The U.S. State Department’s list of six countries designated as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) for severe religious freedom violations in 2002 has come under fire from religious liberty advocates primarily because of the countries it failed to include.
Los Angeles (Compass) — In a March 5 press statement, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had singled out Burma (Myanmar), China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan for their lack of religious freedom, the same countries designated CPCs in 2001.
“Regrettably, the status of religious freedom has not significantly improved in any of these countries since that time,” the press statement said.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) immediately welcomed the designations, but expressed disappointment that six other countries were not included.
The USCIRF, which was established by the U.S. Congress in 1998 to give independent policy recommendations to the administration and Congress of the U.S. government, had recommended last September that the State Department also designate India, Laos, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam as CPCs.
“For three years, the Commission has recommended Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Laos for CPC status because of their deplorable religious freedom violations, yet none has been named,” said USCIRF chair Felice Gaer in a March 5 press release. “Even the State Department’s own report states that religious freedom ‘does not exist’ in Saudi Arabia.”
Commission spokesperson Anne Johnson told World Net Daily, “The State Department has already said there is no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. It would seem logical that they would take the next step.”
The designation of “countries of particular concern” is one of the ways the U.S. government can address religious persecution and pressure governments to reform. Depending on the situation or how a country responds, the U.S. Secretary of State can make or remove a CPC designation at any time.
“Advancing religious freedom remains a high priority of U.S. foreign policy, both as a universal human right and as a cornerstone of stable and free societies,” State Department spokesman Boucher said.
By law, the administration has 90 days to identify policy measures it will use in dealing with the CPCs.
But the USCIRF is concerned the State Department is not going far enough in dealing with human rights violators.
“In the past, the State Department has taken no additional policy action against CPCs, explicitly relying instead on pre-existing sanctions simply to meet requirements under the law. While this may be technically correct under the statute, it is indefensible as a matter of policy,” Commission chair Gaer said.
Saudi Arabia is a flash point in the religious liberty debate because of its lack of religious freedom and the politics of oil and war in the Middle East. The Muslim nation says it recognizes the rights of non-Muslims to worship in private, but in practice this right has often been denied. Scores of Christian guest workers have been arrested, imprisoned and deported during the last few years for holding private prayer meetings. And a Saudi citizen who converts from Islam to another faith risks death.
Open Doors, a Christian mission that focuses on countries where Christians are persecuted, ranks Saudi Arabia second on its World Watch List (WWL), just behind North Korea. The WWL ranks countries according to the severity of Christian persecution.
Copyright 2003 Compass Direct