USCIRF Issues 2022 Annual Report with Policy Recommendations, over 15 countries recommended as Countries of Particular Concern
On April 25, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its 2022 Annual Report, detailing happenings in 2021, including severe regress in Afghanistan and the Central African Republic (CAR). USCIRF’s 2022 Annual Report makes suggestions to the US government on how to strengthen its promotion of religious freedom and belief worldwide.
The report highlights USCIRF recommendations that the US government has implemented, including the designation of Russia as a country of particular concern, the imposition of targeted sanctions against religious freedom violators, and determinations of genocide for atrocities committed by the Chinese government against Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims, as well as by the Burmese military against Rohingya Muslims.
“We are disheartened by the deterioration of freedom of religion or belief in some countries— especially Afghanistan under the Taliban’s de facto government since August. Religious minorities have faced harassment, detention, and even death due to their faith or beliefs, and years of progress toward more equitable access to education and representation of women and girls have disappeared,” USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza said. “Meanwhile, USCIRF is encouraged by the Biden administration’s continued prioritization of international religious freedom during its first year. To continue this progress, we strongly urge the administration to implement USCIRF’s recommendations—in particular, to expand its Priority 2 refugee designation to grant access for at-risk religious groups in Afghanistan, and to designate Nigeria as a country of particular concern.”
Due to USCIRF’s independence and bipartisanship, it is able to recognize challenges to religious freedom overseas without reservation.
USCIRF proposes to the State Department in its 2022 Annual Report 15 countries for classification as “countries of special concern” (CPCs) due to their governments’ involvement in or tolerance of “systematic, continuing, and egregious abuses.” -Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan—as well as five others: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam.
The State Department classified Russia as a CPC for the first time in 2021, after USCIRF’s recommendation in 2017.
Regrettably, the State Department withdrew Nigeria from the CPC despite its inclusion the previous year, and religious freedom circumstances continue to deteriorate.
Additionally, the 2022 Annual Report suggests that 12 countries be added to the State Department’s Special Watch List (SWL) due to their governments’ commission or tolerance of grave breaches. These include three countries added to the State Department’s list in November 2021—Azerbaijan, CAR, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, and Turkey—as well as nine others: Azerbaijan, CAR, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. USCIRF withdrew CAR from its SWL recommendations in 2021 due to a decline in religious-motivated targeting and violence in 2020, but these trends have subsequently reverted.
Further, the 2022 Annual Report proposes to the State Department the classification of seven non-state actors as “entities of particular concern” (EPCs) for committing systematic, continuous, and severe breaches. In November 2021, the State Department designated al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP or ISIS-West Africa), and Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin as EPCs: al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and Hay’at Tahrir al- (JNIM).
Over the last year, the United States government has continued to denounce religious freedom violations and hold offenders responsible via targeted penalties and other available instruments. The United States should take further actions in the future to promote religious freedom and belief across the globe.
The USCIRF’s 2022 Annual Report presents suggestions to Congress and the Executive Branch on how to further achieve this universal, basic human right,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Nury Turkel.
Along with chapters outlining major results and US policy recommendations for each of these 27 nations, the yearly report examines and evaluates the United States’ broader worldwide religious freedom policy. Additionally, the paper covers significant worldwide occurrences and trends affecting religious freedom in 2021—including in nations that do not fit the CPC or SWL requirements. These include the COVID-19 epidemic and religious freedom, legal enforcement against blasphemy and hate speech, international persecution, religious intolerance in Europe, worsening religious freedom circumstances in South Asia, and political turmoil raising religious freedom concerns.
Additionally, the report includes sections highlighting key USCIRF recommendations implemented by the US government in response to USCIRF’s 2021 Annual Report, discussing human rights violations committed as a result of coercive enforcement of religious interpretations, and providing information on individuals listed on USCIRF’s Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) Victims List and Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief.