This year we cover 27 countries but we’re looking at the worst violations for religious freedom that the International Religious Freedom Act described a systematic, ongoing, and egregious, or situations that could lead to that level of violations.  One of the things we have documented is how the growth of religious extremism has led to human rights abuses and we were an outspoken critic back in February when we first heard of this deal in Pakistan to establish Sharia law in the Swat Valley and we sadly, our fears were born out that we expressed then that giving into their demands would not lead to peace and cessation of hostilities but would only embolden those extremist groups to push more which they’ve done.  And we see that the interplay of religious freedom as a counter way to religious freedom, or religious extremism is very important and is something we’re urging the United States policymakers to think more about because in the context of Pakistan if you think about how over 40 years there is a gradual dissolution of strong protection of religious freedom and other human rights starting with the banning in the Ahmadiyya community, the impositions of different types of blasphemy laws and then sort of culminating in the Swat Valley Agreement, and we’ve been [IB] in Pakistan for many years and have recommended the US government push vigorously back and encourage Islamabad to get rid of those laws that violate human rights and religious freedom for, you know, from a human rights perspective but it’s also right from a national security perspective because without those protections these groups are given greater sway over the society and can move it in ways that are detrimental to the United States.

In our report that came out on May 1st, we recommended that 13 countries, the designated countries of particular concern and this is something that the Religious Freedom Act established as a special designation that the President makes for countries that have severe ongoing egregious violations of religious freedom that constitute torture or disappearances, or really heinous acts.  Part of our mandate is to make recommendations to the Secretary and the President for which country should be on that list.  The ones we recommended this year are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Oost-Pakistan and Vietnam.  In addition to our CPC recommendations, that’s the shorthand for country of particular concern, we have also established a watch list of countries where the trend lines are concerning.  And while the current situation doesn’t arise to a CPC level, it’s something we want to highlight the policy makers that we should be engaging now to ensure that it doesn’t degenerate into a CPC situation.  This year, our list is comprised of Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.  One last point that our report makes on broader US policy is just the use of these mechanisms and the use of the CPC designations.

State Department has designated only eight countries currently, and of those eight only one has any specific US government action that’s related to religious freedom abuses, and that’s on Eritrea.  For the other countries like China or Iran, the sanctions that were already pre-existing State Department has said it does [IB] also for religious freedom violations.  So the sanctions we had on China for Tiananmen Square, those were now also for religious freedom violations.  And our argument is, well that doesn’t show countries that were really serious about religious freedom violations.  The intent of the law was to elevate this human right into US form policy in a way that would show other countries that are violators that this is a top concern, and by not using the menu of actions that the act provided take new steps against countries that have been designated sends the wrong message.  And so that’s something we’re in conversation with the State Department about considering how they can use it more energetically.