WASHINGTON (BP) — The Taliban’s return to control of Afghanistan headlined the examples of religious freedom deteriorating in multiple countries last year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in its annual report issued April 25.
For the first time in more than two decades, USCIRF – a bipartisan panel established by federal law in 1998 – recommended Afghanistan’s inclusion on a list of the world’s most egregious violators of the right to believe and practice faith. The commission last urged the U.S. State Department to designate Afghanistan as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) in 2001, shortly before the Taliban was removed from power.
Religious freedom conditions in Afghanistan “went into an immediate and disastrous downward spiral following the full U.S. withdrawal in August 2021 and the immediate takeover by the Taliban,” USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza said during an online news conference. “[T]he Taliban’s return to power has had an immediate, chilling impact on religious freedom and on the broader human rights environment.”
Afghanistan is one of 15 countries USCIRF recommended to the State Department in its 2022 report for CPC designation. CPCs are governments the State Department determines are guilty of “systematic, ongoing [and] egregious violations” of religious liberty. USCIRF also called for the State Department to place 12 countries on its Special Watch List (SWL), a category reserved for governments that meet two of the three criteria of the “systematic, ongoing [and] egregious” standard.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) welcomed USCIRF’s latest report.
“This annual report from USCIRF is an invaluable resource that provides thorough documentation on the state of religious freedom at home and abroad,” said Hannah Daniel, policy associate for the ERLC.
“Advocating for religious freedom – for all people everywhere – is an integral component of the work of the ERLC, and this report is a useful resource in advancing this work,” she told Baptist Press in written comments. “We are deeply committed to championing the cause of religious freedom around the world and advocating on behalf of those who are oppressed for their faith.”
The commission’s report, which was based on conditions in 2021, recommended CPC designation not only for Afghanistan but for Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam were not on the CPC list announced in November 2021 by the State Department.
USCIRF called on the State Department to keep Algeria, Cuba and Nicaragua on its SWL list. It urged nine countries be added to the list: Azerbaijan, Central African Republic (CAR), Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq; Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.
The commission also recommended six terrorist organizations for redesignation as “entities of particular concern” (EPCs), which is for non-government actors. They are Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Islamic State in West Africa Province, and Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, also in West Africa.