The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom enlisted five “countries of particular concern” where religious freedom does not exist, and recommended the addition of six more countries to the “CPC” list, while presenting their annual report, May 12.
The countries listed as rampant persecutors of religious adherents remained as Burma, China, Iran, North Korea and Sudan. These countries have been on the list for the worst violators of religious liberty for several years. At the second level, Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam was added to the “recommendation” list for the CPC.
According to USCIRF commissioner Richard Land, religious liberty has gained a higher profile around the world, in part through the efforts of the commission.
“There’s no question that this issue is far higher on our government’s radar screen and the radar screen of other governments around the world because of the existence of this commission,” said Land.
Land, who also serves as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said that while religious persecution continues to exist, the yearly report on religious freedom has raised a greater awareness.
“What’s been the result is there has been the development of a significant cadre of career diplomatic corps officers who have been sensitized and made aware of this issue and of the abuses that are taking place around the world in a way that was not prevalent prior to 1998,” Land said. “[T]hey are listening to us, and they are listening more as they become more sensitized to the problem as a result of preparing these reports and having to interact with the people who have been victimized in the various countries where they serve.”
Michael Young, chairman on the commission, said that while there is a greater need for awareness, the USCIRF is nonetheless grateful for the actions taken by the government in following the commission’s recommendations.
“No, the U.S government is not listening to us as much as they should.... [B]ut we have appreciated the extent to which this issue has been in the forefront of some actions of the U.S. government both in this administration and the prior administration,” Young said.
Young listed developments in the awareness of the situation in Sudan and China as examples of this development.
Nonetheless, Land said that as a whole, the global scale of religious persecution is growing.
“My impression as a commissioner, and I’ve been serving three years now, is that the situation is getting worse, not better,” he said.
In addition to the CPC reccomdations, the commission also gave a “watch list” of countries that should be closely monitored. The countries lited include: Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Georgia, Indonesia, Laos, Nigeria and Uzbekistan.
Members of the 2004 commission included Felice Gaer, an official with the American Jewish Committee; Nina Shea, director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom; Preeta Bansal, visiting fellow at Harvard University; Patti Chang, president of the Women’s Foundation of California; Charles Chaput, Roman Catholic archbishop of Denver; Khaled Abou El Fadl, visiting professor at Yale Law School; and Ricardo Ramirez, Roman Catholic bishop of Las Cruces, N.M.
The USCIRF’s 2004 report may be obtained online at www.uscirf.gov.