Tuesday, March 20, 2012

USCIRF Releases Annual Report With Unusual Spat Over Whether Turkey Should Be Named As A Country of Particular Concern

Today the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released and transmitted to the President its 2012 Annual Report (full text)(appendices) reviewing religious freedom abuses in 25 countries around the world.  The report recommends that the State Department designate 16 countries as countries of particular concern" (CPCs).  Under the International Religious Freedom Act, CPCs are countries in which there are particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Eight of the countries named in the Report are already on the CPC list from prior years-- Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. USCIRF recommends that Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam be added to the list. The report recommends that 9 other countries be placed on the Watch List because of less severe religious liberty issues in those nations. These countries are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, and Venezuela.

[CORRECTED] As indicated in the report, its timing this year was impacted by the impending March 21 expiration of the terms of 5 of the 9 current Commissioners.  (As reflected in the USCIRF Report, Commissioner Leo's term is not up until May because while he is in his third term, he was apparently originally appointed for a partial term. The Act terminates those who have completed two "full" terms.) This house cleaning was mandated by reauthorization legislation passed by Congress last December. (See prior posting.)  Reflecting this reality, this year's report covered the period April 1, 2011 to Feb. 29, 2012, instead of covering the usual April 1 to March 31 period.

In addition, time pressures apparently gave rise to another curious development.  Five members of the Commission circulated a statement later in the day saying that Turkey should not have been included in the list of recommended CPCs, but instead should have been included only on the Watch List.  The Report (pp. 220-227) already contains dissenting and concurring statements as to the recommendation for Turkey.  Apparently the 4 dissenters convinced a 5th Commissioner to go along with them, but a bit too late.  Here is the full text of the e-mail that was circulated widely today:
I am writing to alert you to a statement issued Monday by five members of the federal US Commission on International Religious Freedom objecting to the Tuesday 3-20-release of the 2012 Annual Report without reflecting Commissioner Argue's changed position. As a result of the exclusion of this fact, the Commission recommendation was misrepresented as calling for Turkey to be on the CPC list rather than on the Watch List. The full statement is included below and attached. 
The undersigned Commissioners urge you to review the statement.
For further information, please contact me or other Commissioners. 
 Felice D. Gaer, 917-325-3844
While we support the 2012 Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve, we object to its release at this point. One of the nine Commissioners, Dr. Argue, has changed his position from recommending a designation of the Republic of Turkey as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) to recommending it for the USCIRF Watch List. His position is not reflected in the document released today. This result is due to procedural issues which could have easily been accommodated, as there was ample time to reflect this change.
We support Dr. Argue's right to have his views accurately reflected as guaranteed in our authorizing Statute.* We regret the failure of the Annual Report to accurately reflect the majority view of Commissioners with respect to Turkey.
* Section 205(c) of our authorizing statute, PL-105-292 as amended, states:  "Individual or Dissenting Views Each member of the Commission may include the individual or dissenting views of the member."
Commissioner Don Argue
Commissioner Felice Gaer
Commissioner Azizah al-Hibri
Commissioner William Shaw
Commissioner Ted Van Der Meid