State Dept releases CPC designationsSmith Welcomes Designation of Russia on State Dept’s Religious Freedom ‘Special Watch List’
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the House global human rights subcommittee, on Tuesday welcomed the State Department’s inclusion of Russia on its religious freedom “Special Watch List” for governments that engage in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom.
“The violations of religious freedom in Russia are real, thoroughly documented, and at times brutal,” Smith stated at a hearing he chaired of the Helsinki Commission on “Religious Freedom in Eurasia” Tuesday. “The Russian government deserves this—and next year we should consider carefully whether it belongs on the list of Countries of Particular Concern—the ‘CPC’ list for the worst of the worst.”
The Secretary of State designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom as “Countries of Particular Concern,” (CPC) and the State Department issued its annual CPC designations on Tuesday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as CPCs, and added Pakistan to the CPC list.
“This Administration has had the courage to hold Pakistan accountable for Pakistan’s persistent and systemic failures to protect the civil and human rights of religious minorities,” said Smith. “This designation gives hope and voice to suffering Shia, Christian, Hindu, Ahmadi, and other minority citizens whose very presence counters religious extremism in Pakistan.”
Secretary Pompeo also designated Russia, Comoros and Uzbekistan on the Special Watch List, a category created by an act authored by Smith, the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, signed into law in 2016, for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” The Secretary also designated al-Nusra Front, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qa'ida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Khorasan, and the Taliban as “Entities of Particular Concern” (EPC), another category created by Smith’s law for non-state entities which are among the worst offenders of religious freedom.
The CPC and EPC (Entities of Particular Concern) designations carry with them legal tools, such as sanctions, for the U.S. to use to hold the worst offenders of religious freedom accountable for their violations. Smith’s international religious freedom law also provides the President and the State Department with more resources to promote religious freedom abroad.
Also absent from the CPC list was Vietnam, despite repeated recommendations from the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that it be designated as a CPC. Vietnam was on the CPC list from 2004 until 2006, when it was removed.
“Vietnam was not designated as a ‘country of particular concern—a significant omission,’” Smith said. “The Administration should condition assistance on improvements in religious freedom and related human rights in Vietnam.”
Smith said that Turkey should also be designated as a “country of particular concern”—the bad actor list, and therefore subject to sanctions—for its unjust detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson for more than two years before his release in October; the government’s refusal to renew visas or other permits to over 100 pastors; the repression of Orthodox Christians including the desecration, vandalizing, or demolishing of hundreds of Greek Orthodox and Christian churches, chapels and monasteries in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus; and the government’s meddling in the affairs of Christian and Jewish authorities.
“Taken together, this litany of longstanding and flagrant religious freedom violations strikes me as abundant justification for the Administration to designate Turkey as a Country of Particular Concern, or—at a minimum—as a Special Watch List country,” Smith stated.
Uzbekistan, which was designated as a CPC in 2017, was moved to the “Special Watch List,” one tier below the CPC designation on the scale of gravity of religious freedom violations.
Smith noted that the governments of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan “all three use sweeping counter-extremism authorities to target broad categories of individuals engaging in unsanctioned religious practice. Uzbekistan holds thousands of individuals in custody for such infractions. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan continues its heinous practice of holding untold scores of prisoners incommunicado in abject conditions after trials in secret courts.”
Smith is also the author of the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act which was signed into law by the President on Tuesday. Smith’s law would ensure that U.S. assistance reaches religious minorities like Christians and Yazidis targeted for genocide in Iraq and Syria, and that the ISIS perpetrators are held accountable.