U.S. State Department Releases 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom

NRB | June 25, 2020 | Advocacy

The U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom released its 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom earlier this month – just a week after the President signed the first-ever executive order instructing the entire U.S. Government to prioritize religious freedom.

“There is no other nation that cares so deeply about religious freedom, that we gather accounts from all across the world – it’s an enormous, it’s a comprehensive accounting of this fundamental human right,” stated U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in announcing the report’s June 10 release.

Mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA), the International Religious Freedom Report details the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 foreign countries and territories and describes U.S. actions and policies in support of religious freedom worldwide.

U.S. embassies prepare the initial drafts of country chapters based on information from government officials, religious groups, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, media, and others.  The Office of International Religious Freedom, based in Washington, collaborates in collecting and analyzing additional information, drawing on its consultations with foreign government officials, domestic and foreign religious groups, domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations, multilateral and other international and regional organizations, journalists, academic experts, community leaders, and other relevant U.S. government institutions.

“I commend the report released today to everyone. Its very existence is evidence of our strong resolve to defend human dignity,” said Pompeo.

Just a week earlier, on June 2, after a visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine to commemorate the 41st Anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s First Pilgrimage to Poland, President Trump signed an Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom, further solidifying it as a foundational principle of American foreign policy.

Under the order, the President is directing U.S. Ambassadors and Foreign Service Officers to promote, defend, and support religious freedom, which he described as “America’s first freedom” and “a moral and national security imperative.”

Furthermore, the United States will prioritize religious freedom in its foreign aid programs and use other economic tools to help advance these goals. At the President’s direction, the State Department will coordinate with USAID to ensure at least $50 million per year is allocated for programs that advance international religious freedom.

“As stated in the 2017 National Security Strategy, our Founders understood religious freedom not as a creation of the state, but as a gift of God to every person and a right that is fundamental for the flourishing of our society,” the order stated.

Also released recently was the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2020 Annual Report, which assesses religious freedom violations and progress during calendar year 2019 in 29 countries and makes independent recommendations for U.S. policy. The key findings, recommendations, and analysis in the report are based on a year’s research by USCIRF, including travel, hearings, meetings, and briefings, and are approved by a majority vote of Commissioners, with each Commissioner, under the statute, having the option to include a statement with his or her own individual views.

The report’s main focus is on two groups of countries: first, those that USCIRF recommends the State Department should designate as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) under IRFA, and second, those that USCIRF recommends the State Department should place on its Special Watch List (SWL), a lesser category.

The Annual Report’s emphasis on countries that, in USCIRF’s view, merit CPC or SWL designation is intended to focus the attention of U.S. policymakers on countries where the governments perpetrate or tolerate the worst violations of religious freedom globally.

For 2020, based on religious freedom conditions in 2019, USCIRF recommended that the State Department:

  • Redesignate as CPCs the following nine countries: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan;
  • Designate as additional CPCs the following five countries: India, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam;
  • Maintain on the SWL the following four countries: Cuba, Nicaragua, Sudan, and Uzbekistan;
  • Include on the SWL the following 11 countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Central African Republic (CAR), Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, and Turkey.

To read the full version of the USCIRF 2020 Annual Report, click here.

To read the State Department’s 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom, click here.

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