- United States Commission on International Religious Freedom publishes annual report
- Report finds “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom in 14 countries
WASHINGTON DC (21 April 2021) – The threat to religious freedom remains strong worldwide – so says the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its annual report published this week. The report identifies 14 countries as “countries of particular concern” for their “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom, and recommends 12 other countries as needing special monitoring for their severe violations.
“Everyone has the right to choose their religion and to express it publicly and privately, without fear of persecution. The ongoing discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities undermines this right. USCIRF’s Annual Report continues to shed light on the worst abusers against people of faith and even no faith, and stands as a key resource for advocates and governments. We welcome the new report and hope the United States Government will heed the voices of the persecuted in developing its foreign policy priorities,” said Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom for ADF International.
Religious persecution is widespread
The 2021 annual report assesses religious freedom violations as well as progress made during calendar year 2020 in 26 countries, and makes independent recommendations for U.S. policy. USCIRF recommends that the U.S. Department of State designate Burma, China, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam as “countries of particular concern.” USCIRF also recommends that Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Turkey, and Uzbekistan be placed on the State Department’s “Special Watch List.”
USCIRF observed that Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), and Bahrain had made positive, although tentative, steps towards religious freedom. Yet in other countries, religious freedom conditions worsened.
Many countries used the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic to aggravate religious discrimination. USCIRF noted that China, Nigeria, and India were some of the worst violators of religious freedom.
In recent years, USCIRF has strongly criticized the Chinese government’s atrocities committed against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. In retaliation, China earlier this year sanctioned Gayle Manchin and Tony Perkins, the current Chair and Vice-Chair of USCIRF.
Platforms for the persecuted
2020 saw many developments in international advocacy for religious freedom. For example, the “International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief” was observed for the second time. The United Nations created the day as a reminder that everyone has the right to freedom of religion or belief.
Similarly, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted the third Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in November 2020. The Ministerial highlighted the stories of those who have faced persecution and provided a forum for advocates and government officials to discuss goals and strategies to better protect religious minorities and those persecuted for their religion.
At the release of the 2021 Annual Report, USCIRF commended the previous U.S. Administration for prioritizing religious freedom, and strongly urged the current U.S. Administration under President Biden to do the same, including by continuing to implement last year’s executive order on “Advancing International Religious Freedom.”
Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, said: “The recent USCIRF report reminds us that around the world people are facing persecution and denial of their fundamental rights. Christians in particular face widespread and severe persecution. No one should turn a blind eye to the plight Christians are facing every day, throughout the world.”