WORLD: USCIRF releases 2023 Annual Report highlighting worsening religious freedom conditions worldwide
Includes new recommendations of Cuba and Nicaragua as “Countries of Particular Concern” and Sri Lanka for the “Special Watch List”
USCIRF (01.05.2023) – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today released its 2023 Annual Report documenting developments during 2022, including significant regression in countries such as Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, and Russia. USCIRF’s 2023 Annual Report provides recommendations to enhance the U.S. government’s promotion of freedom of religion or belief abroad.
USCIRF’s independence and bipartisanship enables it to unflinchingly identify threats to religious freedom abroad. In its 2023 Annual Report, USCIRF recommends 17 countries to the State Department for designation as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) because their governments engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations” of the right to freedom of religion or belief. These include 12 that the State Department designated as CPCs in November 2022: Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan—as well as five additional recommendations: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam. For the first time ever, the State Department designated Cuba and Nicaragua as CPCs in 2022.
“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.” USCIRF Chair Nury Turkel said. “We strongly urge the Biden administration to implement USCIRF’s recommendations—in particular, to designate the countries recommended as CPCs, and for the Special Watch List, or SWL, and to review U.S. policy toward the four CPC-designated countries for which waivers were issued on taking any action. 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.”
The 2023 Annual Report also recommends 11 countries for placement on the State Department’s SWL based on their governments’ perpetration or toleration of severe religious freedom violations. These include two that the State Department placed on that list in November 2022: Algeria and Central African Republic (CAR)—as well as nine additional recommendations: Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. USCIRF is recommending the State Department add Sri Lanka to the SWL for the first time due to its deteriorating religious freedom conditions in 2022.
USCIRF further recommends to the State Department seven non-state actors for redesignation as “entities of particular concern” (EPCs) for systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations. The State Department designated all seven of these groups as EPCs in November 2022: 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 (JNIM).
“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,” USCIRF Vice Chair Abraham Cooper stated.
In addition to chapters with key findings and U.S. policy recommendations for these 28 countries, the 2023 Annual Report describes and assesses U.S. international religious freedom policy overall. The report also highlights important global developments and trends related to religious freedom during 2022—including in countries that do not meet the criteria for CPC or SWL recommendations. These include transnational repression and influence by religious freedom violators, religious freedom concerns in Europe, laws restricting religious freedom, emerging religious freedom concerns in other countries, positive developments in combating antisemitism, and religious freedom concerns for indigenous peoples in Latin America.
The report also highlights key USCIRF recommendations that the U.S. government has implemented from USCIRF’s 2022 Annual Report—including adding CAR to the State Department’s SWL, imposing targeted sanctions on religious freedom violators, and recognizing the Burmese military’s atrocities against Rohingya Muslims as genocide and crimes against humanity—and provides details on individuals included in USCIRF’s Freedom or Religion or Belief