US religious freedom commission urges 'more aggressive' sanctions by Trump administration

US religious freedom commission urges 'more aggressive' sanctions

Isis training center in Christian church, Iraq. Credit: Lena Ha/Shutterstock
Isis training center in Christian church, Iraq. Credit: Lena Ha/Shutterstock

.- The Trump administration needs to step up its pressure on religious freedom violators, said leaders of a federal religious freedom commission on Monday.

While the administration is sanctioning human rights abusers, it is not applying the same level of pressure to persecutors of religious minorities around the world,  wrote Gayle Manchin, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in a joint op-ed with USCIRF vice-chair Tony Perkins in the Washington Examiner.

“The imposition of a more aggressive targeted sanctions regime would go a long way in deterring religious freedom violators, bringing accountability to the perpetrators, and ultimately creating a world where all are free to practice their faith,” Manchin and Perkins wrote.

Sanctions can take the form of visa restrictions or a freeze on an individual’s assets in the U.S. markets. The administration already has statutory authority to sanction human rights abusers to punish them, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Act.

Notably, Magnitsky sanctions were recently issued against Chinese officials complicit in the mass detention of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Chen Quanguo, Communist Party secretary for Xinjiang, and others were subject to visa bans and were barred from doing businesses with U.S. citizens.

When the sanctions were issued, USCIRF hailed them as “a major victory for religious freedom” as the CCP was being held accountable for “crimes against humanity” against the largely-Muslim population of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the region.

However, Manchin and Perkins pointed out in their op-ed, the Magnitsky sanctions being invoked by the U.S. against persecutors of religious minorities are “few in comparison” to the number of religious freedom abuses occurring worldwide.

In USCIRF’s 2020 annual report, the commission noted the administration’s use of Magnitsky sanctions to hold human rights abusers accountable; however, it pointed out that “only a few” of them “were related to religious freedom violations.” Of the 198 individuals sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act, only 16 of the sanctions were related to religious freedom.

An addition to the Immigration and Nationality Act allows the State Department to issue visa denials for those guilty of severe violations of religious freedom, but that authority was not used in 2019, USCIRF noted.

There were exceptions. For instance, the leader of a notorious Iran-backed Shi’a militia in Northern Iraq, Rayan al Kildani, was sanctioned by the U.S. last year for his acts of extortion, kidnappings, and harassment of Christians, Yazidis, and others in the region.

The architect of the crackdown in Burma which produced the mass displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims was also sanctioned. Two “hanging judges” in Iran who are infamous for imposing severe sentences and violating religious freedom were also sanctioned by the U.S. in 2019.

However, USCIRF says there should be more sanctions directly related to religious freedom abuses, if the Trump administration is truly serious about prioritizing international religious freedom.

The 2020 USCIRF report recommends sanctions of government officials in a number of countries, including Eritrea, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Cuba, and Nicaragua, as well as of leaders of non-state groups like Iraq’s PMF militias who are targeting and harassing religious minorities in the Nineveh region. The administration should also determine whether Saudi officials merit sanctions for their persecution of religious minorities, USCIRF says.

Tags: Religious freedom, President Donal Trump, US Commission on International Religious Freedom

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