USCIRF Releases 2021 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom

Recommends that 14 Countries be Designated as Countries of Particular Concern for Religious Freedom Violations

04/21/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) –Today, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published its 2021 Annual Report with recommendations to the State Department regarding the status of international religious freedom around the world. In the report, USCIRF, a bipartisan commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, recommended that 14 countries be designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), notably including Nigeria, India, China, and Iran, among others.

Last year was the first year that the State Department designated Nigeria as a CPC, after USCIRF continually made the recommendation to designate them as such. According to the report, “religious freedom conditions in Nigeria deteriorated [last year], with both state and nonstate actors committing egregious violations of the right to freedom of belief,” despite constitutional protections for such rights. ICC has been continually covering the violence in Nigeria and documenting its devastating effects on religious freedom for Christians.

Pakistan is another country that again received a CPC recommendation from USCIRF, primarily on account of the country’s harsh blasphemy law. This law is often used by the religious majority to accuse religious minority members such as Christians and Hindus of blasphemy against Islam, often leading to mob violence against the accused and severe damage to their societal reputation. The blasphemy law continues to foster a growing intolerance of religious minorities and to cut away at religious freedom for Pakistanis.

For the second year in a row, USCIRF also recommended that India be designated as a CPC. The State Department elected not to make such a designation in 2020, though USCIRF argues that India is again deserving of the CPC label. The report names the government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a primary aggressor in the promotion of “Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” These violations often take the form of immunity for mob violence against religious minorities and anti-conversion laws that prohibit religious conversions from the dominant Hindu religion.

USCIRF also recommended 12 countries for the State Department’s Special Watch List (SWL) for religious freedom, including nations like Azerbaijan and Turkey. The report acknowledged serious concerns about “the preservation and protection of Armenian places of worship and other religious sites” in Nagorno-Karabakh, following Azerbaijan’s aggressions against Armenia last Fall. USCIRF connected this conflict to concerns regarding anti-Armenian Christian rhetoric used by Turkish officials and throughout Turkish society, in a pattern of persecution against Christians living in the country. However, USCIRF failed to mention the severe religious freedom violations of the Grey Wolves, a harmful Turkic nationalist group that targets Christians.

ICC Director of Advocacy Matias Perttula welcomed release of the USCIRF report. “ICC applauds USCIRF’s work in compiling this report on the status of international religious freedom for 2021,” said Perttula. “We are once again happy to see a CPC recommendation for India, as the situation for religious minorities in the country continues to deteriorate. We support USCIRF’s recommendations for the State Department, and look forward to working with the U.S. government to continue to promote religious freedom around the world.

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