Faith Under Fire

Annual Report Criticizes U.S. Government

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, MAY. 9, 2010 ( On April 29 the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report. Along with an overview of the violation of human rights in many countries when it comes to freedom of worship the report also contained the 2010 recommendations about the nations the commission thinks should be named as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs

USCIRF, which is an independent government commission, urged that 13 nations – Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam — be named CPCs.

Furthermore, USCIRF announced that the following countries are on the 2010 USCIRF Watch List: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela. These are states that require close monitoring due to violations of religious freedom.

The report also expressed clear dissatisfaction with the U.S. government. In his presentation of the report the commission’s chair, Leonard Leo, said that: “The report’s conclusion is clear — our government must do more.”

According to Leo, “U.S. foreign policy on religious freedom is missing the mark.” He singled out for criticism the fact that so far no Ambassador-at-Large on International Religious Freedom has been named, over a year after the new administration took power.

In an even more pointed critique Leo commented that after some strong language on religious freedom used by President Obama in his Cairo speech, “presidential references to religious freedom have become rare.”

“The same holds true for many of Secretary of State Clinton’s speeches,” Leo added.

Leo acknowledged that dealing with the issue of religious freedom is not easy. He noted that during the commission’s missions to countries such as Nigeria and Egypt there is a lack of accountability, which allows individuals to attack and even kill those who dissent from their religious views with impunity.

But it is precisely because of the grave violations of religious freedom it is vital that U.S. foreign policy do better at exposing and castigating such situations, Leo insisted.


The report itself detailed at greater length the problems in many countries. Regarding the point made by Leo about a lack of accountability the commission visited Nigeria three times in the past year.

There have been, the report said unchecked waves of sectarian violence. Since 1999, as many as 12,000 Nigerians have been killed in a dozen incidents, according to USCIRF.

Both Christians and Muslims have been victims and aggressors, but the report pointed out that so far not one person has been convicted and sentenced in a decade religious violence.

Another country singled out by the report for its egregious record was Burma, which it was said has one of the world’s worst human rights record. Religious freedom conditions have deteriorated in the past year according to the commission and the military regime severely
restricts religious practice, as well as monitoring the activity of all religious organizations.

As well, the government has banned unregistered Protestant activity and continued to destroy religious sites and to forcibly promote conversion to Buddhism in ethnic minority areas.

In China the report affirmed that the government continued to engage in systematic violations of the freedom of religion or belief. Moreover, in the past year there was a marked deterioration in the Tibetan Buddhist and Uighur Muslim areas.

The Chinese authorities continued its campaign against unregistered Christian groups, with thousands of house church Protestants being detained in the past two years. And no less than 40 Catholic bishops remain imprisoned or have disappeared.

All religious activities are subject to a strict political and legal framework that prevents many activities protected under international human rights law, including in treaties China has signed or ratified, the report observed.

Islamic countries

A number of countries on USCIRF’s CPC recommendations or Watch List are majority Muslim nations. In the West attention is often focused in the persecution of Christians in such countries, but one interesting thing that the commission said was that in majority Muslim countries it is often the case that those governments repress most the free practice of Islam.

In the case of Iran the government not only continued to oppress Baha’is as well as Christians, but also Sufi Muslims. The report said that dissident Muslims were increasingly subject to abuse and several were sentenced to death and even executed for the capital crime of moharebeh, or “waging war against God.”

Similarly, in Iraq along with the continued tolerance of the government in the face of severe abuses of freedom of religion there continue to be attacks and tense relations between Shi’a and Sunni Iraqis. There is also religiously motivated violence against women and Muslims who reject certain strict interpretations of Islam.

In Saudi Arabia the government persisted in banning all forms of public religious expression other than that of the government’s own interpretation of one school of Sunni Islam. This restricts not only non-Muslims but also Muslims. The report said that Ismaili Muslims continue to suffer severe discrimination and abuse on account of their religious identity.

In addition, the government is conducting an ongoing crackdown on Shi’a Muslim dissidents, with numerous arrests and detentions. And Saudi Arabia also continues to support a global strategy of promoting “an extremist ideology, and in some cases, violence toward non-Muslims and disfavored Muslims.”

Some Muslims also face similar problems in Afghanistan, the report observed. For example, a government ministry seized and destroyed a shipment of Shi’a religious books from Iran, as they contained interpretations of Islam deemed offensive to the majority Sunni community.


Further evidence on the deterioration of religious freedom in the world came in the report’s section on Russia. The commission asserted that the situation is worsening in Russia as a result of new policies and trends. One of these is the government’s use of anti-extremist legislation against religious groups that are not known to use or advocate violence.

The report also commented that national and local government officials increasingly violate the religious freedoms of Muslims and groups they view as non-traditional by enforcing other laws, such as those on religious organizations and non-governmental organizations.

“Russian officials continue to describe certain religious and other groups as alien to
Russian culture and society, thereby contributing to a climate of intolerance,” the report commented.

The report also drew attention to the situation in Turkey, where it said that “serious limitations on the freedom of religion or belief continue to occur.” Not only are there restrictions on the majority Sunni Muslim community, but minorities such as Christians also suffer

Non-Muslim communities are denied the right to own and maintain property, prohibited from training religious clergy, and are not allowed to offer religious education.

Serious problems of discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations against
members of religious minorities, remain widespread in Egypt according to the report.

The commission commented that during the last year there was an upsurge in violence targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians. It accused the government of not taking sufficient steps to halt the repression of and discrimination against Christian and other religious believers.

Another country with serious problems is Sudan. The report said that the nation’s government commit
s systematic violations of the freedom of religion. Both Christians, as well as those Muslims who do not follow the government’s interpretation of Islam, are targeted by the authorities.

Unfortunately for most politicians, whether in America or elsewhere, religious freedom is not high on their list of priorities. It’s up to all believers to make their voices heard so that this neglect is remedied.

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