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Commission cites 11 countries as religious liberty violators

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has urged Secretary of State Colin Powell to designate 11 countries as severe violators of religious liberty, including first-time notations for Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

In its recommendations of “countries of particular concern” to the State Department, the commission proposed that five countries — Burma, China, Iran, North Korea and Sudan — be returned to the CPC list of governments noted for “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

The USCIRF did not recommend Iraq return to the CPC list after last year’s United States-led effort toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The secretary of state designates CPCs each year after receiving the USCIRF’s recommendations. In a letter to Powell, the commission urged stronger action against CPCs than has been taken in the past.

“[F]or every country named a CPC to date, the only official actions taken have been to invoke already existing sanctions rather than taken [sic] additional action to advance religious freedom pursuant to [the International Religious Freedom Act],” USCIRF Chairman Michael Young said in a letter released Feb. 10. “We strongly urge you to engage these governments in as many ways as possible in order better to promote religious freedom” in the countries.

It marked the fourth consecutive year the USCIRF has recommended Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan as CPCs, but the State Department has yet to include those countries on the list.

The commission also named a “watch list” of countries that should be closely monitored, although their religious freedom violations do not reach the level for recommendation as CPCs. The “watch list” consists of Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Georgia, Indonesia, Laos, Nigeria and Uzbekistan.

Four of the commissioners dissented from the panel’s recommendation of India as a CPC. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a member of the USCIRF, agreed with the majority. Land’s second term will expire later this year.

The International Religious Freedom Act, which became law in 1998, requires the president to take specific actions against governments designated as CPCs. Under the law, he is provided a range of options, from diplomacy to economic sanctions. The president also has the authority to waive any action.

The IRFA established the nine-member commission to advise the White House and Congress. The president selects three members of the panel, while congressional leaders name the other six.

The USCIRF’s letter to Powell and information on the recommended countries may be found at the commission’s Internet site, www.uscirf.gov.

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