by Robert Marus, Associated Baptist Press
WASHINGTON (ABP) -- A bipartisan federal panel charged with monitoring religious-freedom questions worldwide blasted current and past administrations--Republican and Democratic alike-- for underemphasizing religious liberty in foreign policy.
In releasing its annual report on April 29, the independent United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
(USCIRF) took particular aim at President Obama--for a perceived softening of his rhetoric on religious liberty and for failing to name an ambassador for international religious freedom.
The report also re-suggested the same 13 nations the panel recommended last year to the administration to be deemed “Countries of Particular Concern
,” or CPCs
, for particularly egregious violations of religious freedom. They are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
In addition, the panel named 12 nations to a “watch list” for countries in danger of crossing over into CPC territory under the terms of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act
, which established the commission. They are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.Critical of inaction
The report was highly critical of the three administrations--those of Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton--that have operated since the panel came into existence for not doing enough to take advantage of its recommendations.
“USCIRF’s mandate is to delve into the human-rights ‘hot spots’ of the world where freedom of religion is being obstructed and trampled, and to offer policy solutions to improve conditions in that small but critically important point of intersection of foreign policy, national security, and international religious-freedom standards,” the report said.
“Regrettably, that small point seems to shrink year after year for the White House and the State Department. This is a deepening problem despite the fact that religious freedom should be increasingly more important as one of the core considerations in foreign policy and national security.”
For example, the report noted, neither the Bush nor Obama administrations designated as CPCs five countries the commission has repeatedly recommended for such status: Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkemenistan and Vietnam.
In addition, the nations that have been deemed CPCs by the State Department have rarely received any additional U.S. sanctions as a result. Instead, U.S. officials have chosen to simply remain with sanctions already placed on those countries for other reasons--an option the law that created the designation allows, but one that USCIRF members say the State Department has over-used.
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