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US Commission Names 13 Nations for Violating Religious Freedoms

Cover of the annual report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Cover of the annual report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Meredith Buel

A new report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has named 13 countries for severe violations of religious freedom.  

The commission says its mandate is to investigate what it calls human rights hot spots around the world where freedom of religion is, in the words of Thursday's report, obstructed and trampled.

For egregious violations of religious freedom, the commission cites Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

The chairman of the commission is Leonard Leo:

"The annual report documents how, in many countries, religious communities continue to experience severe persecution," said Leonard Leo. "Notably, we have found that in majority-Muslim countries, it is oftentimes those governments that repress the free practice of Islam the most."

The commission is recommending the U.S. State Department officially designate the 13 nations as countries of particular concern, a move that could lead to sanctions against them.

Leo says the panel also recommends other countries, including Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba and Egypt be put on a watch list for close monitoring of serious violations of religious freedom.

"During our missions this year to places like Nigeria and Egypt, we have witnessed how the absence of accountability breeds lawlessness and the breakdown of justice," he said. "This is impunity and it encourages individuals to attack and even kill those who dissent from or fail to embrace other's religious views."

Other countries on the watch list include India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.

The commission says if the U.S. is concerned about countering extremism, religious freedom must be a critical component of America's diplomacy, national security and economic development.

Leo says the Obama administration has been insufficiently engaged in promoting freedom of religion or belief abroad.

"The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is concerned that U.S. foreign policy on religious freedom is missing the mark," said Leo. "Certainly symbolic of this is the fact that the ambassador at large on international religious freedom has yet to be named well over a year into the administration."

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor says that he does not think the report has any basis in fact.

Vietor says the "president has spoken clearly and unequivocally about his support for religious freedom."

The commission criticizes prior Democratic and Republican administrations for not making religious freedom a top foreign policy priority.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent panel created by the U.S. Congress and funded by the government.  

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