Skip to main content


Religious Freedom: Where It Stands

5/30/2004 - 6:20 AM PST

Advertisment

U.S. Commission Publishes Its Annual Report

WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 30, 2004 (Zenit) - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom published its annual report May 12 amid little media attention. The commission was established in 1998 to monitor religious freedom and to advise the president, secretary of state, and Congress on how best to promote it.

The timing of this year's report might strike some as inauspicious. In the wake of revelations about abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers, many have criticized the pretension of the United States to portray itself as a defender of human rights. But the most obvious alternative, the United Nations, has also drawn fire for its inconsistencies.

During this year's meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, for instance, China, Russia and Zimbabwe escaped any censure, Reuters reported April 15. And a U.N. press release announced May 4 that among the countries elected by the U.N. Economic and Social Council to serve on the Commission on Human Rights was Sudan, a country singled out by independent watchdog groups as responsible for grievous rights violations.

Afghanistan and Iraq

In reviewing its activities during the last year the U.S. commission explained that a major focus was ensuring that the newly formed governments in Afghanistan and Iraq will respect religious freedom. The commission argued for protecting this freedom in both countries' new constitutions. The commission noted that its efforts were successful in Iraq, with the interim constitution being "a document which potentially stands as a model for the region."

In Afghanistan, however, "there was more limited success with respect to the constitution." The report commented that the constitution does provide for the freedom of non-Muslim groups to exercise their faith. But it lacks more explicit protections for the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

A cause for concern is that the Afghan Constitution does not fully protect individuals against unjust accusations of religious "crimes" such as apostasy and blasphemy. Moreover, the U.S. commission observed that Afghanistan's Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari "has shown little regard for those who disagree with his hard-line interpretation of Islam."

6 more of "particular concern"

One of the commission's tasks is to identify those governments guilty of systematic and grave violations of religious freedom. In February the panel recommended that the U.S. State Department place 11 nations in the category of "Countries of Particular Concern." The recommendations included six countries not previously included: Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. The other five -- Burma, China, North Korea, Iran and Sudan -- were already singled out in previous reports.

The U.S. commission also said that Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria and Uzbekistan would remain on a watch list of countries where the state of religious freedom is of concern because of violations engaged in or tolerated by their governments. Belarus, Cuba and Georgia would also be added to that list, the panel said.

Explaining the additions to the list of countries guilty of grave violations, the report charged that the Pakistani government continues to inadequately deal with vigilante violence by Sunni militants against Shiites, Ahmadis and Christians. And official government policies result in other religious freedom violations, including imprisonment under the anti-Ahmadi and blasphemy laws.

In India, meanwhile, violence against Muslims and Christians continues, and the government has not yet addressed adequately the killing of an estimated 2,000 Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002.

In Eritrea, the government "engages in particularly severe violations of freedom of religion and belief," affirmed the U.S. report. Problems range from the closing of all churches not belonging to officially recognized religious denominations, to the arrests of participants at prayer meetings and other gatherings.

Turkmenistan, the commission said, "is among the most repressive states in the world today and engages in particularly severe, ongoing violations of freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief." The situation further deteriorated with a new law that took effect last November. That law effectively bans most religious activity and calls for criminal penalties for those found guilty of participating in "illegal religious activity." The report also accused President Saparmurat Niyazov of promoting a state-controlled version of Islam and of rending any independent religious activity impossible.

In Vietnam, the already poor conditions of religious freedom have deteriorated over the last 18 months, the U.S. panel said. ...

1 | 2  Next Page

Rate This Article

Very Helpful Somewhat Helpful Not Helpful at All

Yes, I am Interested No, I am not Interested

Rate Article

0 Comments

Leave a Comment

Comments submitted must be civil, remain on-topic and not violate any laws including copyright. We reserve the right to delete any comments which are abusive, inappropriate or not constructive to the discussion.

Though we invite robust discussion, we reserve the right to not publish any comment which denigrates the human person, undermines marriage and the family, or advocates for positions which openly oppose the teaching of the Catholic Church.

This is a supervised forum and the Editors of Catholic Online retain the right to direct it.

We also reserve the right to block any commenter for repeated violations. Your email address is required to post, but it will not be published on the site.

We ask that you NOT post your comment more than once. Catholic Online is growing and our ability to review all comments sometimes results in a delay in their publication.

Send me important information from Catholic Online and it's partners. See Sample

Post Comment

Newsletter Sign Up

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 2:1-10
And you were dead, through the crimes and the sins which used ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 100:2, 3, 4, 5
serve Yahweh with gladness, come into his presence with songs ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 12:13-21
A man in the crowd said to him, 'Master, tell my brother to ... Read More

Saint of the Day

October 20 Saint of the Day

St. Paul of the Cross
October 20: St. Paul of the Cross was born at Ovada in the Republic of ... Read More