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U.S. ignores religious oppression, federal panel says

  • Story Highlights
  • Commission names 11 countries it says State Department should identify
  • China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan named with Iran, North Korea
  • Others are Eritrea, Myanmar, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam
  • Panel says it's also concerned about religious freedom in Iraq
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(CNN) -- China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are among 11 countries that practice religious oppression, a federal commission says.

Iraqi Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter in Baghdad. The panel cites concerns about religious freedom in Iraq.

Nevertheless, the U.S. State Department hasn't designated or re-designated those nations as "countries of particular concern," the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms said Friday.

The other eight countries cited are Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

"In the past year, violent government repression of religious communities in China, Burma (known as Myanmar), and Sudan, among other countries, confirms that religious freedom is [a] vulnerable human right that must be protected by the international community," Commission Chairman Michael Cromartie said in a press release.

The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act requires the United States to identify "countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion or belief."

The act created the federal panel that annually surveys world religious freedom and gives recommendations to the president, secretary of state and Congress. The law allows policy responses to listed countries, such as sanctions.

The commission said it is troubled that the State Department has not made any designations or redesignations since 2006, even though it issued a report on religious freedom in September.

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"While IRFA does not set a specific deadline for the [countries of particular concern] designations, the fact that those designations are based on that review indicates that they should be made in a timely way thereafter," the committee said in a report.

The group said the inaction "may send the unfortunate signal that the U.S. government is not sufficiently committed to the IRFA process, including by seeking improvements from the most severe religious freedom violators."

State Department spokesman Tom Casey responded that "the commission is an independent body, and we certainly respect their views and look closely at the recommendations that they make as we go about implementing the religious freedom legislation and go about preparing both the country reports as well as establishing those countries that should be listed as countries of particular concern."

Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan are on the latest State Department list, prepared in November 2006. The panel recommends adding Vietnam, which had been removed from the last listing, as well as Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

Vietnam was removed from the list, Casey said, "because Vietnam has addressed the central issues that we believed constituted severe violations of religious freedom, and they continue to make improvements on those.

"At this point we believe that, while there are certainly still a number of issues in terms of religious freedom in Vietnam, that the actions that the Vietnamese government has taken to address some of our concerns makes them a country that does not merit being included on the CPC, or the countries of particular concern list," he said.

The commission made these observations.

  • Myanmar: "Directed increasing repression at ethnic and religious minorities, democracy activists, and international humanitarian agencies over the past year." The crackdown on September demonstrations by Buddhist monks was cited.
  • China: "Severe crackdowns targeting Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, 'underground' Roman Catholics, 'house church' Protestants, and various spiritual movements such as Falun Gong continue unabated."
  • Sudan: Pursued "coercive policies of Arabization and Islamization resulting in genocide" in the Darfur region and imposed severe restrictions on religious freedom and other human rights. Christians and followers of local religions have been victimized in a decades-long North-South war.
  • Iran: Baha'is, Sufi Muslims and evangelical Christians "face relentless arrests, imprisonment, and harassment." Fears among Iran's Jews have grown due to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated denials of the Holocaust and other anti-Semitic statements.
  • Eritrea: There have been "arbitrary arrests and detention without charge of members of unregistered religious groups, and the torture or other ill-treatment of hundreds of persons on account of their religion, sometimes resulting in death."
  • North Korea: No "protections for universal human rights, including religious freedom," and religion is perceived as a security threat.
  • Saudi Arabia: "Serious violations of freedom of religion ... by banning all forms of public religious expression other than that of the government's own interpretation of one school of Sunni Islam and by interfering with private religious practice. "
  • Uzbekistan: Muslims arrested, groups repressed, mosques closed, targeting groups "that do not conform to government-prescribed practices or that it alleges to be associated with extremist political programs."
  • Vietnam: "Severe religious freedom restrictions targeting some ethnic minority Protestants and Buddhists, Vietnamese Mennonites, Hoa Hao Buddhists, and monks and nuns associated with the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam."
  • Pakistan: Sectarian and religiously motivated violence continues, particularly against Shiite Muslims, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus. The government's response remains "inadequate."
  • Turkmenistan: "Significant religious freedom problems and official harassment of religious adherents persist." Registered and unregistered religious groups harassed.
  • The commission also issued a watch list that names Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria.

    The panel said it remains "seriously concerned" about religious freedom in Iraq. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

    All About ReligionU.S. Department of StateHuman Rights Policy

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