Thursday, August 05, 2004

Bush Fails to Promote International Religious Freedom

Judd Legum reports in Salon ("Persecuted for their faith -- and ignored by the U.S."--premium content)

For the last several years, the State Department has ignored the recommendation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom -- an independent body created by the IRFA -- to list Saudi Arabia as a country of "particular concern for religious freedom."

Saudi Arabia isn't the only country whose crackdown on religious expression is ignored by the administration. The State Department also turned a blind eye to its own findings on Pakistan, Eritrea and Turkmenistan and failed to list them as countries of "particular concern."

The requirement that the president (via the secretary of state) designate countries that "engage in or tolerate violations" of religious freedom as being of "particular concern" is one of the most significant provisions of the IRFA. Rabbi David Saperstein, the first chairman of the Commission on International Religious Freedom, explained that this process is important because countries "often try to accommodate U.S. concerns to avoid [that] designation." As a result, a number of countries have made changes "that made life noticeably better" for individuals who had been mistreated because of their religion.

The law requires the president to make this designation each year by Sept 1. But the Bush administration's last designation was in March 2003 -- more than 16 months ago. Saperstein says the administration's failure to comply with the timetable of the law "undermines the consistency of diplomatic efforts across the globe and eases the pressure" on countries that persecute people on the basis of religion.

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