Should the United States be particularly concerned about religious freedom violations in Vietnam and Pakistan? Religious freedom activists who point to declining conditions in both nations say yes, but will have to wait at least a few weeks more for official word from the U.S. State Department.
The department released its International Religious Freedom Report today, an annual reporting on religious freedom conditions in every country in the world. It's the first such report from the Obama administration, and experts were watching closely to see if the new administration would designate new offenders on its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC). For now, the list remains a mystery since the report did not contain new information on CPCs.
Alexander McLaren in the state department's Office of Religious Freedom told me that the department would release its list of CPCs later this year.
That will be a welcomed development for human rights activists and religious freedom organizations like the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). USCIRF chair Leonard Leo urged the state department to quickly release its list of CPCs, and said the information in the new report should lead to the designation of Vietnam and Pakistan as CPCs.
The state department may interpret that data differently. The U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Michael Michalak, has indicated department officials don't think there is enough evidence to put Vietnam back on the list (see "Middle Passage," Nov. 7, 2009). USCIRF vice chair Michael Cromartie, however, disagreed today, saying, "No more excuses can be made by the administration for not designating Vietnam as a CPC."
Leo applauded the Obama administration's work in releasing the report and said he hopes the analysis will soon be followed by action: "To date, President Obama has raised religious freedom in his speeches abroad without those sentiments being translated into concrete policy actions, and our hope is that this report will be the administration's call to action."