Obama called to act against freedom of faith violators

May 22, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-lead

US President Barack ObamaUSA, May 21, 2013: The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has criticised the State Department’s inaction regarding countries identified as “egregious religious freedom violator[s]” and called on President Obama to make a “clear, direct and specific” response.

The independent federal advisory body monitors religious freedom abuses around the world and each year produces a report detailing the worst offenders.

It makes recommendations to the Secretary of State regarding the designation of “countries of particular concern” (CPCs); this label mandates the US to take action, such as imposing sanctions, against offending nations, intended to prompt improvements in religious freedom.

In its 2013 report, released on 30 April, USCIRF says that the Obama administration issued CPC designations only once during its first term. These, in August 2011, were: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudanand Uzbekistan. The State Department was criticised at the time for “glaring omissions”.

While a country remains designated until removed, any corresponding penalties expire after two years. No action has been taken against either Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan after the State Department issued indefinite waivers regarding these countries.

The report said that US policy had provided little incentive for CPC-designated governments to reduce or end egregious violations of religious freedom:

Generally, no new Presidential actions pursuant to CPC designations have been levied, with the State Department instead relying on pre-existing sanctions….

For these mechanisms to have any real impact on promoting religious freedom, the designation of… a CPC must be followed by the implementation of a clear, direct and specific Presidential action.

The USCIRF also called on the government to designate CPCs “in a timely manner”; the International Religious Freedom Act indicates that this should take place each year, soon after the State Department releases its Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.This did not happen in 2012.

The USCIRF’s 2013 report recommends that the Secretary of State re-designate the eight existing CPCs and add Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. These were also named last year on its list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.

Dr Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF’s Chair, said:

Successful US foreign policy recognises the critical role religious freedom plays in each of these nations and prioritises accordingly. Religious freedom is both a pivotal human right under international law and a key factor that helps determine whether a nation experiences stability or chaos.

Regarding Egypt, the report said that the government has failed or been slow to protect religious minorities, particularly Christians, from violence, and continues to prosecute and imprison people for “contempt” or “defamation” of religion. A number of Christians have beenpenalised for this.

In Nigeria and Pakistan, USCIRF said that “religious extremism and impunity have factored into unprecedented levels of violence that threaten the long-term viability of both nations”. The former is struggling to get to grips with militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which has been attacking Christians and other targets since 2009 in its bloody campaign to establish an Islamic state in the North.

USCIRF also names “Tier 2” countries, which meet at least one of the three-fold “systematic, ongoing and egregious” CPC-criteria. Those on that list this year are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia.

– barnabas team

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