USCIRF Releases 2020 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom

Each year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) releases a comprehensive report in which they discuss the situations in countries which are the most repressive regarding religious freedom. These reports serve as a major source of information produced by a U.S. government agency. These reports which detail restrictions on the exercise of religion are referenced by humanitarian and religious freedom organizations and even government officials, but they also present recommendations for improvement. This year’s report focuses on recommending nations for Country of Particular Concern (CPC) designation by the U.S. Department of State as well as nations to be placed on the Special Watch List as defined within the International Religious Freedom Act. USCIRF’s recommendations are provided to the US Department of State, which if in agreement with the CPC designation triggers a list of sanctions, which an administration then can waive pertaining to each designated country.

The United States Department of State has historically maintained CPC designation for nine nations: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Each of these nations, particularly the first half of the list, have received a plethora of media attention for their violations of religious freedom: from the ethnic violence and persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, the arbitrary and prolonged detention of religious minorities in China, Eritrea, and Iran, to the absolute nonexistence of human rights in North Korea.

However, USCIRF does recommend an additional five countries for CPC designation: India, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam. These countries inarguably have extremely high levels of religious persecution worthy of consideration and CPC designation. In India, “the national government allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity,” and the unprecedented Citizenship Act has granted to thousands of religious minorities Indian citizenship, with the exception of Muslims who continue to receive harassment and discrimination. Violence against Christians has also increased with at least 328 violent incidents reported in 2019. This includes mob attacks of prayer services which has led to the widespread shuttering and destruction of churches. Based upon the significant increase of religious oppression, USCIRF has recommended CPC designation for India.

In Nigeria, ethno-religious violence in the Middle Belt combined with government inaction continues to foster an unsafe environment for Nigerian Christians. In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and Scientologists are consistently detained and fined for membership in “nontraditional” religions. And in Vietnam, the greatest issue regarding religious freedom is the government’s refusal to grant citizenship and identification information to Montagnard and Hmong Christians, leaving tens of thousands essentially stateless. Jubilee Campaign applauds USCIRF’s recommendations of each of these countries for US Department of State CPC designations, and we encourage the State Department to follow these recommendations, including for newly recommended India.

In addition to discussing the numerous countries in which religious freedom has declined throughout the past year, USCIRF raised some positive points as well. In Sudan, the transitional government drafted a new temporary constitution that eliminated the provision designating Islam as the national religion and included a provision protecting religious freedom. These are encouraging steps for the Christian minorities in Khartoum, although Christians in other parts of Sudan remain at risk. As a result of engagement and positive steps, USCIRF recommends that Sudan be designated under the Special Watch List rather than a CPC. In Uzbekistan, “the government ended its longstanding practice of raiding religious communities for unregistered activity or unauthorized distribution or possession of literature.” Yet, recent government repressive targeting of Christian converts has occurred. USCIRF still recommends that Uzbekistan be placed on the Special Watch List, as the arbitrary detention of Muslims has continued despite promises to improve the status of religious freedom in Uzbekistan.

View USCIRF’s 2020 Annual report in its entirety here.