White House Urged To Fight Religious Intolerance

A government panel charged with monitoring religious freedom around the world criticized the Obama and Bush administrations for not making the issue a bigger priority.

In a report released Thursday, the panel said there are still too many "hot spots" where religious freedom is endangered, and it urged the White House to do more to make basic religious rights universal.

Serious Violators

Myanmar
China
Eritrea
Iran
North Korea
Saudi Arabia
Sudan
Uzbekistan
Iraq
Nigeria
Pakistan
Turkmenistan
Vietnam

The panel named 13 countries as serious violators: eight named last year — Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan — plus Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

The report described violations of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia as "systematic, egregious and ongoing" despite limited reforms implemented by King Abdullah.

"In China, the government continues to engage in systematic and egregious violations of the freedom of religion or belief," the report says. It alleged "a marked deterioration in the past year, particularly in Tibetan Buddhist and Uighur Muslim areas."

It had similar observations for the other countries listed. In Iran, the panel noted "prolonged detention, torture and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused." It said the Tehran government's record deteriorated after contentious elections in June.

Congress created the Commission on International Religious Freedom in 1998. It's charged with recommending policies to improve religious freedom.

It is a "small but critically important point of intersection of foreign policy, national security and international religious freedom standards," the report says. "Regrettably, that small point seems to shrink year after year for the White House and the State Department."

Watch List

Afghanistan
Belarus
Cuba
Egypt
India
Indonesia
Russia
Somalia
Tajikistan
Turkey
Venezuela

U.S. actions currently in force against the eight violators named last year include embargoes, often on top of existing sanctions, and denial of military or financial aid. Sanctions have been waived indefinitely for Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan has a waiver of 180 days, which remains in force.

President Obama's administration has not officially accepted the 2009 findings or named the specified countries as violators of religious rights. Neither did the Bush administration between November 2006 and January 2009.

In addition to the 13 designated the worst violators, the report identified 12 countries on a watch list: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.

The commission's chairman, Leonard Leo, said in a statement that visits to the "hot spots" had found situations "where freedom of religion is obstructed and related human rights are trampled."

He said the report offers important foreign policy solutions that should be implemented. "The report's conclusion is clear," Leo said: "The administration must do more."

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