Tuesday, July 29, 2014

State Department Updates List of "Countries of Particular Concern" Under International Religious Freedom Act

As previously reported, yesterday the State Department issued its 2013 International Religious Freedom Report. Somewhat buried in the announcement and Secretary Kerry's remarks was the revelation that the State Department at the same time updated its list of "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPC).  The countries on the revised list are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  All of these except for Turkmenistan had been on last year's list.

The 1968 International Religious Freedom Act, Sec. 402(b), calls for the President to make CPC designations annually for countries that have "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom." The Act also calls for the President to take various actions against such countries.  Secretary Kerry yesterday, in announcing the list, said:
I want to emphasize: This effort isn’t about naming countries to lists in order to make us feel somehow that we’ve spoken the truth. I want our CPC designations to be grounded in plans, action that help to change the reality on the ground and actually help people. That’s why we are committed to working with governments as partners to help them ensure full respect for the human rights of all of their citizens.
In a press release today, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom commended the State Department for making its CPC designations at the same time that it released its International Religious Freedom Report-- something that the Department has not always done. USCIRF also welcomed the addition of Turkmenistan to the list, noting that it had recommended the designation since 2004. The press release did not mention that USCIRF this year also recommended seven other countries-- Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam-- should receive a similar designation. (See prior posting.)