The grim findings of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in its 2016 report suggest that religious liberty continues to take a beating throughout the world, and persecution against believers is not waning but intensifying.
The Commission released its new report on Monday, together with its updated lists of countries of particular concern (CPC) and recommendations to the U.S. government.
“By any measure,” the report states, “religious freedom abroad has been under serious and sustained assault since the release of our commission’s last Annual Report in 2015.” In its sober evaluation of the situation of religious freedom in the world, the report mirrors the 2016 World Watch List published earlier this year by Open Doors, an organization founded in 1955 to assist persecuted Christians.
The brutal, worldwide persecution of Christians during the past year makes 2015 “the most violent and sustained attack on Christian faith in modern history,” according to this watchdog organization that has been monitoring Christian persecution for decades.
The USCIRF report notes that the incarceration of prisoners of conscience, including those jailed for their religious beliefs, remains “astonishingly widespread.”
Among the worst offenders in this regard, the USCIRF once again draws attention to Pakistan, where more people are on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy “than in any other country in the world.”
Aggressive enforcement of Pakistan’s severe blasphemy laws “emboldens the Pakistani Taliban and individual vigilantes,” the report states, “triggering horrific violence against religious communities and individuals perceived as transgressors, most recently Christians and Muslim bystanders on Easter Sunday 2016 in Lahore.”
In fact, the Easter-Day massacre targeting Christians in Lahore saw the death of 72 victims, mostly women and children, along with at least 320 injured.
Islamist suicide bomber Yousuf Farid blew himself up in a large park, where hundreds of families had gathered to celebrate the feast of Easter. Among the victims were more than 30 small children, who at the time of the blast were playing sports and outdoor games.
In Pakistan, religious minorities “experience chronic sectarian and religiously-motivated violence from both terrorist organizations and individuals within society.” This environment of persecution is exacerbated by the government’s “failure to provide adequate protection for likely targets of such violence or prosecute perpetrators” which has “created a deep-rooted climate of impunity.”
Despite the egregious violations of religious freedom in Pakistan that regularly make headline news, the U.S. State Department has remarkably refused to add Pakistan to its lists of Countries of Particular Concern, an error that the USCIRF once again endeavors to remedy as it has done every year since 2002.
In its report, in fact, the USCIRF urges the U.S. government to add eight countries to its current list, namely, Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.
The USCIRF also designated Western Europe as a “focus of concern” because of religious freedom issues in this region, including a worrisome increase in anti-Semitism.
“Despite the increasing police protection in places where European Jews congregate, the rise in anti-Semitism has produced an exponential rise in Jewish emigration from Europe,” the report states, “with immigration to Israel from France increasing from less than 2,000 in 2012 to nearly 8,000 last year alone.”
The report also devotes ample space to the “genocidal” crimes of the Islamic State, which have religion as their primary motivation.
“ISIL’s summary executions, rape, sexual enslavement, abduction of children, destruction of houses of worship, and forced conversions all are part of what our commission has seen as a genocidal effort to erase their presence from these countries,” it notes.
“Adding disproportionately to the ranks of the displaced were millions from Iraq and Syria, including Yazidis, Christians, Shi’a Muslims, and Sunni Muslims who do not subscribe to the barbaric interpretation of Islam of the terrorist group ISIL,” it added.
The commissioners urge the U.S. government to pay closer attention to the matter of religious freedom worldwide, and to use the means at its disposable to push for effective guarantees of this fundamental right.
“The United States and other countries must fully accord this right the respect it deserves and redouble their efforts to defend this pivotal liberty worldwide,” the report states.
As an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government advisory body, the USCIRF is uniquely positioned to offer counsel to the President and the State Department, although its advice often goes unheeded.
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