Commission on International Religious Freedom Releases Annual Report

Last week the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 2013 Annual Report. The report details the rights of religious minorities and the current state of government repression of religious practices around the world. In a statement issued at the report’s release the Commission Chair, Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett said, “The state of international religious freedom is increasingly dire due to the presence of forces that fuel instability.  These forces include the rise of violent religious extremism coupled with the actions and inactions of governments.”

The report designates fifteen “Countries of Particular Concern,” countries that have demonstrated violations of religious freedom that are “systematic, ongoing and egregious.” Eight of these countries – including China, Iran, North Korea and Sudan – had been listed last year as CPCs as well; seven countries – including Iraq, Nigeria and Vietnam – have been added to this list because of their worsening records on the issue.

Sadly the report contained serious concerns about religious freedom even in several countries that have seen major political progress in the last year. Despite major political reforms in Burma, the report notes that “Sectarian violence and severe abuses of religious freedom and human dignity targeting ethnic minority Christians and Muslims continue to occur with impunity.” There has been a lot of discussion about the fate of religious extremism and religious tolerance in Egypt given the changes over the past couple of years, however USCIRF reports that “the government has failed or been slow to protect from violence religious minorities, particularly Coptic Christians. The government continues to prosecute, convict, and imprison individuals for ‘contempt’ or ‘defamation’ of religion, and the new constitution includes several problematic provisions relevant to religious freedom.”

(To follow up on my post from earlier this week, the Commission released a separate special report on the state of religious freedom in Syria exploring the increasing violations of human rights resulting from the ongoing conflict.)

Of particular concern to the Reform Movement is the state of anti-Semitism around the world and, as always, the annual report contained a discussion of those trends. This year contained alarming instances of hate crimes motivated by anti-Semitism in Russia, unaddressed anti-Semitic rhetoric in the Egyptian media and increased Holocaust denial and defamation from political leaders in Iran. The report also called on the Obama Administration to immediately fill the post of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, a post vacated last year by Hannah Rosenthal.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was founded in 1998 after Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act. The Reform Movement played an integral role in advocating for this law and Rabbi David Saperstein served as the Commission’s inaugural chair. The Reform Movement has long been a passionate voice for international religious freedom, motivated both by our own experience of persecution and a deeply held belief in human rights. It is disheartening to see that this year’s annual report contains such distressing news about the state of religious freedom, but we will continue to be that voice as our work continues into the next year.

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About Benny Witkovsky

Benny Witkovsky is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant, he is from Madison, WI, and recently graduated from Vassar College.


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