Burma (Morning Star News) After shutting down at least 10 churches in early September, ethnic Wa rebels in eastern Burma (Myanmar) have closed dozens of other churches and detained 92 Christian leaders and 42 students in a bid to curtail Christian activities, sources said.
The United Wa State Army (UWSA) in late September detained the Christian leaders and students in territory it controls in Shan state, leaders of the Lahu Baptist Convention said in statement released on Tuesday (Sept. 25). Some students were also forced to serve as UWSA soldiers, according to the statement.
The 52 churches in Mong Pauk Township have been shut down, and the UWSA destroyed three church buildings and removed all Christian symbols such as crosses, according to the ethnic Lahu Christian leaders. A few religious schools also have been shut down.
Earlier in September, the UWSA troops shut down at least 10 churches, including six belonging to the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC).
“The Wa officials instructed Christians in Mong Pauk not even to worship at home these days,” a local Christian leader based in Keng Tung told Morning Star News on condition of anonymity. “So, some Christian members dare not to live in Mong Pauk any longer. They came to stay in Keng Tung town as they are fearful.”
Wa soldiers are holding arrested Christian leaders and students in Mong Maw town, a stronghold base of the Wa rebels, said Tat Jack, a local resident whose relatives are detained.
“My uncle is a preacher,” Tat Jack told Morning Star News. “He lives at a village nearby the Wa rebel base, Panghsang city. He and his son were detained in early September. But we are not allowed to visit them. We also heard that many members of the Christian community there are detained.”
Christian leaders have said the militants, who predominantly follow tribal religions, seek to reduce the spread of Christianity. Wa rebel spokesperson Nyi Rang told The Irrawaddy, a Yangon-based new outlet, that the UWSA had detained the Christian leaders because there were “extremists” among them.
A UWSA statement released on Sept. 13 stated that all church buildings constructed after 1992 would be destroyed or shut down, as they were built without permission from the UWSA’s leaders.
On a UWSA-run television program, it was stated that the UWSA has arrested and interrogated the religious leaders for violating organization regulations and laws prohibiting foreigners to serve as religious leaders in Wa-controlled areas. It also accused some detainees of forcing ethnic people to convert to Christianity.
Dr. M. Hkawng, chairman of an ethnic Kachin political party, the Kachin National Congress, has said that missionaries improve the lives of ethnic minorities in the Wa region, educating them and enabling them to travel to overseas to Japan, the United States and other countries to pursue their education.
Although most of the population in Wa territory worships spirits or Nats, there are also Buddhists as well as Christian communities such as Baptists and Roman Catholics. Many area members of ethnic minority groups, such as the Ahkar, Lahu and Kachin, as well as the Wa, are Christians, sources said.
Some Christians suspect Chinese authorities are behind the recent aggression against Christians.
The UWSA is the military wing of the United Wa State Party (UWSP), the de facto ruling party of the area. It was formed after the collapse of the armed wing of the Communist Party of Burma in 1989.
The UWSA announced its territory as the Wa State Government Special Administrative Region on Jan. 1, 2009, and although the government of Burma does not officially recognize its sovereignty, the Burmese military has fought alongside the UWSA against Shan nationalist militias.
Though de facto independent from Burma, the Wa state officially recognizes Burma’s sovereignty over all of its territory, and in 2013 the two parties signed a peace deal.
Burma is about 80 percent Buddhist and 9 percent Christian.
The country is ranked 24th on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Burma (Morning Star News) – Two assistant pastors arrested by the Burma army have been jailed without trial for more than three months, sources said.
Pastors Dom Dawng Nawng Latt, 65, and 35-year-old La Jaw Gam Hseng were arrested on Dec. 24 after helping local journalists cover military conflict in northern Shan state, eastern Burma (Myanmar), where a Catholic Church building was bombed by Burma army jets in November. They are charged with unlawful association with an armed ethnic group, an accusation the Kachin Baptist Convention church leaders deny.
U Brang Di, attorney for the two pastors, told Morning Star News that normally suspects can be held for only 28 days without trial under Burmese law.
The prosecutor, Maj. Kyaw Zin Htun, has filed charges accusing the pastors of recruiting and spying for armed ethnic groups such as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Under Burma’s Unlawful Association Act, the Christian leaders could face as much as three years in prison under Article 17/1 for making contributions to or assisting an “unlawful association,” and as much as five years under Article 17/2 for assisting in the management or promotion of one.
Brang Di said the case has been slowed by prosecution absences and the army’s effort to transfer the accused to a court in Lashio, in northeastern Shan state. Citing ongoing fighting between rebel and government forces in Shan state, the prosecutor sometimes has been unable to show up at court hearings, Brang Di said.
“The pastors can’t be detained for such a long time without trial, according to the law,” Brang Di said, adding that he was only stating the law, not complaining, as such delays are common in cases involving the army. “I will try my best to make them free in accordance with the law.”
The pastors on Dec. 24 went to the Byuha Gon military base to negotiate the release of a civilian couple who had complained to army officials about the destruction of their house, sources said. Military officials released the couple and detained the clergymen, they said, adding that the arrest was linked to the pastors helping journalists cover the bombing of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church building on Nov. 23-24.
The Unlawful Association Act, often invoked during Burma’s decades of rule by military junta to arrest suspected rebel sympathizers, is still used to stop Kachin state residents from making contact with KIA rebels, according to Radio Free Asia. Burmese and international rights groups have called on the government to amend or rescind the law so that Non-Governmental Organizations are not targeted under the act.
Armed conflict between Burma and ethnic separatist organizations erupted anew in northern Shan state in November 2016, forcing over 50,000 refugees in total to flee to other areas of the state and the border with China.
Zau Rau of the Kachin Baptist Convention in Muse Town, where the pastors are detained, said the KBC wants the trial completed as soon as possible.
“There is no development,” Rau said. “It seems they make the process long. We want the trial to begin soon.”
Also slowing the proceedings, he said, was the prosecutor adding charges to the case, most recently charging Pastor Latt with damaging the reputation of the army by allegedly telling media that soldiers burned rice stores belonging to civilians.
Human Rights Watch has decried the arrests as arbitrary and called on Burma to release the pastors immediately.
After more than five years of intensified conflict since Burma violated a 17-year cease-fire in 2011, many Kachin face protracted displacement and are desperate to return home, according to a report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Burma army launched major offensives against the KIA for several months last year and took over several strategic military bases.
The KBC has provided aid to internally displaced people fleeing fighting between the government army and ethnic militias in both Kachin and Shan states, according to Radio Free Asia.
Burma is about 80 percent Buddhist and 9 percent Christian. The government has recognized the special status of Buddhism in Burma and promoted it as a means to consolidate support.
Burma ranked 28th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Burma (Morning Star News) – Artillery and air strikes by Burma (Myanmar) government forces on rebel bases in Kachin state in the past week displaced hundreds of ethnic Kachin, a predominantly Christian people long targeted in part because they are not Buddhist.
The Rev. Lama Yaw of the Kachin Baptist Convention, who visited areas near Mohnyin where the offensive intensified on Nov. 15, told Morning Star News by phone that 200 civilians took shelter in area churches after attacks by a jet, helicopter gunships and artillery against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Another Christian leader in Mohnyin told The Irrawaddy newspaper that some 300 villagers had fled their homes on Thursday (Nov. 19) and were taking shelter in his church.
Pastor Yaw said area Christians were shaken by the attacks, which continued through the week, as they have long seen civilians and church buildings targeted by government weaponry and soldiers.
“They dare not go to sleep at home as they fear unexpected attacks, because the Burma Army has done these kinds of attacks and abuses before,” said Pastor Yaw. “Some nearby villagers have gone to sleep at churches in Mohnyin town, as they fear random attacks by the Burma Army.”
After the Burma Army broke a 17-year ceasefire in 2011, by early 2013 the military had destroyed 66 church buildings in Kachin state, according to a 2013 report by the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT). After making Buddhism the state religion in 1961, the government has tacitly supported military atrocities against civilian Christians.
“I feel like they intentionally launched the attacks on the day when Christians held worship,” Pastor Yaw said, referring to the dramatic escalation on Nov. 15 of the offensive that began on a smaller scale the previous day. “Also in 2012, they launched intense attacks on Christmas Eve. They chose the day when ethnic Christians were supposed to enjoy Christmas celebrations with happiness.”
The Kachin are one of several ethnic groups vying for more autonomy, and advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that decades of conflict in the ethnic states have left hundreds of thousands of people internally displaced or as refugees in other countries.
“It is obvious that they oppress ethnic minorities who are Christian,” Pastor Yaw said.
The roots of conflicts with ethnic groups date back to the origins of the country. Before the formation of the Union of Burma in 1948, British rulers administered “Burma Proper” – where the Burman people lived – and “Frontier Areas,” where non-Burman ethnic groups lived separately. The Kachin leaders, however, agreed to join the Union based on the 1947 Panglong Agreement, which allowed great autonomy and the right to secede to the ethnic frontier states.
But with the assassination of Gen. Aung San, who was leading an interim government, and several of his cabinet members, the agreement was forgotten and continues to be violated.
Burma on Nov. 8 held its first general elections since the military junta quashed 1990 voting results, but CSW noted political reforms are still fragile.
“There are reasons for cautious optimism, but Burma continues to face many very significant human rights challenges, particularly in regard to freedom of religion or belief,” CSW notes on its website.
In the attacks near Mohnyin the past week, the KIA reported two of its soldiers were wounded and that it lost its Brigade 8 stronghold headquarters to the Burma Army. A government information minister reportedly said there are no plans to cease the offensive in Mohnyin, citing a need to “protect public security.”
The KIA has an estimated 10,000 troops and is the second largest armed, ethnic group. It was not among eight such groups that signed a ceasefire agreement with the government on Oct. 15. Other major ethnic group forces have declined to sign the agreement, including the Shan State Army-North, which has also been the target of recent Burma Army offensives.
Pastor Yaw said Christians in the state capital are praying for villagers living near Mohnyin.
“As soon as we heard civilians fled for safety, we held prayer and pray to God to protect them,” he said. “We are weak, and what we can do is keep praying and relying on God. We believe that God is capable to protect our people.”
Washington, D.C. (May 9, 2014) – Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today introduced legislation to reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which he helped establish in 1998 as the author of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The commission was last reauthorized in September 2011.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government advisory body charged with monitoring the status of the freedom of religion or belief abroad and providing policy recommendations to the president, Secretary of State and Congress.
“Religious freedom is America’s first freedom, and a vitally important human right enshrined in international law,” Wolf said. “It should be a bedrock of U.S. foreign policy. Too often that is not the case.”
“The Commission plays an invaluable role in giving an unvarnished picture of religious freedom violations the world over,” Wolf continued. “It is well respected on both sides of the aisle for its thoughtful analysis and policy recommendations, and its commissioners are regularly called upon to provide expert testimony at congressional hearings and briefings. Simply put, the commission’s research informs the work of many in foreign policy-making circles.”
As recent as April 30, 2014, the USCIRF released its annual report which documented religious freedom violations in 33 countries and made a number of policy recommendations, including that 16 countries and recommended that the State Department add eight more nations to its list of “countries of particular concern,” defined under law as countries where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. USCIRF also recommended that the following eight countries be re-designated as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. for particularly severe violation of religious freedom. The report also examines U.S. international religious freedom policy and recommends way to strengthen U.S. engagement and promotion of religious freedom.
Wolf said he looked forward to swift passage of this critical legislation.
Representative Wolf deeply cares and has worked diligently to protect the human right, Freedom of Worship for all people in the world.
He has long believed that the United States has an obligation to speak out for religious freedom, often referred to as the “first freedom.” Recognizing that religious freedom was often sidelined in our bilateral relations and diplomatic engagement with other countries, in 1998, he authored the International Religious Freedom Act, which created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and established the International Religious Freedom Office at the State Department headed by an ambassador-at-large. This was a critical first step in integrating religious freedom into our broader foreign policy, but he says “Much remains to be done.”
“Sadly, religious freedom advocacy has never been more needed. A landmark report on religious freedom, released by the Pew Forum in 2009, found that “nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion, the brunt of which often falls on religious minorities. Pew has done subsequent studies on the issue and it’s 2014 report found that incidents of abuse targeting religious minorities were reported in 47% of countries in 2012, up from 38% in 2011 and 24% in the baseline year of the study.”
“If the international community fails to speak out and advocate for those whose basic human rights are being trampled, the prospects for religious pluralism and tolerance are bleak.”
In January 2013 I reintroduced bipartisan legislation to create a special envoy within the State Department to advocate on behalf of vulnerable religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.
In countries like Iraq and Egypt, ancient Christian communities are being driven from the lands they have inhabited for centuries. In Iran, Baha’is are imprisoned and in some cases executed simply because of their faith. In Pakistan, Ahmadi graves are desecrated. In Afghanistan, a country where America has sacrificed greatly in both blood and treasure, the most basic right to freedom of religion or belief is not recognized in the constitution. This is but a snap shot of the grave challenges facing these communities.
In January 2011 following a Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing during which sobering testimony [was heard] about the challenges facing religious minorities in Iraq and Egypt, Wolf introduced the special envoy, bill – along with Democrat Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who is of Armenian and Assyrian heritage. The hearing predated the so-called “Arab Spring.” But arguably, the dramatic changes in the region have only made these communities more vulnerable.
Over 20 special envoy posts exist to protect a range of groups and interests, but none is dedicated to the plight of Middle East religious minorities.
On September 18, 2013 the House again overwhelmingly passed the Special Envoy vote by a vote of 402-22, but it has languished in the Senate.
Wolf is actively working to press for swift Senate action. Each day that passes without a dedicated special envoy to advocate for these besieged religious communities, America’s first freedom, religious freedom, is under assault around the globe.
“I renewed my efforts in the 113th Congress to press for passage of this important legislation and to mobilize faith leaders in the West to advocate for these imperiled communities. In January I sent a letter to more than 300 Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox leaders in the West, calling for them to use their influence to speak out on behalf of the persecuted Church around the globe, specifically in the Middle East.”
On Wednesday, the Christian leaders joined forces to call for an end to the silence over persecuted Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. Rep. Wolf has regularly met with beleaguered Christians from this part of the world. He said, “Their stories are eerily similar: believers kidnapped for ransom; churches–some full of worshipers–attacked; clergy targeted for killing. In the face of this violence, Christians are leaving in droves.”
In countries where Christians must deal with harsh persecution, many are silenced by fear and abuse. The oppressors wish to hide the atrocities from the international community. Those standing up for religious rights and revealing the abuse are threatened to be silent or face severe persecution—death threats, pressured to convert to Islam, beaten, tortured, shot at and even lose their lives. It is not uncommon for them to be fired from their jobs when the employer is pressured to do so by the persecutors. And to further strike fear, their families likely experience all of the above.
The growing radicalism in these countries has forced many religious minorities to live in fear. In Pakistan, where false blasphemy charges have escalated and are abused, Christians asks us, “What has happened to humanity and what have we done to deserve such treatment?” (John 15:18, John 15:20) Simply being in disagreement with the prophet of Islam can wrongfully be proclaimed as blasphemy, denying their freedom of worship. As seen in recent cases, subjecting them to possible death sentences has also intensified. Too often and now more frequently, Pakistani citizens trying to make a difference by promoting peace and religious equality are forced to flee the country to spare their lives and that of their families. While Pakistan loses one more of the brave few willing to stand up and be a voice for Christian rights and that of other religious minorities.
In the Bible there is much written about the oppressed and persecuted. Jesus had more to say about the poor than any other group of people. He had great concern for this critical issue and taught us that we should too. As American Christians, if we are earnest about our faith, then we should be compelled to aid the oppressed in the world. Being blessed by God living in a nation of great freedom, should we not use this gift and ability to be a voice for those who don’t?
VOP and persecuted Christians appreciate the work of Rep. Wolf. May the Lord bless him in his efforts.
Engage and inform others on the topic of Christian persecution. And get them praying for our suffering brethren!
By Elizabeth Kendal Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 247 Special to ASSIST News Service
(ANS) — The Burmese Army (the Tatmadaw) is continuing its campaign of ethnic cleansing in resource-rich Kachin State. The Christian Kachin have long resisted the Burman Buddhist regime’s brutal dictatorship. While the Kachin want autonomy so they can freely maintain their culture, the Burman Buddhist elite and military want complete control of Kachin land so they can exploit its resources. The situation in Burma is reminiscent of that in Sudan, where the Islamist-Arab regime in Khartoum is doing the same in the resource-rich mostly Christian, African south. Similar situations exist in Papua, Indonesia and in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. In each case, the resistance of the predominantly Christian ethnic peoples is met with extreme military violence and ethnic cleansing motivated by greed and fuelled by state-sanctioned racial and religious hatred.(See Religious Liberty Monitoring: Burma)
On the morning of 30 January, Burma Army troops attacked Nam Gau Village of Mansi township in south Kachin State. More than 2000 people had already fled attacks in the area in November-December 2013 and now the remnant has also fled. The Burma Army took 20 villagers captive and thoroughly looted the village. Later that day soldiers of the Kachin Army led some villagers back to help them gather what remained of their belongings. At that point the Burma Army returned and a fierce fire-fight ensued. The next day Burma Army reinforcements arrived and the fighting escalated with the Burma Army attacking nearby Nam San Village also, firing heavy mortar rounds on civilian homes. Whilst ultimately the Kachin Army was driven out, it moved on to attack the Burma Army base, forcing the Burma Army to abandon the villages to defend their base. Other Kachin soldiers helped the local people collect what remained of their belongings. When the Free Burma Rangers relief teams conducted a medical clinic for those displaced in nearby Nam Lim Pa on 30 January, they found three bodies with clear evidence of torture. The ethnic cleansing continues.
Despite propaganda to the contrary, the situation faced by the Kachin is actually worse than ever. In the past, when Burma was aligned with China, the West would attack the junta by exposing human rights abuses and championing the rights of the persecuted ethnic nations. However, when Burma re-aligned and sought rapprochement with the West, everything changed. All the West can see now is an opportunity to make great economic and geo-strategic gains in Burma. Nevertheless, before Western politicians could engage with Burma, Burma’s image problem had to be dealt with. In reality, Burma’s political ‘reforms’ are cosmetic and ‘peace talks’ are a stalling tactic. The government is essentially powerless, a mere front for the military which still calls the shots. The reforms really are all about image.
In an act of extreme betrayal, the ‘international community’ is allowing the regime in Naypyidaw to control all distribution of international aid. Therefore the Kachin Army fights to defend the Christian Kachin from Burma Army aggression and expansion but the regime controls the aid. Like the regime in Sudan, the regime here uses this tactic to infiltrate deep into hostile territory where it then sets up offices and distribution centres and consolidates its presence. Thus the war-ravaged Christian Kachin are forced to choose between holding their ground and starving, or opening the door to the regime. As a retired US Army Special Forces officer, Tim Heinemann, notes: ‘This is effectively international support for Burman-led counter-insurgency operations.’ (Asia Times, 23 January 2014). It seems the West is prepared to ignore gross human rights abuses and war crimes to get access to Burma’s vast and untapped resources, markets and cheap labour. Once their champion, now the West wants the ethnic nations to submit and co-operate. In July 2013 the British government even approved arms export licences to Burma worth over US$5 million.
[International Day of Prayer for Burma: 9 March 2014, See http://www.freeburmarangers.org ]
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL —
- preserve, sustain and raise up godly leaders amongst the severely persecuted, Christian Kachin; may these leaders be blessed with great and effective power from the Holy Spirit to comfort and encourage their traumatised, war-ravaged peoples so that they do not fall into despair and lose hope in the LORD; may their faith shine brightly in Burma’s darkness.
‘My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.” . . . But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”‘ (Lamentations 3:17,18 and 21-24 ESV)
- intervene in Burma to defend and sustain his people, shielding them from harm and providing their needs while exposing and fighting their enemies. (See Isaiah 40:10,11 and 59:14-19)
‘Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain . . .’ (Habakkuk 2:9 NIV)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE ————————————————————- CONTINUED ETHNIC CLEANSING OF CHRISTIAN KACHIN IN BURMA (Myanmar)
Behind a smokescreen of political ‘reform’, the Burmese Army is continuing its campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kachin State. The Christian Kachin have long resisted the Burman Buddhist regime’s brutal dictatorship. Whilst the Kachin seek autonomy so they can freely maintain their culture, the regime wants full control so it can exploit the Kachin’s resource-rich lands. The extreme military violence meted out against the Kachin is motivated by greed and fuelled by State-sanctioned racial and religious hatred. Fighting rages in south Kachin State where the Burma Army is attacking village after village, employing heavy artillery, rape and torture, kidnapping villagers and looting. The Kachin are traumatised, the regime controls the aid supplies and the West appears to have abandoned them for economic gain. Please pray for Burma and its Church.
USCIRF’s 2013 Annual Report on the State of International Religious Freedom Identifies World’s Worst Violators
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 30, 2013| By USCIRF
Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent federal advisory body created by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) to monitor religious freedom abuses abroad, today released its 2013 Annual Report. The Report highlights the status of religious freedom globally and identifies those governments that are the most egregious violators.
“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. Extremists target religious minorities and dissenters from majority religious communities for violence, including physical assaults and even murder. Authoritarian governments also repress religious freedom through intricate webs of discriminatory rules, arbitrary requirements and draconian edicts,” said Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF’s Chair.
The 2013 Annual Report recommends that the Secretary of State re-designate the following eight nations as “countries of particular concern” or CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. USCIRF finds that seven other countries meet the CPC threshold and should be so designated: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.
“The Annual Report ultimately is about people and how their governments treat them. Violations affect members of diverse religious communities around the world, be they Rohinghya Muslims in Burma, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and Falun Gong in China, Baha’is in Iran, Ahmadis and Christians in Pakistan, or Muslims in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan and in non-Muslim nations like Russia. We recommend that the White House adopt a whole-of-government strategy to guide U.S. religious freedom promotion and that Secretary of State Kerry promptly designate CPCs, before currently designated actions expire later this year,” said Lantos Swett.
In Burma, ongoing political reforms have yet to significantly improve the situation for freedom of religion and belief. Sectarian violence and severe abuses of religious freedom and human dignity targeting ethnic minority Christians and Muslims continue to occur with impunity.
In Egypt, despite some progress during a turbulent political transition, 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.
In both Pakistan and Nigeria, religious extremism and impunity have factored into unprecedented levels of violence that threaten the long-term viability of both nations. Targeted violence against Shi’i Muslims in Pakistan is pervasive, while repeated Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria exacerbate sectarian tensions.
“Many of these countries top the U.S. foreign policy agenda, and religion is a core component in their makeup. Successful U.S. foreign policy recognizes the critical role religious freedom plays in each of these nations and prioritizes accordingly. Religious freedom is both a pivotal human right under international law and a key factor that helps determine whether a nation experiences stability or chaos,” said Lantos Swett.
USCIRF also announced the placement of eight nations on its Tier 2 List for 2013. The Tier 2 category replaces the Watch List designation USCIRF previously used. These nations are: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia. USCIRF found the violations these governments engage in or tolerate are particularly severe, and meet at least one criterion, but not all, of IRFA’s three-fold “systematic, ongoing, egregious” CPC standard.
In Russia, religious freedom conditions suffered major setbacks in the context of growing human rights abuses. In Indonesia, the country’s rich tradition of religious tolerance and pluralism is seriously threatened by arrests of individuals the government considers religiously deviant and violence perpetrated by extremist groups. Federal and provincial officials, police, courts, and religious leaders often tolerate and abet the conduct of religious freedom abusers.
The USCIRF report also highlights the status of religious freedom in countries/regions that do not meet the Tier 1 (CPC) or Tier 2 threshold. These include: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Ethiopia, Turkey, Venezuela and Western Europe. The Annual Report also addresses in-depth thematic issues: Constitutional Changes; Severe Religious Freedom Violations by Non-State Actors; Laws against Blasphemy and Defamation of Religions; Imprisonment of Conscientious Objectors; Legal Retreat from Religious Freedom in Post-Communist Countries; Kidnapping and Forced Religious De-Conversion in Japan; and Religious Freedom Issues in International Organizations.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government advisory body with its commissioners appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in Congress. The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) requires that the United States annually designate as CPCs countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion or belief. IRFA also tasks USCIRF with assessing conditions in these and other countries and making recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress.
In accordance with IRFA, USCIRF uses international standards, as found in UN conventions and declarations, for assessing religious freedom conditions.