Washington – Just before the end of the Bush administration last January, the U.S. State Department redesignated eight nations as “countries of particular concern” because of their religious freedom violations.
The independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom learned of the designations, which were authorized Jan. 16 under then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and announced them on Friday (March 27). The panel had asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in February to release the department’s latest list of designated countries.
The State Department responded by sending the commission Rice’s designations of Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as “countries of particular concern.” Those same countries were named in 2006.
“The Commission is disappointed that Secretary Rice refused to designate any new countries and that waivers were granted for both Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia,” said Felice Gaer, chair of the religious freedom commission.
“Religious freedom conditions in Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia are appalling and a specific U.S. government response is required.”
The commissioners considered the waivers given to Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia “a pass,” despite conditions in those countries.
The State Department also declined the panel’s recommendation to add Iraq, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam as other countries with significant religious freedom violations.
“The designation of `Countries of Particular Concern’ is important in promoting religious freedom,” wrote Acting Assistant Secretary Karen B. Stewart, in the response letter to Gaer. “The Department values and takes into consideration the Commission’s recommendations when making recommendations to the secretary regarding designations.”
Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service
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