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ICC Note: The following article highlights the recommendations made last week to the U.S. State Department regarding the designation of “Countries of Particular Concern.” This official designation is reserved for nations that allow or are complicit in particularly severe violations of religious freedom and allows the U.S to potentially impose sanctions on those nations until improvements are made. The State Department has not updated the list since 2006, sending a strong signal that religious freedom is not a critical issue to the United States in its relationship with the rest of the world. 

5/5/2014 Charisma (United States) – Secretary of State John Kerry should cite 16 countries for severe violations of religious freedom, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended Wednesday in its 15th annual report.

The State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” list has remained static since 2006, when eight countries—Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan—were designated as CPCs.

USCIRF, an independent watchdog panel created by Congress to review international religious freedom conditions, criticized the government’s unchanged list of CPCs and sanctions against them, claiming such measures have “provided little incentive for CPC-designated governments to reduce or halt egregious violations of religious freedom.”

“The past 10 years have seen a worsening of the already-poor religious freedom environment in Pakistan, a continued dearth of religious freedom in Turkmenistan, backsliding in Vietnam, rising violations in Egypt before and after the Arab Spring, and Syria’s descent into a sectarian civil war with all sides perpetrating egregious religious freedom violations. Yet no new countries have been added to the State Department’s CPC list,” the report states.

USCIRF recommended that the CPC list be expanded to include these countries along with Iraq, Nigeria and Tajikistan. USCIRF’s 2013 report made similar recommendations, with the noteworthy addition this year of Syria.

“Syria was added for the abuses against religious freedom being committed not just by the Assad regime but by all sides in the terrible civil war those people are suffering through,” USCIRF chair Robert P. George said.

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