USCIRF Releases 25th Annual Report on International Religious Freedom

May 2, 2024

By Jeremy P. Barker

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 25th Annual Report earlier this week. The report covers religious freedom conditions in specific countries, key trends impacting religious freedom, and recommendations on how the U.S. government can effectively advance religious freedom around the world. The 2024 report also marks 25 years since the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act.

The USCIRF Annual Report highlights the countries and non-state entities that, in USCIRF’s judgement, merit Country of Particular Concern (CPC), Special Watch List (SWL), or Entity of Particular Concern (EPC) designation. This report “focuses U.S. policymakers’ attention on the worst violators of religious freedom globally.” The U.S. Department of State officially makes CPC, SWL, and EPC designations on behalf of the U.S. government, and USCIRF’s recommendations are intended to inform that process.

USCIRF recommended the designation of 17 countries as CPCs based on their governments’ engagement in or toleration of particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Of those countries, 12 are already on the State Department’s list (Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan). The remaining five countries are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Nigeria, and Vietnam. Azerbaijan is a first-time recommendation.

As part of its evaluation of each country, USCIRF offers an analysis whether conditions in a given country have improved, deteriorated, or stayed the same over the past 12 months. As noted by Nadine Maenza, President of the IRF Secretariat and a former USCIRF commissioner, conditions worsened in 10 countries, remained the same in 18, and improved in only one.

This worrisome trajectory of religious freedom conditions highlights the importance of another aspect of USCIRF’s Annual Report, its documentation of U.S. government efforts over the preceding year in response to violations of religious freedom. Assessing U.S. government actions to advance religious freedom in policy and programming has been a growing part of USCIRF’s annual reports. Among these actions are sanctions, visa bans, and public condemnations, as well as funding NGO programs and joining multilateral initiatives such as the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance. These efforts are immensely valuable. But far more can be done, and the USCIRF Annual Report is full of recommendations that should be given serious consideration to improve U.S. government efforts to advance religious freedom for all, even in regions where violent religious persecution and government repression are most egregious.

The USCIRF Annual Report and video of the launch event are available here.

Jeremy Barker is Director of RFI’s Middle East Action Team.