Senator Lankford: Freedom of Religion Is Severely Violated Around The World

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today called on the Trump administration and international community to protect international religious freedom, in response to the release of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2017 Annual Report

“This report is further proof that the basic human right of freedom of religion is severely violated in many areas around the world. The report also shows the need to ensure that religious freedom is incorporated into the foreign policy of the United States. The right to practice any faith, or have no faith, is a fundamental human right of all people, no matter where they live. Nations that oppress this basic human right are bound to violate other human rights, and in some regions, the evil of religious-based genocide rises up within its borders.”

The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The IRFA requires the US government to designate as a “country of particular concern,” any country whose government engages in or tolerates particularly severe religious freedom violations that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious. To fulfill USCIRF’s mandate to advise the State Department on which countries should be designated as CPC, the Commission researches and monitors religious freedom conditions abroad and issues an annual report on countries with serious violations of religious freedom. For the first time, Russia was listed among its top list of worst violators.

Lankford continued, “The international community must do more to stand up for people around the world that cannot live out their conscience. In order to help protect and preserve this right for all, our American government should do more, and as a first step, nominate and confirm an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. As a nation, we cannot ensure that the fundamental right of religious freedom is protected for all people if we do not actively address the egregious violations being committed by nations with whom the United States interacts, including our own allies.”

USCIRF Chair Rev. Thomas J. Reese said, “Overall, the Commission has concluded that the state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations. In the 2017 report, the Commission calls for Congress and the administration to stress consistently the importance of religious freedom abroad, for everyone, everywhere, in public statements and public and private meetings.”

On April 13, Senator Lankford sent a letter to the President to express appreciation for his supportive religious freedom statements, and to encourage his administration to take steps to protect the freedom, both in America and around the world. The letter suggested specific action steps, including nominating an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department.

Key Points From Today’s USCIRF Report:

  • Russia – For the first time, Russia is designated as a “country of particular concern” (CPC), putting that country in a category with North Korea, China and Iran. A CPC is one whose “government engages in or tolerates particularly severe religious freedom violations that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious.” The Supreme Court in Russia recently banned Jehovah’s Witnesses from operating anywhere in the country.
  • Turkey, Cuba, and India – USCIRF recommends that Cuba, India and Turkey be designated as Tier 2 countries, meaning “nations in which the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious’ CPC standard.” Turkey has been holding an American citizen, Dr. Andrew Brunson, without charges since October 2016. 
  • Non-state Actors – For the first time, the USCIRF report also recommends the designation of non-state actors as “entities of particular concern,” (EPC) which are non-sovereign entities that exercises significant political power and territorial control; are outside the control of a sovereign government; and often employ violence in pursuit of its objectives.” The report recommends the designation of ISIS, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and al-Shabaab in Somalia as EPCs. On March 17, 2016, the State Department designated actions taken by ISIS – killing Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; Shia because they are Shia – as genocide.

Additionally, the USCIRF made several recommendations that Senator Lankford has called for as well:

  • Nomination of an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department;
  • Use of sanction authority for use against government officials responsible for routine and egregious violations;
  • Development of curriculum and mandatory training for all Foreign Service Officers; and
  • Development of a strategy to secure the release of prisoners detained on the basis of religion.