The United States Commission On International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to "advance international freedom of religion or belief, by independently assessing and unflinchingly confronting threats to this fundamental right."
Created in 1998 by an Act of Congress, the USCIRF came into being to respond to growing threats to religious freedom worldwide and signaled a diplomatic shift in U.S. foreign policy. Going forward, any sovereign nation tolerating or contributing to the denial of a person or group's right to the religion or belief of their choice would be answerable and accountable in the form of economic and political sanctions against that nation.
Each year the Commission issues a report identifying areas of the globe where religious freedom does not exist or is under threat. When USCIRF labels a Country of Particular Concern, or CPC, that state has engaged in particularly appalling and ongoing violations of religious freedom. This year's Annual Report recommends that Cuba and Nicaragua be added to that infamous catalog for the first time.
Fifteen other countries are guilty of religious freedom violations, according to the report, and USCIRF recommends them as well to be classified as CPCs: Afghanistan, Burma, China, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. All are repeat offenders, classified as CPCs in earlier reports.
This year's report had few, if any, silver linings, painting a distressing picture of worsening conditions for religious minorities, particularly in Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, and Russia.
As USCIRF Chair Nury Turkel said, "USCIRF is disheartened by the deteriorating conditions for freedom of religion or belief in some countries— especially in Iran, where authorities harassed, arrested, tortured, and sexually assaulted people peacefully protesting against mandatory hijab laws, alongside their brutal continuing repression of religious minority communities.
"We strongly urge the Biden administration to implement USCIRF's recommendations—in particular, to designate the countries recommended as CPCs. . . We also stress the importance of Congress acting to prohibit any person from receiving compensation for lobbying on behalf of foreign adversaries, including those engaging in particularly severe violations of the right to freedom of religion of belief."
Since its inception, the USCIRF has documented abuses of religious freedom, ranging from the unacceptable to the unconscionable. Some recent examples: Since it invaded Ukraine, Russia has abducted that country's religious leaders and has persecuted minority religions such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims. In Burma, the military has engaged in a five-year campaign of overt genocide and crimes against humanity against the minority Rohingya people.
China continues imprisoning millions of minority Muslims, Buddhists and Christians on little or no pretext. In Iran, there is mass persecution of religious minorities—particularly Baha'is—and anyone daring to oppose the religious restrictions. Yet even threatened by torture, rape and death, the protests in Iran continue.
USCIRF Vice Chair Abraham Cooper sounded a note of resolve for the commission, saying, "Throughout the past year, the U.S. government continued to condemn abuses of religious freedom and hold perpetrators accountable through targeted sanctions and other tools. Moving forward, the United States should take additional steps to support freedom of religion or belief around the world. We urge Congress and the Executive Branch to implement the recommendations in USCIRF's 2023 Annual Report to further advance this universal, fundamental human right."
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.