Report: State Department should double list of worst religious freedom offenders

uscirfBy Brian Pellot

(RNS) Secretary of State John Kerry should cite 16 countries for severe violations of religious freedom, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended Wednesday (April 30) in its 15th annual report.

The State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” list has remained static since 2006, when eight countries — Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan — were designated as CPCs.

USCIRF, an independent watchdog panel created by Congress to review international religious freedom conditions, criticized the government’s unchanged list of CPCs and sanctions against them, claiming such measures have “provided little incentive for CPC-designated governments to reduce or halt egregious violations of religious freedom.”“The past 10 years have seen a worsening of the already-poor religious freedom environment in Pakistan, a continued dearth of religious freedom in Turkmenistan, backsliding in Vietnam, rising violations in Egypt before and after the Arab Spring, and Syria’s descent into a sectarian civil war with all sides perpetrating egregious religious freedom violations. Yet no new countries have been added to the State Department’s CPC list,” the report states.

USCIRF recommended that the CPC list be expanded to include these countries along with Iraq, Nigeria and Tajikistan. USCIRF’s 2013 report made similar recommendations, with the noteworthy addition this year of Syria.