Friday, May 01, 2015

USCIRF Issues 2015 Annual Report

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom yesterday released its 2015 Annual Report (full text) (press release). The Report, mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act, this year documents religious freedom violations in 33 countries and recommends that 17 countries be designated by the State Department as "countries of particular concern" (CPC) in which particularly severe violations of religious freedom are perpetrated or tolerated. This year, USCIRF expands its criteria for designating CPC:
The 2015 Annual Report recognizes that non-state actors, such as transnational or local organizations, are some of the most egregious violators of religious freedom. For example, in the Central African Republic and areas of Iraq and Syria, the governments are either non-existent or incapable of addressing violations committed by non-state actors. USCIRF has concluded that the CPC classification should be expanded to allow for the designation of countries such as these, where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are occurring but a government does not exist or does not control its territory. Accordingly, USCIRF’s CPC recommendations reflect that approach.
The Report recommends that the State Department redesignate 9 countries as CPC: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  It also recommends adding 8 other countries to the list: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, and Viet Nam.

USCIRF placed 10 countries on its Tier 2 list, countries that engage in or tolerate violations, but which do not reach CPC levels: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia and Turkey.

The Introduction to this year's report highlights massacres by ISIL and Boko Haram, as well as violence in the Central African Republic and Burma, saying:
A horrified world has watched the results of what some have aptly called violence masquerading as religious devotion.
The Report also recommends changes within the State Department to give more authority to the Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom as well as a number of other funding enhancements, programmatic changes and changes in the processing of asylum seekers. Vice-Chair James Zogby issued a dissenting statement saying:
I voted against some of the recommendations in this chapter because I cannot support USCIRF calling on Congress to micro-manage the way the State Department and the White House National Security Council organize their staff and set their priorities.
Again this year, the Report includes lists of those imprisoned in several countries as activists, conscientious objectors or those sentenced for blasphemy.