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US commission report on religious freedom shows ‘double standards’

religious freedom

WASHINGTON: The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has once again displayed its double standards by targeting certain countries for violating religious freedom with the exception of India.

The US commission ranked Pakistan and China among the countries where religious freedom is under attack, excluding India despite the fact that it refused to allow an USCIRF delegation to visit India to get the actual picture of religious freedom there.

In a handout released on Tuesday, the commission criticized the State Department for failing to meet its legal deadline for designating “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPCs).

This congressionally mandated list comprises nations that violate religious freedom in a “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” manner.  USCIRF’s Chairman Daniel Mark said that failing to designate CPCs tells the violators of religious freedom around the world that the US is looking away. The State Department should make such designations without delay.”

The International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 and the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016 mandate that the State Department make such designations no more than 90 days after the State Department releases its annual International Religious Freedom (IRF) Report.  That report was released on August 15, 2017.

IRFA also requires that USCIRF provide recommendations, by May 1 each year, to the department on which countries should be designated CPCs for severe religious freedom violations.  In April, USCIRF recommended that 16 countries be so designated: Burma (Myanmar), Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Chairman Mark said that The State Department has not always designated CPCs annually, and the Frank Wolf Act sought to correct that problem.  We urge the State Department to rapidly designate the 16 countries recommended by USCIRF.  Such an action would be a strong message to religious freedom abusers that the United States is paying attention and takes seriously these violations.”

USCIRF commends Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for excellent statement he made accompanying the release of the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report. There, he stated that religious freedom is a “core American value…and universal human right,” commenting further that it is a “human rights priority” for the Trump Administration.  USCIRF was highly encouraged by his words and urges the Secretary of State to make CPC designations consistent with that bold and forceful statement.

The Frank Wolf Act also requires the State Department, 90 days after the issuance of the IRF report, to place countries that engage in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom onto a “Special Watch List.”  USCIRF also urges the State Department to speedily announce its Special Watch List, and to include the countries that USCIRF placed on its Tier 2 in 2017:  Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey.  USCIRF’s Tier 2 is for countries where USCIRF finds that the government has engaged in or tolerated serious violations that are characterized by at least one element of the “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” standard.

The Frank Wolf Act also requires designations for non-state actors as “entities of particular concern” (EPCs).  USCIRF recommended that the Administration designate the following entities as EPCs: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria; the Taliban in Afghanistan; and al-Shabaab in Somalia.

The Administration is not legally required to make its EPC designations at this time, but USCIRF looks forward to working with the White House and the State Department on expeditiously identifying EPCs and the tools to use against them.

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