Report on international religious freedom draws praise, concern

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

.- The U.S. State Department’s recent Report on International Religious Freedom is eliciting both praise for its efforts to promote religious rights around the world and criticism for not doing enough.

Leonard Leo, chairman of the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom commended the State Department for its efforts but expressed concern “that no new countries were added to the list” of countries of particular concern, known as CPCs, since last year. All eight of the countries designated as CPCs had been on the list last year.

“Repeating the current list continues glaring omissions,” Leo said. He noted that his commission had recommended earlier this year that Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam also be added to the list.

“Since CPC designations can be made at any time, we respectfully urge Secretary Clinton to consider the six additional countries we recommended for designation,” he said.

Leo also urged the State Department to engage in “vigorous U.S. diplomatic activity to seek improvements with respect to this fundamental human right.”

Each year, the State Department is required to review every country in the world to determine which governments have “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Any country that meets these criteria is placed on the State Department’s list.

The annual report was released on Sept. 13 by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who designated eight countries as being of concern. They are: Burma, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Eritrea, Iran, the People’s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

“The protection of religious freedom is a fundamental concern of the United States going back to the earliest days of our republic, and it remains so today,” Secretary Clinton said.

“When governments crack down on religious expression, when politicians or public figures try to use religion as a wedge issue, or when societies fail to take steps to denounce religious bigotry and curb discrimination based on religious identity, they embolden extremists and fuel sectarian strife,” she continued.

Secretary Clinton praised the U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution 1618, which was adopted in March. Introduced by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the resolution “calls on all states to take concrete action against religious bigotry through tolerance, education, government outreach, service projects, and interfaith dialogue.”

Suzan Johnson Cook, Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, said that the State Department’s report is one step in working towards greater religious freedom worldwide.

“We hope it will prompt other countries to redouble their efforts to create an environment where citizens can freely follow their faith or profess no faith, according to their own conscience,” she said.

Ambassador Cook said that the United States must continue to engage government and religious leaders in other countries and to call attention to governments that violate the rights of their citizens. In addition, she said that later this year, she will hold a meeting of experts from around the world, to discuss further ways to promote freedom of religion.

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