09/17/2019 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is needed now more than ever before, as the general state of religious freedom is declining at an alarming rate. The Commission is once again up for reauthorization by the United States Congress, which will need to pass legislation funding the Commission’s mission for the years to come. USCIRF was created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) and was last reauthorized in 2015.
What does the Commission do?
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal Commission dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. The Commission reviews the evidence of religious freedom violations using international standards and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. One the most valuable outputs of the commission is its annual report on the status of international religious freedom. The report analyzes data from countries around the world and shows trends in terms of religious freedom.
This report is a powerful tool that is used to advance the religious rights of Christians and other minority faith groups around the world. The Commission works on aiding prisoners of conscience and bringing the attention of both the United States government and the international community to religious-based human rights violations wherever they occur.
How is the information used?
With each annual report, the USCIRF designates “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) and Tier 2 countries and then describes what has been happening in those countries that merit action. CPCs are defined as those countries that commit systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. Sixteen countries received this designation in 2019. Tier 2 countries do not meet the statutory criteria of a CPC, but they require close monitoring because of the nature and extent of their religious freedom violations. Twelve countries received this designation in 2019.
While the recommendations that the USCIRF report makes are not automatically imposed, they offer invaluable information to be used by the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress to improve the circumstances of religious minorities.
How does USCIRF work with other organizations?
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity, while the Office of International Religious Freedom— also established under IRFA—is part of the U.S. State Department. Both produce a yearly report, but the State Department report overviews every country while the USCIRF report makes CPC designations for the President to consider, makes policy recommendations, and comments on the effectiveness of the State Department’s efforts to promote international religious freedom.
The Commission testifies before Congressional committees and meets with members of Congress to be a reliable resource on this issue. Along with Amnesty International, the Commission works on the Defending Freedoms Project within the House of Representatives which aims to bring attention to prisoners of conscience and commit Members of Congress to “adopting” one and, therefore, become an advocate on their behalf.
In short, reauthorization of USCIRF is of paramount importance to continuing the work of ending religious-based discrimination and violence throughout the world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes it clear that the freedom to think, believe, and practice whatever one chooses is a fundamental human right. As a leader on the world stage, the United States should continue to hold all accountable to that standard and reauthorize USCIRF.
Matias Perttula currently serves as the Advocacy Director for International Christian Concern where he leads the government relations efforts to mobilize the US government to address issues of persecution in countries where religious minorities are oppressed and the freedom of religion is in decline.
Peyton Millea is a student at American University and a Fall Associate at International Christian Concern