Update (May 3): Washington Post maps the USCIRF's world's worst religious freedom violators. The visual look reveals that all but one of the USCIRF's Tier 1 and 2 violators are in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East.
Update: Religion News points out that the 2013 USCIRF includes non-state violators for the first time.
Knox Thames, USCIRF director of policy and research, told RNS in an interview, "USCIRF added a special emphasis on non-state actors, as their violent actions are a growing threat to religious freedom."
Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, and North Korea are among the world's worst violators of religious freedom, according to the annual U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report released today.
Although USCIRF does not rank countries in any particular order, this year's report recommends that 15 countries receive State Department designation as Tier 1 "countries of particular concern" (CPCs), where "governments ... have engaged in or tolerated 'particularly severe' violations of religious freedom" that are "systematic, ongoing, and egregious."
The U.S. currently designates Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan as CPCs. USCIRF wants Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam added to the list.
Another eight countries comprise the second tier of CPCs, where religious freedom conditions could worsen: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia. However, USCIRF takes a more optimistic approach to these countries, stating that U.S. policymakers have "an opportunity to engage early and [increase] the likelihood of preventing or diminishing the violations."
But where USCIRF sees opportunity to prevent conditions from worsening, other groups such as World Watch Monitor (WWM) see flagrant violations already. Four of the top 10 countries (Somalia, Maldives, Mali, and Yemen) on its 2013 World Watch List, which ranks the top 50 countries where Christians face the most religious persecution, do not appear among either USCIRF's Tiers 1 or 2. Two of USCIRF's Tier 1 countries, Burma and China, rank 32nd and 37th (respectively) on the WWM list.
Unlike the World Watch List, USCIRF's list reviews persecution against all religions, and includes many countries in the Middle East and western Asia. By contrast, African nations surged up the ranks on the World Watch List in recent years.
CT has spotlighted the nations where it's hardest to believe and charted the differences between international religious freedom advocates, as well as covered a landmark Pew study on religious persecution.
CT also reported on the WWL rankings in 2009 and 2012, and highlighted geographic trends among refugees and asylum seekers.
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