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Senator Lankford Statement on State Department ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ Designations

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today made a statement on the State Department’s release of their designation of  ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ (CPC). The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 requires the annual designation of ‘countries of particular concern,’ which are nations that have ‘engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom’: 

“This year’s CPC designations are a stark reminder that many people in our world do not enjoy basic human rights such as the freedom to exercise a faith of their choosing without fear of persecution. In 1998, Congress declared that ‘freedom of religious belief and practice is a universal human right and fundamental freedom,’ but that freedom ‘is under renewed and, in some cases, increasing assault in many countries around the world.’ Today’s CPC designations show that this sad reality remains just as true today. The United States and the world must do more to hold countries like China, North Korea, Iran, and Burma accountable for their egregious record of religious freedom abuses.

“This designation is also further proof why we need a strong diplomatic advocate in the State Department working to protect and advance religious freedom abroad; the Senate must confirm Governor Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom without delay. As a world leader for freedom and the protection of basic human rights, the United States should take every opportunity to advocate for people to think, believe, and act according to their faith, whether they belong to a minority or majority religion in their nation.”

Of note, the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern. The Secretary today also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom. In October, Lankford and a bipartisan group of Senators urged the State Department to add Pakistan to this list.

Senator Lankford believes that CPC designations, sanctions (under both the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and the International Religious Freedom Act), and the inclusion of religious freedom in negotiations with our trade partners are essential tools that must be used in the condemnation of acts of religious persecution. In 2015, Lankford successfully introduced a Trade Promotion Authority amendment that requires the President’s administration to take religious freedom into account whenever negotiating trade agreements. In response to the release of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2017 Annual Report in April, Lankford called on the Trump administration and international community to do more to protect international religious freedom. In May, Lankford joined Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) to introduce a bipartisan resolution (S.Res.162) to affirm the commitment of the United States to promote religious freedom and condemn persecution based on faith.

The CPC designation is made in addition to the State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. In 2015, the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act expanded the CPC designation requirement to include non-state actors as well. Senator Lankford successfully advocated for this expansion in the Senate State, Foreign Operations appropriations bill.