Religious persecution around the world

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything In It: tracking persecution.

Every year the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issues a report on persecution around the world.

The 2019 report came out yesterday. It catalogs government attempts to control or suppress faiths of all kinds. It also lists terror groups that target people because of their religion.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: The commission is an advisory group, independent and bipartisan. It doesn’t make policy or enforce it.

Still, its recommendations do matter to the president, the secretary of state, and Congress.

So the findings are influential.

That’s especially true for the nations the report criticizes.

Joining us now to talk about the latest report is Nadine Maenza. She is one of the commissioners.

Good morning, Nadine!

MAENZA:  Good morning.

REICHARD: Well, let’s start with this year’s countries of particular concern. We’re going to say this a lot, so we’ll just refer to them CPCs. I’ve got ten of those CPCs that were on last year’s list. They are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

This year, two more added: Russia and Uzbekistan. All of those countries are also designated as CPCs by the U.S. State Department.


So, Nadine, the commission also recommends four more countries not listed by the State Department. Those are Central African Republic, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam. I wanted to ask you, what made those countries stand out to the commission?

MAENZA: Well, the reason that we’re recommending those also be CPCs is because really they meet the definition of what makes a CPC, which is a country that has systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations. So these countries either commit or tolerate religious freedom violations that meet that standard. So, even though the State Department might not put them on their list yet, a country like Central African Republic, 80 percent of the country is controlled by armed actors that really there’s a lot of sectarian violence the government is not intervening to stop it. So because they’re tolerating it, they still have horrible religious freedom conditions and need to be called out for that.

REICHARD: You and the other commissioners visited several countries to develop this report. What stood out to you during those travels? Anything surprising?

MAENZA: Oh, so much surprising. I mean I think one of the things that stood out to me the most is you know I’ve studied a lot about blasphemy laws and how horrible they are. And they’re really used against people and a lot of times in a country that has blasphemy laws and somebody gets accused of blasphemy, they’re treated as if they’re guilty and shunned and all sorts of violence occurs in those communities. But I got to meet really good leaders that thought blasphemy laws actually help, not hurt. They think, well, if they’re only laws to make people not talk bad about each other’s religion, then we would finally have peace. You know? So sometimes people have a wrong idea of how laws really impact religious freedom. So part of what we need to do is be engaging in leaders and countries and be able to show how these laws don’t actually bring religious tolerance. They don’t actually bring peace. They only arm people to actually fight against each other.

REICHARD: Well, the commission I saw makes several recommendations to the administration in this report. One is for the State Department to help develop textbooks and teaching materials for schools that accurately portray religious groups. Is that practical you think where governments intentionally target religious groups?

MAENZA: Oh absolutely. You know, we’ve seen terrible textbooks in places like Saudi Arabia where they talk badly about Christians and about Jews. And they’re sent around the world and they’re used around the country. And it really does impact the way that people that live in that country view religious freedom. In Egypt, for instance, we were able to meet earlier this year wit h the secretary of education Tariq Shaqi. And he had been a professor in the United States at Brown University and he is overseeing the curriculum revamping in the country of Egypt. And they’re going through the curriculum and making sure it doesn’t have extremist, intolerant words. In fact, they even have a committee of Christians and a committee of Muslims because you know it’s 90 percent Muslim, about 10 percent Christian and very small amounts of other religions. But they’re at least looking at how the curriculum talks about each other and so there’s that input from the community and we really feel like to see what they’re doing and to see that it’s possible to really go after textbooks in your own country and try to make them better.

REICHARD: Nadine Maenza is a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Thanks so much for joining us today! Appreciate it.

MAENZA: Thanks for having me.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

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