[JURIST] The US Commission on International Religious Freedom [official website] Wednesday released [press release] its annual report on worldwide religious freedom [PDF], finding for the first time since the ouster of Saddam Hussein that freedom of religious worship in Iraq is under severe threat. The commission pointed to increasing government abuse and sectarian violence, including arbitrary arrests, torture and rape, against Sunni and Shiite Muslims and religious minorities, in coming to its decision.
The commission maintains a list of countries designated as "countries of particular concern" (CPC) [US Department of State backgrounder], where rights abuses are so widespread that those countries may be subject to US sanctions. The commission also has a Watch List of countries "where conditions do not rise to the statutory level requiring CPC designation" but where violations of religious freedom are nonetheless commonplace and tolerated by the government. Iraq [JURIST news archive] has been added to the Watch List, although three of the four Democratic appointees to the 10 member panel argued that it should be designated as a CPC. The report found that most religious abuses were committed by gangs and terrorist groups, but that the Iraqi government also participated in violations, ignoring attacks on Iraq's minority Sunnis, the most frequent targets of religious violence, by armed Shia factions.
In the 2007 report, the commission listed Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam as CPCs and recommended that they be subjected to US sanctions. Besides Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, and Nigeria appear on the panel's Watch List. The panel's recommendations are not binding, although the US government may consider them in formulating its foreign policy. AP has more.