The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Monday released its 2022 annual report, which noted “significant regress” in countries such as Afghanistan and the Central African Republic.
As part of its report, USCIRF recommended that the US Department of State designate 15 countries as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs), as their governments are involved in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations.” USCIRF recommended that Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam are designated as CPCs.
The State Department has power under the International Religious Freedom Act to designate countries as CPCs. Of the 15 countries recommended by USCIRF, 10 were listed as CPCs in 2021. In 2021, the State Department designated Russia as a CPC for the first time. However, despite USCIRF’s recommendation, the department removed Nigeria as a CPC.
Under the Wolf Act, the department also has the power to designate countries that “engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom during the previous year” but did not meet all CPC criteria to a “Special Watch List” (SWL). USCIRF recommended that the department place 12 countries on the SWL list: Algeria, Cuba, Nicaragua, Azerbaijan, CAR, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. Algeria, Cuba, and Nicaragua are already listed on the department’s 2021 list.
The report noted other key developments that impacted global religious freedom, including COVID-19, blasphemy and hate speech law enforcement, transnational repression, religious intolerance in Europe, and political upheaval. It also reflected the USCIRF recommendations that the US implemented in 2021, which included sanctions, increased aid to support religious freedom, and countermeasures to Chinese government influence operations in the US.
USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza said:
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.