, described Thames’ appointment as ‘an outstanding selection’, adding that he will bring ‘significant substance to ongoing efforts to protect religious minorities throughout the region’.