Leadership Council for Human Rights

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

USCIRF Announces Countries of Particular Concern Recommendations for 2006

May 3, 2006

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its “Countries of Particular Concern” recommendations today for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s review. Eleven countries are on USCIRF’s list: Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, People’s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were not designated CPCs last year; USCIRF recommends that the other countries listed remain CPCs. On the Commission’s “watch list” are Afghanistan and Egypt, along with Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Indonesia and Nigeria. In addition to these countries, USCIRF Commissioner Richard Land spoke about growing religious freedom concerns in Iraq tied to sectarian violence.

Chair of the Commission Michael Cromartie said there is a “growing strategic importance of protecting religious freedom” around the world. Vice-chair Nina Shea added that the CPC designation “lays the groundwork for U.S. relations with these countries.”

On Afghanistan, Commissioner Preeta Bansal called the country’s religious freedom status “increasingly problematic,” pointing to the highly publicized conversion case of Abdul Rahman. Bansal said Rahman’s ordeal is not an isolated incident because of a failure to protect individuals’ religious freedom in the Afghan constitution. According to Bansal, Afghan Supreme Court Chief Justice Shinwari has told the Commission that while he supports most of the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he does not support freedom of religion, freedom of speech or gender equality.

Egypt, while not discussed during the USCIRF press conference, is cited as a violator of religious freedom in the group’s report. According to the report, “Serious problems of discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations against members of religious minorities, as well as non-conforming Muslims, remain widespread in Egypt.”

Land described a “grave escalation” of religious motivated violence in Iraq, which is afflicting not just Shi’a and Sunnis, but also secular Muslims, Christians, and others. “The U.S. has a special responsibility” to remedy these problems, Land said, calling for a senior foreign service officer to be appointed as the lead human rights official in Iraq. An independent National Human Rights Commission is also needed.

While Shea described some improvements for religious freedom in Vietnam, including the release of prisoners of conscience, she also cited “credible reports of forced renunciation” and said “we should not reward Vietnam too quickly by removing the CPC designation.”


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