A bipartisan U.S. government panel on Thursday urged the State Department to double the number of countries named as severe violators of religious freedom.
The chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
, Robert George, testified before a House subcommittee on Foreign Affairs.
He said it had been eight years since the State Department added, or removed, a country from its list of so-called Countries of Particular Concern on religious liberty, or CPCs.
“We’re concerned that the designations that have been made in the past simply become, in the words of our vice chairman Katrina Lantos Swett, the great human rights champion, 'part of the wallpaper' that nobody pays attention to,” he said.
There are now eight states designated as CPCs in the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report
, including Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
George said recent events warrant the addition of another eight, including Pakistan and Syria.
Critics say naming and shaming violators can complicate diplomacy aimed at improving conditions for religious liberty.
George disagreed. He said, “The designation process and the possibility of punitive actions can breathe new life into diplomatic efforts, that should both precede and follow the designation, and stimulate political will in foreign capitals.”
George also told lawmakers he is concerned because the State Department’s post of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom has been vacant since October.
The Commission on International Religious Freedom includes members of the three main Abrahamic faiths. But it has been criticized for being more concerned with persecution against Christians than people of other religions.
A day before the hearing, the commission condemned a bill in the Turkish parliament to turn the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul
- which has been both a Christian and Muslim place of worship - back into a mosque