Watchdog Says Religious Freedom Violators Should Not Have Sanctions Waived

CNS News | 4/30/2019 | Staff
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(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Monday acknowledged the Trump administration’s “high-level commitment” to advancing religious freedom, but expressed concern that egregious violators have little incentive to improve as long as sanctions against them are waived indefinitely.

In its newly-released annual report, covering 2018, the USCIRF examined the situations in 28 countries, offering recommendations to the executive and legislative branch on ways of prodding those countries to improve, using the provisions of U.S. law.

Release - USCIRF - Report - Administration - November

Since the release of the last USCIRF annual report, the administration last November designated Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” (CPC), a decision welcomed by the independent statutory watchdog, which had been calling for the step since 2002, to no avail.

The USCIRF said the administration has taken action on its commitments to prioritize religious freedom, citing the appointment of former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Brownback had “energetically implemented his mandate,” it said.

State - Department - Hosting - Ministerial - Advance

It also pointed to State Department’s hosting of the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, last July, and programs and initiatives that had emerged from that. A second is planned for this summer.

An issue that has troubled the USCIRF for years has been the way the executive branch has dealt with CPC designations.

International - Religious - Freedom - Act - IRFA

Under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), administrations are required to designate as CPCs countries that have engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” The statute provides for sanctions or other measures designed to encourage improvement.

In its report, the commission noted that of the ten current CPCs, four are spared sanctions due to waivers citing the “important national interest of the United States.”

Saudi - Arabia - Turkmenistan - Tajikistan - Pakistan

The four are Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and the recently-designated Pakistan.

The other six are subject to so-called “double-hatted sanctions” – in other words, they are already facing...
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