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Religious liberty violators finally named

WASHINGTON (BP)–Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a long-overdue list of the world’s worst violators of religious liberty four days before the end of the Bush administration and failed to add any countries recommended by a federal commission.

Rice formally designated the same eight governments as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) Jan. 16 but did not publicly release the list, according to a March 27 news release from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The commission learned of Rice’s action only during the week of March 23-27, when the State Department, now under Secretary Hillary Clinton, released the list in response to a USCIRF request.

Rice had not made any CPC designations since November 2006. Federal law requires the State Department to review international religious liberty conditions by Sept. 1 of each year. CPC designations are expected to take place soon afterward, though no deadline is set, according to USCIRF.

The 26-month gap in CPC designations is a problem, because any corresponding actions taken by a president become ineffective after two years unless they are reauthorized, USCIRF said. Federal law requires the president to take specific actions against governments designated as CPCs. He is provided a range of options, from diplomacy to economic sanctions. The president also has the authority to waive any action.

In Rice’s January action, she redesignated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as CPCs. In addition, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan received waivers, according to USCIRF.

The commission — a nine-member, bipartisan panel that advises the White House and Congress on global religious liberty issues — had urged Rice to add Iraq, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam to the list. USCIRF makes CPC recommendations, but only the secretary of State decides which countries receive such a designation.

USCIRF “is disappointed that Secretary Rice refused to designate any new countries and that waivers were granted for both Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia,” said Felice Gaer, the commission’s chairwoman. “Religious freedom conditions in Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia are appalling and a specific U.S. government response is required.”

The State Department “should have acted years ago in the case of a number of the countries our Commission recommended for CPC designation, under our statutory authority,” Gaer said in a written release. “As it reviews the previous Administration’s CPC designations, we hope the Obama Administration will recognize the added value that CPC status can bring to American public diplomacy on human rights.”

CPC designation is reserved for governments that have “engaged in or tolerated systemic and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

The president selects three members of USCIRF, while congressional leaders name the other six. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is a USCIRF commissioner.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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