USCIRF Urges Action on Burma and Kazakhstan

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged the federal government to promote democracy, human rights, and religious freedom for people in Kazakhstan and Burma.

Amendments approved in 2005 to Kazakhstan laws require religious organizations to register under the regional and national Ministry of Justice offices. USCIRF is concerned a recent draft law that is advancing in the Kazakh parliament will restrict religious communities.

Burmese citizens continue to suffer more than a year after their repressive military junta used violence to crack down on peaceful protests over the government's drastic increase in fuel prices. Thousands of Buddhist monks joined those demonstrations. The military put an end to the protests in late September 2007 by killing, beating, and jailing protesters, including monks.

"Burma's military junta has presided over a human rights and humanitarian disaster that is deepening, not receding," USCIRF Chair Felice Gaer said in a written release September 30. "The military's many human rights abuses are a direct challenge to every Burmese, as well as to international human rights law and regional security."

Gaer recommended the U.S. government begin to assist the Burmese people by creating an "interagency task force" in the National Security Council and by appointing a U.S. special envoy to Burma.

USCIRF urged the U.S. government to work with both European and Asian allies to tighten sanctions and intensify diplomatic engagement with the Burmese government. The commission also recommended the United States urge the United Nations to establish requirements the Burmese military must meet in order to end the country's isolation from the rest of the world.

The U.S. State Department has designated Burma as one of eight "countries of particular concern," a classification reserved for the world's most severe violators of religious freedom.

Kazakhstan also is being closely monitored by the commission for its violation of religious liberty.

Recently, the lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament passed a measure restricting and governing freedom of religion and belief. The proposal calls for tighter registration requirements for all religious groups, a smaller number of religious communities, and increased penalties for members of unregistered communities.

USCIRF urged the U.S. government to speak against the law at the Human Dimension meeting September 29 to October 10 in Warsaw, Poland.

USCIRF also is concerned about religious liberty in Kazakhstan's neighboring countries. Both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have laws that require religious communities to register through the government in order to operate legally. The State Department has named Uzbekistan one of its "countries of particular concern," and USCIRF has recommended Turkmenistan be added to that list.

USCIRF is a bipartisan panel that advises the White House and Congress on the condition of religious freedom globally. The president selects three members of the commission, while congressional leaders name the other six. The State Department's ambassador at large for international religious freedom serves as a non-voting member of the panel.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is a USCIRF member.

Baptist Press



Sunday, November 9, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

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