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U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issues 2024 annual report


WASHINGTON (BP) – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its 2024 report urged the U.S. State Department to add 15 nations to the current list of egregious religious freedom violators, and recommended key policy guidance for the Biden administration.

Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Nigeria and Vietnam should be added to the 12 Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in December 2023, USCIRF said.

Those 12 are Burma (Myanmar), China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

CPC designates “particularly severe” religious freedom violations under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998, that are also “systemic, ongoing and egregious.”

Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Turkey and Uzbekistan should be included on the Special Watch List of countries whose governments engage in or tolerate “severe” religious freedom violations, USCIRF said.

“It is vital that the President, Secretary of State, and Congress implement the recommendations in this year’s report,” USCIRF Chair Abraham Cooper said upon releasing the report May 1. “While 25 years has passed since USCIRF was created, it is more important now than ever to ensure that promoting freedom of religion or belief remains a key tenet of U.S. foreign policy.”

USCIRF’s country recommendations are notably different from the State Department’s current CPC list, released six months ago, with only Algeria in common. Azerbaijan, which USCIRF recommends as a CPC, is on the state department’s Special Watch List; and Vietnam, which the department includes on the Special Watch List, is among USCIRF’s recommendations for CPC designation.

While USCIRF recommended Azerbaijan for the Special Watch List in 2023, which the State Department adopted, USCIRF said conditions in Azerbaijan have continued to deteriorate to meet the standards of abuse reserved for CPC designation. The current report marks the first time USCIRF has recommended the CPC designation for Azerbaijan.

USCIRF noted worsening religious freedom violations by the government of Azerbaijan in 2021 and 2022, and as the trend continued in 2023, USCIRF said Azerbaijan now meets IRFA standards for CPC designation.

The State Department also named the Central African Republic and Comoros to its Special Watch List.

USCIRF’s recommendations for Entities of Particular Concern (EPCs) coincide with the State Department’s 2023 list. Noted as nonstate groups that engage in particularly severe IRFA violations that often includes violence, USCIRF recommends the State Department redesignate al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, Islamic State Sahel Province, Islamic State in West Africa Province – also referred to as ISIS-West Africa – and Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM).

USCIRF’s 2024 report is the 25th issued since the commission’s 1998 creation, the first released in 2000. The report assesses 2023 religious freedom violations and progress in 28 countries, makes recommendations to the Biden Administration and Congress, notes key persecution developments globally, and cites progress made in the past year.

USCIRF commended the Biden administration for progress, but encouraged adoption of USCIRF’s 2024 policy and advocacy recommendations.

“We are encouraged by the Biden administration’s and Congress’ support for many initiatives related to international religious freedom,” USCIRF Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie said. “However, the U.S. government can further enhance efforts regarding religious freedom by implementing all of the recommendations in our 2024 Annual Report, and raising the names of victims persecuted for their faith each time the U.S. government engages with foreign governments.”

Among trends adversely impacting religious freedom globally are transnational repression, in which nations worked to limit religious freedom outside their borders; the continuation and consideration of laws restricting religious freedom, including laws against blasphemy, religious conversion, religious clothing and such traditions as ritual slaughter; attacks against religious sites in armed conflicts, risks to religious minorities during elections, the rise of antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred, various assaults on religious expression in Europe, and increasing concerns of religious freedom for the more than 35 million refugees forced from their homes in 2023.

USCIRF commended the Biden Administration for implementing various USCIRF recommendations in 2023, including the 2023 CPCs, all of which USCIRF recommended in its 2023 report. USCIRF commended the government for imposing sanctions against individuals and entities for religious freedom violations; for including religious liberty in bilateral and multilateral engagement, for advocating for religious prisoners of conscience, for holding various hearings on the topic, and for advances in helping asylum seekers and aiding refugee resettlement.

The full report is available here, including details of religious persecution in the 28 nations studied, updates on EPCs and other resources.