Wednesday, September 14, 2011

State Department Releases Annual Report on International Religious Freedom; Names Countries of Particular Concern

Yesterday, Secretary of State Clinton spoke (full text) at the release of the Department's 13th Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. The report covers the period July- December 2010, reflecting a change in the reporting cycle by the Department.  The report discusses separately the situation in 198 countries. At the release, Secretary Clinton said in part:
In the Middle East and North Africa, the transitions to democracy have inspired the world, but they have also exposed ethnic and religious minorities to new dangers.... Now, the people of the region have taken exciting first steps toward democracy—but if they hope to consolidate their gains, they cannot trade one form of repression for another.
The Report's Executive Summary identifies seven types of threats to religious freedom around the world:  active state repression and impunity; violent extremist attacks; apostasy and blasphemy laws; repression of religious minorities; anti-Semitism; restrictions on Muslim attire and expression; and restrictions derived from security and related concerns. CNN has more on the release of the Report.

Assistant Secretary Michael Posner and Ambassador at Large for International Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook also spoke to the press. (Full text of remarks.)  Posner announced that Secretary Clinton has named eight countries as the worst religious liberty offenders by designating them "Countries of Particular Concern." These are the first CPC designations by the Obama administration. They are the same nations that were named previously: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. However, In the past, the Administration had given waivers under the International Religious Freedom Act to Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. (See prior posting.)  Secretary Posner made no mention of similar waivers this year in his remarks.

In April the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom had recommended in addition to these eight countries, that Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam be added. (See prior posting.)  In a press release yesterday, USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo said that the Commission welcomed the State Department's action, and "respectfully urged" Secretary Clinton to consider adding the other six countries.