Mr. President, Unhand That Intolerant Brute!


The United States Committee on International Religious Freedom, a body created by Congress to give recommendations to the State Department, came out yesterday with its annual report (press release here, PDF document here), which includes the 11 "most egregious violators of religious freedom" in the world. They are: North Korea, Iran, Sudan, China, Burma, Vietnam, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. You will note that some on this list are hand-holding palsies with the Bible-thumping Bushies. This fact is hinted at in the USCIRF's letter to Condoleeza Rice, which expresses annoyance at the footsie with the Saudis:

[I]n September 2004, Secretary Powell for the first time designated as CPCs [Countries of Particular Concern] Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Eritrea…. In the case of all three countries, it is important that the U.S. government not erroneously construe certain actions on their part, such as releasing a few prisoners while arresting others, issuing ambiguous decrees that are applied restrictively, and making as yet unfulfilled promises to the U.S. government, as genuine progress. For example, despite the Department's contention in the 2004 religious freedom report that there were slight improvements in Saudi government efforts to foster religious tolerance in Saudi society, the report again concluded that freedom of religion "does not exist" in Saudi Arabia. The Commission concurs, and finds that the government of Saudi Arabia not only persists in banning all forms of public religious expression other than that of the government's own interpretation of one school of Sunni Islam, but also continues to be involved in financing activities throughout the world that support extreme religious intolerance, hatred, and, in some cases, violence toward non-Muslims and disfavored Muslims. […]

Madame Secretary, the deadline has passed for the United States to take action on the CPC designation of these three countries. [The International Religious Freedom Act] requires that the President not only name those countries that are the most egregious violators of religious freedom, as occurred last September, but also take specific policy actions within 180 days. When that deadline was reached on March 15, the State Department announced that it had asked Congress for "a little extra time," noting that there had been "real engagement" with Saudi Arabia. However, the Commission has seen no evidence of genuine progress with regard to freedom of religion or belief in any of these countries. By taking action on Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Eritrea, the U.S. government has an opportunity, in one small but critical way, to make President Bush's words about promoting peace through spreading freedom a reality. Delays in the process serve only to signal that we do not take seriously our stated–and mandated–commitments to promote religious freedom and other human rights throughout the world.