On December 7, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States of America had designated Pakistan, China and eight other nations as ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ for violation of religious freedom. Pompeo added that Myanmar, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were also placed in the list for “engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing egregious violations of religious freedom.”
The U.S. is unwavering in its commitment to religious freedom. No country or entity should be allowed to persecute people with impunity because of their beliefs. These annual designations show that when religious freedom is attacked, we will act.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 7, 2020
Four other countries, namely Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia have been added to a Special Watch List as the governments in these countries have engaged in or tolerated severe violation of religious freedom. In his statement, Pompeo said, “Religious freedom is an unalienable right, and the bedrock upon which free societies are built and flourish. Today, the United States, a nation founded by those fleeing religious persecution, as the recent Commission on Unalienable Rights report noted, once again took action to defend those who simply want to exercise this essential freedom.” He added, “The U.S. is unwavering in its commitment to religious freedom. No country or entity should be allowed to persecute people with impunity because of their beliefs. These annual designations show that when religious freedom is attacked, we will act.”
Entities of Particular Concern
The US has listed ISIS, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, al-Qaida, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern.
The prior status of Entity of Particular Concern for Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Khorasan has not been renewed as they have lost total control over these territories.
He said, “While these two groups no longer meet the statutory criteria for designation, we will not rest until we have fully eliminated the threat of religious freedom abuses by any violent extremist and terrorist groups.”
Sudan and Uzbekistan no longer in SWL
Pompeo said that the governments in Sudan and Uzbekistan had taken ‘significant and concrete steps’ over the past year. Thus, the countries have been removed from the Special Watch List. He said, “Their courageous reforms of their laws and practices stand as models for other nations to follow.”
He added that a lot of work is pending and the US will continue to work to end religiously motivated abuses and persecution across the globe so that each person has the right to live as per the ‘dictates of the conscience’ all the times.
Nigeria added for the first time in CPC list
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has praised the State Department’s announcement for adding ten nations to the list Countries of Particular Concern. Nigeria has been added for the first time. The four countries in the SWL have been added for the severe violations under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin said that the organization particularly welcome Department’s move to add Nigeria in the list for the first time. USCIRF had been recommending Nigeria for CPC since 2009. “Nigeria is the first secular democracy that has been named a CPC, which demonstrates that we must be vigilant that all forms of governments respect religious freedom,” he added.
Vice-Chair Tony Perkins said that while the organization recommended keeping Uzbekistan and Sudan in CPC, “It is undeniable the historic progress that has been made in these two countries. We hope that their progress encourages positive change in other places around the world.”
The USCIRF had recommended adding India, Russia, Syria and Vietnam in the list of CPCs but the State Department denied it. In April this year, the Ministry of External Affairs had issued a strong-worded response to USCIRF’s claims on religious freedom in the country. MEA spokesperson Anurag Shrivastava had said, “We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF Annual Report. Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels. It has not been able to carry its own commissioners in its endeavour. We regard it as an organisation of particular concern and will treat it accordingly.”