religious map

Distressing Map of Religious Freedom Around the World


The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued a report highlighting those it calls the worst violators of religious freedom in the world. Among them are many Asian and Middle Eastern governments, although some Western European countries are also included.

The report from the bipartisan advisory body divides violators into three categories. Fifteen “tier 1″ nations, marked red on the above map, have committed “particularly severe” violations that are “systemic, ongoing and egregious.” That includes all the countries you’d expect, as well as a few worsening problem areas, such as Egypt and Nigeria. The “tier 2″ countries are said to be “on the threshold” of meeting tier 1 status and include states that might have serious problems but, often, are at least making an effort to address them. A small third category of nations under “monitoring” for violations includes, among other states, some in Western Europe.

The report isn’t just about documenting abuses: The tier 1 countries can be officially designated as “countries of particular concern” by the U.S. State Department, at which point the president is legally required to follow up with some sort of action, recommended by the report. It might suggest, for example, engaging with Burmese civil society groups to promote tolerance or working with Pakistani lawmakers to improve legislation.

As the report itself notes, though, “in practice, the flexibility provided in IRFA has been underutilized. Generally, no new Presidential actions pursuant to CPC designations have been levied, with the State Department instead relying on pre-existing sanctions.” In other words, the red countries are usually already under some kind of trade restriction or sanction, which the president can use to say that he’s already meeting the commission’s requirements. In some cases, the president uses a waiver to avoid punishing countries that are important to U.S. foreign policy, such as Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

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