Once again, Asia has more “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) than any other region. Last week, the U.S. State Department designated Burma, China, North Korea, and seven other nations as CPCs for violating religious freedom. State also placed Pakistan, a long-time serial violator of religious freedom, on its Special Watch List.
The action regarding Pakistan was especially significant. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal commission monitoring religious freedom conditions worldwide, has recommended since 2002 that the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) designate Pakistan as a CPC.
USCIRF maintains that Pakistan merits CPC designation because of its severe persecution of religious minorities, the government’s failure to prevent religious violence, the continued practice of forcibly converting Hindu and Christian girls to Islam, and the use of blasphemy laws. There are other issues, as well. One longstanding concern is the unjust imprisonment of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy more than seven years ago. She remains on death row, waiting for the Pakistani Supreme Court to hear her case.
While the Trump administration stopped short of designating Pakistan as a CPC, the country’s placement on the Special Watch List was a positive step toward addressing longstanding patterns of persecution against people of all faiths in the country.
Other Asian nations require attention. Perhaps now, more than ever, Burma merits its designation as a CPC. Late last year, the UN determined that the Rohingya, a Muslim minority population in Burma, were victims of state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing. More than half a million Rohingya have been displaced by violence in Rakhine state. Human rights groups have documented mass killings, brutal violence, and the systematic sexual violation of Rohingya women and girls. Persecution of Rohingya and other religious minorities, including Christians, is not likely to subside in 2018.
North Korea, already a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration, has been designated a CPC since the first International Religious Freedom report was issued in 2001. According to a UN Commission of Inquiry report, religious freedom in North Korea is virtually non-existent; religious activities consist primarily of worship of the Kim regime.
Open Doors USA consistently cites North Korea as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians. North Koreans are executed merely for possessing a Bible, and when China repatriates North Koreans, they receive more severe punishment if they are reported as having contact with Christian missionaries.
Religious freedom in China is always under siege. Much of the church has been forced underground. Pastors, Christian leaders and human rights defenders are routinely imprisoned. Just this month, Chinese authorities used dynamite and excavators to destroy a 50,000-member Christian megachurch in the northern province of Shanxi.
Last December, Human Rights Watch reported massive violations of privacy among the Uighurs, a Muslim minority living in the Xinjiang autonomous region of China. Authorities there were collecting DNA samples, fingerprints and other forms of biometric data. The Chinese government has long persecuted Uighurs, destroying their homes, and essentially collectivizing them in order to exert greater control over their lives.
Each of these countries must be held accountable for their violations of religious freedom. The annual International Religious Freedom report, mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1999, triggers the CPC and Special Watch List designations.
The CPC designation carries with it the sting of naming and shaming. But sanctions, which should be triggered by the designation, are rarely if ever imposed. Most sanctions issued on religious freedom grounds are subsumed under other sanctions regimes, leaving religious freedom violators suffering little more than a slap on the wrist. The U.S. government should work to impose real costs on countries that violate religious liberty.
This piece originally appeared in Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/oliviaenos/2018/01/11/state-department-calls-asian-countries-on-the-carpet-for-religious-freedom-violations/#623b7dc73db0