NICK EICHER, HOST: Yesterday the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its annual report. It recommends 16 nations it regards as “countries of particular concern.” That’s a designation the State Department makes. Ten of them were on the list last year: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The commission recommends adding six others: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Here’s commission chairman Daniel Mark explaining the designation during a press call yesterday.
MARK: This is a statutory category under IRFA for governments that engage in or tolerate—quote—systematic, ongoing, and egregious—unquote—violations of religious freedom.
REICHARD: Again, the commission says 16 countries meet those severe criteria. Overall, Chairman Mark said conditions deteriorated last year for many religious people around the world.
EICHER: Africa reporter Onize Ohikere joins me now on the line from Nigeria. Good morning to you, Onize.
ONIZE OHIKERE, REPORTER: Good morning, Nick.
Could you explain what this report is, exactly, and why it’s so significant?
OHIKERE: Yeah, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent bipartisan body that monitors religious freedom abroad and releases this report each year. It includes the commission’s findings and policy recommendations that it comes up with. The report usually advises officials ranging from the U.S. president to the Secretary of State and even the Congress on policy decisions. It also sets the stage for the State Department International Religious Freedom report and possible sanctions against foreign nations or officials.
Onize, you had a chance to review an advance copy of the report, so you’ve gone through it already. How does it differ from previous reports? What jumps out at you this year?
OHIKERE: Yeah, so one major difference was in the past the report had three sections. We had the tier one countries, also known as countries of particular concern, which includes the countries where religious freedom violations are systematic and ongoing. Tier two includes countries where violations are serious but doesn’t include all those factors. And there was a last section that typically included countries where the commission continues to monitor them but they no longer fall into any of the other categories. But this year, the report excluded the last section of countries under monitoring. The commission said it doesn’t mean the countries no longer have concerns, but referred people instead to the State Department International Religious Freedom report.
Well, I think people could be forgiven for being a little skeptical about the value of a report written in far away Washington, D.C., but, Onize, could you explain what practical effect you think this report will have on behalf of persecuted people around the globe?
OHIKERE: Yeah, we’ll know more once the State Department makes its formal declarations and report, but for now we know that countries do not like being formally called out like this. So just the fact that we’re sitting here talking about this, believe it or not, helps people who are being oppressed.
Alright. Well, thank you.
OHIKERE: Okay, thank you.
WORLD Radio Africa reporter, Onize Ohikere.
If you’d like to read the full report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, you can find the link here.