USCIRF Releases Annual Findings on International Religious Freedom
This year’s report followed a similar pattern as previous years, recommending 17 countries to include in the Dept. of State’s (DOS) Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list, and 11 for its lower Special Watch List (SWL) designation. Both designations carry the threat of penalties and are used to advance religious freedom conditions around the world.
New to the CPC recommendations this year are Cuba and Nicaragua—which USCIRF had previously recommended for the SWL in 2022. Deteriorating conditions in those countries prompted the escalated recommendation.
“In Cuba,” the 2023 report says, “the government [seeks] total dominance over religious life in the country…[and] the regime in Nicaragua has sharply increased its persecution of the Catholic Church by imprisoning clergy, shuttering church-affiliated organizations, and prohibiting Catholic rituals.”
Sri Lanka was added to USCIRF’s SWL recommendations for the first time. USCIRF cited severe violations of religious freedom such as “…discrimination against religious minorities in the form of targeted arrests using problematic legislation and appropriation of land and property.”
USCIRF also recommended that the Department of State name Nigeria and India as CPCs for the dismal state of religious freedom and Christian persecution in those countries. The DOS’s continued decision to not designate these countries as CPCs has been a point of tension between the two government bodies in recent years, with USCIRF expressing its “tremendous disappointment” at the decision in its most recent report.
USCIRF Chair Nury Turkel addressed the disagreement directly during the report launch, but also emphasized the critical role filled by the DOS Office of International Religious Freedom and the need for continued cooperation between the two.
“This is an impressive body of work released annually by USCIRF,” said International Christian Concern (ICC) President Jeff King. “We so appreciate USCIRF’s efforts to bring likeminded agencies, groups, and governments together to tackle religious persecution hotspots globally. We are baffled at how bad state actors such as India and Nigeria can escape CPC designation by the State Department. USCIRF’s well-documented report – and our own reports and findings – highlights the atrocities taking place in those countries.”
USCIRF recommendations align with actual DOS designations in 14 cases—Algeria, Burma, Central African Republic, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. In addition to these, USCIRF recommended CPC designation for Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam and SWL designation for Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.