The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2017 Annual Report, published April 26, is the subject of a May 17 forum in Washington, D.C. USCIRF Commissioners will speak at the event moderated by Religion News Service CEO Tom Gallagher.
The report documents religious freedom violations in more than 35 countries, makes country-specific recommendations, and assesses the U.S. Government’s implementation of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
Created in 1998, the USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. Among other responsibilities, USCIRF recommends countries that the Secretary of State should designate as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
The USCIRF recommended adding Russia to the designated CPC list this year due to worsening religious freedoms, including the recent ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The list also includes Burma, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
The following nations and entities, not recommended as CPCs are also highlighted in the report:
- Bahrain – Tier 2 Placement: Religious freedom in the majority-Shi’a country has deteriorated causing USCIRF to place Bahrain on its Tier 2 list for the first time.
- Egypt & Iraq – Tier 2 Placement: USCIRF did not recommend Egypt or Iraq as a CPC because of governmental steps to address religious freedom issues, despite egregious abuses and attacks by ISIS.
- Entities of Particular Concern (EPCs): EPCs are non-state actors (which exert territorial control) engaged in severe religious freedom abuses. USCIRF recommended the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and al-Shabaab in Somalia be designated EPCs.
- Religious Prisoners of Conscience (POCs): POCs are individuals imprisoned for their religion or beliefs. USCIRF Commissioners have each selected POCs for whom they will advocate and raise awareness.
Countries/Regions Covered in the Annual Report
Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burma, Central African Republic, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and selected countries in Western Europe.
The forum will also cover USCIRF’s Prisoner of Conscience Project, which highlights individuals imprisoned for exercising their freedom of religion or belief, as well as the dedicated advocacy of USCIRF Commissioners working for their release.