I posted earlier this week about the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s special report on violations of religious liberty in Syria. Also this week, USCIRF issued its annual, comprehensive (364 pages) report on religious freedom around the world. It makes for interesting reading.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan government advisory body that monitors global religious freedom and makes non-binding policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state, and Congress. Two of the Commissioners have ties to First Things. Vice Chair Mary Ann Glendon sits on the Board of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, which publishes the magazine, and Commissioner Robert P. George sits on the Advisory Council.
Each year, USCIRF suggests countries for inclusion on the State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern”–countries whose governments engage in or tolerate especially bad violations of religious freedom. In this year’s report, USCIRF names fifteen such countries, including Burma, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, and Vietnam.
Iraq’s appearance on the list is especially noteworthy. Notwithstanding the Iraqi government’s “efforts to increase security for religious sites and worshippers, provide a stronger voice for Iraq’s smallest minorities in parliament, and revise secondary school textbooks to portray minorities in a more positive light,” the report states, the government “continues to tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, including violent religiously-motivated attacks.” Please note: Ten years after a U.S.-led war to topple a dictator and establish the rule of law, things are so bad that a U.S. government commission has named Iraq as a particularly worrisome country with respect to religious freedom. Let’s hope the people running our Syria policy are paying attention.
With respect to American policy on religious freedom generally, the report shows some frustration. One gets the distinct sense that the commissioners think the Obama administration should make global religious freedom more a priority. For example, the report decries the downgrading of the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and the downsizing of her staff. And it criticizes the administration for not taking more concrete action with respect to “countries of particular concern” that the State Department already has named.
The report contains a thematic section with helpful material on a variety of issues; this section will be especially useful for scholars. Among the issues addressed are constitutional changes in Muslim-majority countries and the increasing adoption and enforcement of anti-blasphemy laws around the world.