- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

A watchdog organization on religious liberties recommended yesterday that six nations be added to a State Department list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam be added to the State Department list.

“Our CPC [countries of particular concern] list is a short list of the real bad guys,” said Nina Shea, vice chairman of the commission, who described the listed countries as those that had “egregious, systematic and continuous” violations of religious freedom.

The list comprises Burma, China, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Iraq. The commission recommended that Iraq be removed, because the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein has been deposed.

As for the other five nations, “Nothing has changed to warrant the removal of any of these countries,” according to the report.

Commission Chairman Michael Young said North Korea is “ground zero” for some of the world’s worst abuses of religious freedom.

The commission, the world’s only government-sanctioned organization that investigates and reports on religious freedom, was formed by Congress in 1998 and bases its assessments on provisions of international human rights law.

The report says religious freedom has worsened in Burma, which has been on the commission’s list for the past four years. China remains on the list for imprisonment and torture of some religious believers, Iran for detention, torture and execution of religious minorities, and Sudan for the continuation of its religious civil war.

The commission’s recommendation on Saudi Arabia echoes last year’s, when it named Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, the world’s worst violator of religious freedom. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has not added it to the State Department’s CPC list. It could not be determined when or whether the State Department would change the list.

“[Saudi Arabia] continues to engage in those violations as part of its official policy,” Mr. Young said. “In Saudi Arabia, religious freedom does not exist.”

Commissioner Richard Land referred to hundreds of unpunished killings of religious minorities in India as a major reason to add it to the list. The report cited mass imprisonment of religious adherents in the African nation Eritrea, legally sanctioned persecution and deportation of religious minorities in Turkmenistan, and recent crackdowns on Hmong and Montagnard Christians in the mountains of Vietnam.

In Pakistan, Mr. Land said, laws make it illegal to publicly practice minority religions, and “sectarian and religiously motivated violence is chronic.”

Miss Shea said individual religious freedom has degenerated in Afghanistan, a failure she said should not be repeated in Iraq. She also discussed U.S. abuse of prisoners in Iraq and recommended the installation of human rights officials in those nations, echoing past recommendations for human rights training for U.S. personnel.

“One needs to put it a little bit in perspective,” Mr. Young said. “If every country responded as… our Congress has, our report would be a lot shorter.”

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