[JURIST] The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) [official website] has released [press release; materials] its annual report on worldwide religious freedoms, elevating Iraq and Nigeria to its list of "countries of particular concern" (CPC) and adding six new countries to its "watch list." The other CPC are Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. The six new countries on the second level "watch list" are Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela, which join Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, and Indonesia. Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, and Sri Lanka are "closely monitored." According to the report, released Friday:
Despite the efforts of the Commission, the State Department, and Congress, individuals and communities around the world continue to suffer severe violations of their human rights on account of their religious beliefs or because they hold no beliefs. As it has done with prior administrations, the Commission will continue to engage the President and other U.S. government leaders, providing recommendations and raising public and private concerns about issues affecting respect for freedom of religion or belief. While much has been accomplished in the past decade, the Commission, as well as U.S. international religious freedom policy, still has a great deal to accomplish.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized [press release, in Mandarin] the report as "unfounded" and "biased."
The USCIRF is composed of 10 members appointed by the president and congress. If the president adds the 13 recommended countries to the list of CPC, the secretary of state would be required to enter into negotiations with those governments and could subject them to sanctions. In 2007, Iraq was added to the "watch list" [JURIST report] for the first time since the ouster of Saddam Hussein. That same year, the Chinese government rejected the report [JURIST report] as prejudiced.