WASHINGTON (ABP) — A federal panel charged with monitoring global religious freedom conditions has picked 11 countries as the world's worst violators of that basic human right.
In a Feb. 18 press conference, commission members announced they are asking Secretary of State Colin Powell to declare Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, India, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam as “countries of particular concern,” or “CPCs,” under the terms of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.
That act established an ambassador-at-large position in the State Department for monitoring religious freedom. It also created the commission, an independent federal watchdog group appointed by the president and congressional leaders from both parties. The commission monitors religious freedom conditions around the globe and makes regular recommendations to the State Department, including the designation of the CPCs.
The act also enables the State Department, if it follows the committee's recommendations, to enact a number of sanctions against a nation designated a CPC.
In a press release accompanying the announcement, the commission said they are recommending those 11 countries because of “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom that [their] governments are responsible for or have tolerated.”
The commission was divided on India, with a minority of commissioners feeling India's toleration of violations by some local and regional governments did not rise to the level of CPC recommendation. Those three commissioners filed a dissenting opinion recommending that India be placed on a “watch list” of nations with concerns about religious freedom. The other nations on that list include Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Georgia, Indonesia, Laos, Nigeria and Uzbekistan.
This is the fourth time the commission has asked the State Department to declare Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan as CPCs. However, the department has not yet heeded the commission's recommendations. Both Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan have been considered close allies of the United States in the global war on terrorism. However, a State Department report released late last year admitted that religious freedom does not exist in Saudi Arabia.
Commission chair Michael Young, in a letter to Powell accompanying the recommendations, also asked the secretary to take more advantage of the powers granted to him under the International Religious Freedom Act.
“CPC designation carries an obligation that one or more of certain actions specified in Section 405 of IRFA be taken, unless the president determines that pre-existing sanctions are adequate or otherwise waives the requirement,” Young noted. “Yet, for every country named a CPC to date, the only official actions taken [by the State Department] have been to invoke already existing sanctions rather than taken additional action to advance religious freedom pursuant to IRFA.”
The commission requested a meeting with Powell to discuss the report prior to his decisions about CPC designations.