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The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

قســـــم البحوث باللغة الإنجليزية إ (Research in English)


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قديم 21-09-09, 04:51 AM

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افتراضي The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom



 

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom


Taqrir Washington
Noorulain Khawaja

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As a government entity, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was created by Congress in 1998 as a U.S. foreign policy initiative that promotes religious freedom worldwide and combats religious persecution. Recently, the USCIRF, which is a bipartisan, independent federal agency, announced its 2009 recommendations to Congress, the Obama administration, and the State Department that 13 countries be named “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs. Nigeria and Iraq, both added this year to the CPC list, join the following countries: China, Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

This report serves as a roadmap for U.S. policy makers and diplomats alike, ********s serious abuses of freedom of religion, belief, and thought around the world, and provides policy solutions for each nation listed. According to the International Religious Freedom Act, countries that are designated as CPCs are those whose governments have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of the universal right to freedom of religion, such as systematic and ongoing torture, detention, abduction, or other denials of religious liberty. The CPC designation makes these countries subject to U.S. diplomatic and economic actions.

THE INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACT

The USCIRF was created by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of religion, thought, and conscience, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The act created an Office of International Religious Freedom in the State Department, along with a Commission on International Religious Freedom, the USCIRF. Every year, the Office of International Religious Freedom, headed by an Ambassador-at-Large, is responsible for issuing an annual report by September 1 on global religious freedom and persecution. From there, the State Department compiles a list of the CPCs that are involved in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious liberty.” Furthermore, the act identifies the diplomatic and economic tools that the President can apply to those countries, and recommended the creation of a special advisor on international religious freedom to assist the President. As previously mentioned, the IRFA created the Commission on International Religious Freedom and required it to present an annual report each May 1. The Commission is set to expire in 2011.

OBJECTIVES AND GOALS

According to the USCIRF Chair, Ms. Felice D. Gaer, the Commission aims to provide insight into the dimensions of religious repression and intolerance abroad. In addition, it is the goals of the Commissioners on this bipartisan federal body to assess and propose U.S. foreign policy action in hopes of advancing freedom of thought, conscience, and religion needed to protect people at risk of abuse, while promoting religious freedom and human rights. It is the Commission’s mission to have their recommendations become new bills in Congress and policy measures by the Executive Branch, as has been previously achieved by the organization. The USCIRF works to advance the visibility of and serious thinking about how the United States can best address the challenges of religious extremism, intolerance, and persecution worldwide, especially in nations that are of particular interest to the U.S. foreign policy agenda (i.e. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and China).

COMMISSION MEMBERS

Under the IRFA, three Commissioners are selected by the President, four by the congressional leaders of the party not in the White House, and two by the leaders of the President's party in Congress. Currently, they are appointed for two years, but Commissioners are eligible for reappointment.

When speaking and acting on behalf of the Commission, Commissioners act as individuals on the Commission's behalf and not as representatives of their private sector or religious organizations. The current Commissioners are as follows: the Chair, Felice D. Gaer, the Vice Chairs, Elizabeth H. Prodromou and Michael Cromartie, and Don Argue, Imam Talal Y. Eid, Richard D. Land , Leonard A. Leo, and Nina Shea. The State Department's Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom serves as a non-voting member of the Commisison, but currently, this position is vacant. The State Department's Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom serves as a non-voting member of the Commisison, but currently, this position is vacant.

According to the Commission's authorizing legislation, "Members of the Commission shall be selected among distinguished individuals noted for their knowledge and experience in fields relevant to the issue of international religious freedom, including foreign affairs, direct experience abroad, human rights, and international law." Commissioners are selected for their expertise, not because of their religious affiliation; therefore not all religions are represented on the Commission.

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

The Commission cannot implement sanctions on countries, but it has the authority to monitor violations of religious freedom abroad and to make policy recommendations to the U.S. government. If the United States and another country sign an arms-control agreement, or an environmental agreement, or a trade agreement, all parties to the agreement have the right to ensure that the other parties are fulfilling their commitments. This same principle is equally true for human rights agreements, including those referring to freedom of religion, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Rather than forcing other countries to adopt American values, the Commission is encouraging them to live up to the commitments to protect religious freedom that they have made in international agreements. In conclusion, the “internal affairs” argument used by authoritarian regimes is repudiated once the countries have undertaken participation in international commitments.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE COMMISSION

Aside from successfully recommending that Iraq and Nigeria be added to the State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern,” the Commission announced that the following countries are on the 2009 USCIRF Watch List: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela. While not rising to the statutory level set forth in IRFA requiring designation as a CPC, these countries require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments.

Previously, the Commission has made strides in other aspects, especially during the Bush administration. With the ongoing crisis in Darfur, it was the Commission that first called for a Special Envoy for Sudan, which was named by President Bush in 2001. In addition, the Commission persuaded Congress in the Sudan Peace Act to require the Bush administration to take steps to deny access to oil revenues to the Sudanese government in absence of its commitments in peace negotiations. With Pakistan, the Commission played a major role in highlighting to U.S. and Pakistani government officials the undemocratic nature of Pakistan’s separate-electorate system for minorities, which then became abolished in 2002. In 2001, the Commission successfully recommended that President Bush highlight the universal right to religious freedom in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, and he did just that by affirming that the war on terror not be an excuse for governments to violate religious freedom.

With the current administration, the Commission wrote letters to President Obama prior to the Cairo speech urging him to raise pressing concerns about religious freedom in his speech to the Muslim world. As evident by the transcript provided by the White House, Mr. President did just that:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Thank you. (Applause.) The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it's being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of somebody else's faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld -- whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. (Applause.) And if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That's why I'm committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit -- for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

In fact, faith should bring us together. And that's why we're forging service projects in America to bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That's why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action -- whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.”

By raising the importance of this universal human right—religious freedom—President Obama was able to inform (or remind) both Muslims and non-Muslims about the United States’ historic commitment to religious tolerance, a commitment that the USCIRF is dedicated to.

 

 


 

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