The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2015 Annual Report last month. This year’s report, the 16th since the Commission’s creation in 1998, documents religious freedom violations in 33 countries, makes country-specific recommendations, and assesses the U.S. government’s implementation of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
“Not a day goes by without at least one country from these lists appearing on the front page of a major newspaper. Humanitarian crises fuelled by waves of terror, intimidation and violence have engulfed an alarming number of countries over the past year,” said USCIRF Chair Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett.
“With serious religious freedom violations occurring all around the world, these horrors speak volumes about how and why religious freedom and the protection of the rights of vulnerable religious communities matter. All nations should care about abuses beyond their borders not only for humanitarian reasons but because what goes on in other nations rarely remains there. In the long run, there is only one permanent guarantor of the safety, security and survival of the persecuted and vulnerable. It is the full recognition of religious freedom.”
USCIRF, in its role as an independent U.S. federal government advisory body, recommends that the State Department add eight more nations to its list of “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs, where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are perpetrated or tolerated. These countries are: Central African Republic (first time recommendation); Egypt; Iraq; Nigeria; Pakistan; Syria; Tajikistan; Vietnam.
USCIRF also recommends that the State Department redesignate as CPCs the following nine countries and take additional actions to promote religious freedom: Burma; China; Eritrea; Iran; North Korea; Saudi Arabia; Sudan; Turkmenistan; Uzbekistan.
Along with recommending CPC designations, USCIRF also places 10 countries on its 2015 “Tier 2” list, a Commission designation for governments that engage in or tolerate violations that are serious but not CPC-level. USCIRF urges increased U.S. government attention to the following countries: Afghanistan; Azerbaijan; Cuba; India; Indonesia; Kazakhstan; Laos; Malaysia; Russia; Turkey
The USCIRF Report also highlights religious freedom concerns in countries that do not meet Tier 1 (CPC) or Tier 2 thresholds, but should also be the focus of concern. These countries are: Bahrain; Bangladesh; Belarus; Cyprus; Kyrgyzstan; Sri Lanka.