Panel Presses Obama on Religious Freedom

By Michelle Boorstein A government panel created to press the White House on international religious freedom violations says in a … Continued

By Michelle Boorstein

A government panel created to press the White House on international religious freedom violations says in a new report that the Obama Administration needs to do a lot more in other countries including Pakistan, Nigeria, China and Turkey.

The report issued Friday by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that the administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan has no reference to human rights, and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to make the subject a low priority with China and Egypt during her recent visits there.

The report, which has come out every year for a decade, added one country to its list of most egregious violators – Nigeria. It said that government has ignored intense Muslim-Christian violence that has left thousands dead.

The eight countries labeled “of particular concern” were: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The commission also puts on a watch list (a slightly lower category of concern) 11 other nations: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela. The final six are new additions to the list.

The report said the U.S. government “generally” (not just under Obama) has refused to act on the commission’s recommendations. Doing this “has provided little incentive” for countries on these lists to reduce or end egregious violations,” the group wrote.

U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), who was a player in getting the commission set up in 1998, said the report shows that the new State Department hasn’t prioritized religious freedom.

“We have seen the Obama State Department abandoning religious freedom, or at best de-emphasizing it. The U.S. cannot turn away from its leadership on these issues. Human rights should be a top priority in U.S. foreign policy, but the early signs are that the new administration will downgrade it,” he said.

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