Commission Co-Chairs Respond to State Department’s Designation of Countries of Particular Concern
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressmen Randy Hultgren and Jim McGovern, Co-Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, issued the following statement regarding the Department of State’s announcement designating “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPCs) with regard to religious freedom.
“As Co-Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, we welcome the re-designation of all ten CPC nations for severe violations of religious freedom. Freedom of belief is a foundational human right. The right to believe, or not to believe, impacts the decisions people make about what they say, whom they meet with, and what they will do. When a person is demonized for their faith, all their other rights are undermined and threatened. Freedom of belief is not only a moral and rational concept, it is also closely linked to social stability and U.S. national security. Countries that persecute, or allow the killing, of different groups based on their religion foment conflict between communities, and create a context where religious extremism and terrorism can thrive.
“We are grateful for Secretary Tillerson’s strong statements condemning Pakistan’s tolerance of religiously motivated violence. In November 2017, we wrote a letter to Secretary Tillerson urging him to designate Pakistan as a CPC due to its religiously discriminatory legislation, including anti-blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, and its longstanding failure to prevent or prosecute religious violence. While we welcome the Administration’s recognition that Pakistan should be placed on the Special Watch List, we are disappointed it was not designated as a CPC. Designating Pakistan as a CPC would enhance U.S. credibility around the world as an opponent of extremist violence.
“The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended the State Department designate an additional six countries as CPCs, including the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam. Over the past year, the TLHRC has made public statements, sent letters, and held hearings and briefings on religious freedom abuses in many of these countries. We will continue to press for the religious rights of oppressed populations in each of these countries and around the world.”
The CPC designations are made each year for countries that have engaged in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. CPCs are subject to sanctions and/or restrictions by the United States government unless the Secretary of State chooses to waive sanctions for reasons of U.S. national interest. On January 2, 2018, Secretary Tillerson re-designated ten countries as CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The State Department also designated Pakistan as a “Special Watch List” country for serious violations of religious freedom.