Saturday, March 28, 2009

USCIRF Reveals Previously Secret State Department Action On Religious Liberty Violators

Rather odd developments in implementing the International Religious Freedom Act were reported yesterday in a press release from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Under the statute enacted in 1998, by May 1 each year USCIRF is to submit a report on religious freedom in various countries around the world to the State Department, the President and Congress. Then, taking into account USCIRF's recommendations, by September 1 each year the State Department is to submit an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom to Congress. The Act also requires the President to annually designate the worst violators of religious freedom to be "countries of Particular concern"(CPC) and to take any of a number of actions against those countries, unless he grants a waiver.

Despite the call for annual designations, the Bush administration, while submitting annual reports, had not updated its CPC list since 2006. Last September, USCIRF criticized the State Department for not having updated its designations. (See prior posting.) Now it turns out that just before leaving office, the Bush administration did take action to redesignate the same 8 countries as it had placed on its CPC list in 2006. On January 16, the administration named Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, the People's Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan, but, as in the past, gave waivers to Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

The puzzling part of this, however, is that according to USCIRF, while the designation was made, "the list was not made available until this week, when the Obama State Department released the list in response to a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) inquiry." Now the State Department’s website also reports the January redesignation on a page titled Frequently Asked Questions: IRF Report and Countries of Particular Concern.