Pakistan rejects US State Department inclusion in religious freedom concern list News
Pakistan rejects US State Department inclusion in religious freedom concern list

Pakistan rejected Monday its designation as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) by the United States State Department over religious freedom concerns in the South Asian country. The US State Department designated Pakistan as a CPC on January 4 following a recommendation from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

The Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a press release on Monday that categorically rejected its designation as a CPC, criticizing the decision as biased and detached from ground realities. The statement asserted, “Pakistan is a pluralistic country, with a rich tradition of interfaith harmony. In line with its Constitution, Pakistan has undertaken wide-ranging measures to promote religious freedom and protect minority rights.” The statement expressed deep concern over India’s exclusion from the list, despite recommendations by the USCIRF and international human rights concerns about India’s treatment of religious minorities. Pakistan questioned the process’s credibility, transparency, and objectivity, asserting that such unilateral exercises undermine the shared objective of advancing religious freedom globally. Pakistan advocated for countering religious intolerance through constructive engagement and collective efforts based on mutual understanding and respect. The press release added, “Pakistan’s concerns about the designation is being conveyed to the U.S. side.”

The State Department has designated Burma, China, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as CPCs for severe violations of religious freedom. Algeria, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Comoros, and Vietnam are on the department’s Special Watch List (SPL), which contains countries that do not meet all the CPC criteria. Additionally, specific entities like al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS-Sahel, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin, and the Taliban are also designated. The department emphasizes the need for global efforts to address structural and systemic challenges to religious freedom, urging an end to abuses worldwide.

The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission established by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). It monitors global religious freedom violations using international standards and makes policy recommendations to the US president, secretary of state and Congress. IRFA mandates the secretary of state to designate “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) for systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom. USCIRF recommends countries meeting the CPC threshold and IRFA grants the Secretary of State flexible policy options, including sanctions or waivers, to address these violations. These actions are not automatically imposed but provide a range of responses to serious religious freedom abuses.

USCIRF in a press release on January 4 expressed extreme disappointment with the State Department for not designating Nigeria and India as CPCs, despite meeting the legal standard. USCIRF called for a congressional hearing on the matter. Furthermore, they also highlighted the waiver of sanctions on Pakistan despite its re-designation as a CPC. Earlier in December, USCIRF had reiterated its recommendation of re-designation for Pakistan in a report on the abuse of blasphemy laws against minorities.