U.S. Designations on Religious Freedom Draws Mixed Review

Watchdog Panel Hails Changes, But Wishes There Were More

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 11, 2003 (Zenit.org).- An independent federal agency welcomed a decision by the U.S. secretary of state to redesignate Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan as «countries of particular concern» for religious-freedom violations.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the decision by Secretary of State Colin Powell. But it said, however, that it was «deeply disappointed that he did not designate India, Laos, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam» in the same category, despite a commission recommendation in September 2002.

«The final State Department list remains as it was in 2001, even though egregious abuses persist or have increased in these other countries,» the USCIRF said.

The State Department maintains a list of nations that are believed to be excessive violators of religious freedom.

The nine independent commissioners of USCIRF send their recommendations for «countries of particular concern,» or CPCs, to the State Department so that the list may be properly updated and the necessary action may be taken by the federal government.

According to the agency, the Bush administration has 90 days under the law in which to identify policy measures for the CPCs.

USCIRF was especially concerned with Saudi Arabia, a nation in which religious freedom «does not exist» in the words of a State Department report.

Commenting on USCIRF’s initial September report, the International Association for Religious Freedom, an independent NGO, stated, «Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that expressly forbade the public practice of any religion other than Islam, in spite of the presence of many non-Muslims among its immigrant workers.

«Those policies were in strange contradiction with the proclamations on the Saudi Arabian Embassy Web site in Washington, which stated that God proclaimed in the Koran that human rights were universal and that all individuals should be able to enjoy them whether in Islamic states or in others.»

The USCIRF was established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to give independent policy recommendations to the executive branch and Congress.

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