By Linda Bordoni
In its annual report released this week, the US Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF) downgrades India to that status of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ (CPC). It so doing, it describes developments under the BJP government as causing the “steepest, and most alarming deterioration in religious freedom”, citing its policies and treatment toward the Muslim population last year.
But it also upgrades Sudan. The USCIRG says the nation’s Transitional Government has disbanded so-called “church councils” used by unseated dictator Omar al-Bashar for persecuting Christians and demolishing churches.
On another positive note, the report singled out Uzbekistan for its progress in fulfilling the commitments it as made to allow religious groups greater freedom.
Alongside the deterioration of the situation in India and several other countries, the report said: “international religious freedom is on an upward trajectory overall.”
‘Countries of Particular Concern’
All in all, 14 countries were recommended to the US State Department for designation as “countries of particular concern” because their governments engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations.”
They include Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Nigeria, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam continue to get bad grades.
The 2020 Annual Report also has a section that focusses on 6 non-state actors designation them as “entities of particular concern” for their systematic and ongoing violations of religious freedom.
These consist of five sadly renowned groups: al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Houthis in Yemen, Islamic State and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in Syria.
‘Special Watch List’
The detailed report does not neglect to shine the light on countries to be placed on the State Department’s “Special Watch List” (SWL) for severe violations.
A new section of the report highlights key developments in countries not recommended for CPC status or SWL placement. Examples include the adoption of new blasphemy laws in Brunei and Singapore, increased anti-Semitism in Europe, and a spike in attacks on places of worship or holy sites.
Praise and recommendations
Finally, the report commends the US Administration for continuing to prioritize international religious freedom and for dedicating a significant amount of US funding to protect places of worship and religious sites globally.
It expresses satisfaction for the establishment, for the first time, of a senior staff position at the White House focused solely on international religious freedom. However, it also urges the Administration “to discontinue the repeated imposition of pre-existing sanctions or waivers for CPC-designated countries, and instead, take a unique action for each country to provide accountability for religious freedom abuses.”
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyse and report on threats to religious freedom throughout the world. It also makes recommendations to enhance the U.S. government’s promotion of freedom of religion or belief at an international level.