Felice Gaer to serve as chair of religious-freedom panel

Veteran human-rights activist Felice Gaer will once again serve as chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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WASHINGTON (ABP)—Veteran human-rights activist Felice Gaer will once again serve as chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom .

Gaer, a member of the independent federal panel since 2001, has twice been chair and twice vice chair of USCIRF. She is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights.

Gaer is a veteran negotiator on human-rights protections for international agreements and institutions, and was the first American to serve as an independent expert on the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

She replaces Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and director of its Evangelicals in Civic Life program. He also served twice as the commission’s chairman.

A bipartisan, independent federal agency that monitors and reports on religious-freedom conditions worldwide, the commission was established in 1998. It alternates its chairmanship between Republican and Democratic appointees. Gaer was appointed to USCIRF by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Cromartie was appointed by  President Bush.

The incoming and outgoing chairs traded compliments, according to a commission announcement.

“I am very pleased to see Felice Gaer returning to lead the commission,” Cromartie said. “Her expertise and stature as an internationally renowned advocate for respect for human rights and religious freedom will continue to enhance the commission’s impact.”

Gaer praised Cromartie’s leadership during a taxing time for the panel. “I commend Michael Cromartie on guiding the commission through a difficult year of transition, following the death of Executive Director Joseph Crap,” she said. “Visits to Vietnam, Turkmenistan, Iraq, and Syria, as well as hearings on Iran, Burma, and Iraqi refugees helped the commission make a mark on U.S. human-rights policy concerning severe violations of religious freedom.”

The panel also elected Cromartie and Elizabeth Prodromou as vice chairs. Prodromou is an international-relations professor at Boston University, where she is also a research associate at the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs.

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Cromartie and Prodromou replace Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Preeta Bansal, a New York attorney now in private practice who once served as that state’s solicitor general.

USCIRF officers serve one-year terms.

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