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United States Commission on Intl Religious Freedom
I. THE UNITED STATES COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: INTRODUCTION AND ACTIVITIES FROM MAY 1, 2002 TO MAY 1, 2003
A. Introduction and Overview of the Commission
The Commissions impact and its success in accomplishing its mission are dependent on bringing advice and accountability to U.S. foreign policy in its promotion of international religious freedom. In its four years of operation, the Commission has made recommendations to the Administration and Congress that have had a significant impact on the promotion of religious freedom as an integral part of U.S. foreign policy. The Commissions recommendations have been implemented by the President, the State Department, and Congress concerning several countries that violate international norms of religious freedom, including Afghanistan, China, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea), Pakistan, Sudan, and Vietnam. Several examples are listed in Section C., below.
C. Policy Impact
The Commissions work has been instrumental in recent breakthroughs in Pakistan. The Commission:
D. Commission Activities During the 2002-2003 Reporting Cycle
1. Reporting and Policy Recommendations
b. Countries of particular concern
In September 2002, the Commission sent a letter to Secretary Powell recommending countries for designation as countries of particular concern (CPCs) egregious religious freedom violators subject to U.S. action under IRFA. The previous year, the Secretary of State designated as CPCs Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan, and added North Korea from the Commissions recommendations. In its September 2002 letter, the Commission recommended that each of these countries remain listed and that India, Laos, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam be added.2 The Commission met with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in October to discuss its CPC recommendations.
In March 2003, the Secretary of State designated as CPCs the same countries that were designated in 2001. The Commission was deeply disappointed that Secretary Powell did not designate India, Laos, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. (The particularly severe violations of religious freedom that warrant CPC designation for each of the twelve countries that the Commission designated as CPCs are discussed in Chapter II of this report.) Following the March 2003 CPC designations, the Commission urged the State Department to continue to assess religious freedom violations in these countries and make CPC designations throughout the year. The Commission also stated that it was looking for the Administration to designate policy measures it will take to improve the situation in the six countries that the Secretary did designate as CPCs.
E. Synopsis of the Commissions Work with Respect to Specific Countries and Issues
Pakistan suffers from considerable sectarian and religiously motivated violence, much of it committed against Shia Muslims by Sunni militants, but also against religious minorities such as Ahmadis and Christians. Over the past year, there has been an upsurge in anti-Christian violence, including fatal attacks directed against churches, a missionary hospital, and humanitarian organizations. Police protection appears ineffectual and although the Pakistani government did take some steps with regard to the recent attacks on Christians, no one has yet been successfully prosecuted for the killings. Perpetrators of attacks on minorities are seldom brought to justice. In its September 2002 letter to Secretary Powell, the Commission recommended Pakistan for CPC designation.
A number of recommendations from the Commissions 2001 report on Pakistan were implemented in 2002, one of which was that the United States, in its bilateral relations with Pakistan, take the position that the separate electorate system for religious minorities is inconsistent with democratic principles. In January 2002, the Commission welcomed the decision of the Pakistani government to abolish the separate electorate system. In addition, as recommended by the Commission, an allocation of $8 million for basic education programs in Pakistan was included in the 2002 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, signed into law on January 10, 2002.
II. COUNTRIES OF PARTICULAR CONCERN
The designation of countries of particular concern and the implementation of meaningful policies in response to such designations are among the most important human rights acts taken by any U.S. administration. Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA), a country of particular concern (CPC) is a country the government of which has either engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom, defined as violations that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious. IRFA sets forth that the policy of the United States is to oppose particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
As envisioned in IRFA, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reviewed evidence regarding particularly severe violations of religious freedom by countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated such systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations. As a result of its review, the Commission wrote to the Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in September 2002 recommending that he designate the following 12 countries as CPCs: Burma (Myanmar), Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), India, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Pakistan, People's Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.
In addition to the six countries previously designated as CPCs, the Commission found that the governments of India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Vietnam, and Laos have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom, and recommended that they be designated as CPCs this year.
Pakistan suffers from considerable sectarian and religiously-motivated violence, much of it committed against Shia by Sunni militants, but also against religious minorities such as Ahmadis and Christians. Since the beginning of coalition military action in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, there has been an upsurge in anti-Christian violence, including fatal attacks directed against churches, a missionary hospital, and humanitarian organizations. Leaders of a coalition of Islamic political groups, Muttahida Majlise-Amal, have also portrayed U.S. military action in Iraq as part of an alleged U.S. attack on Islam. Spokesmen for Pakistans non-Muslim religious communities have expressed fear that retribution would be sought against Christians and others who are perceived as having some affinity with the United States and have urged the Pakistani government to take precautionary measures. Police protection appears ineffectual and, although the Pakistani government did take some steps with regard to the attacks on Christians, no one has yet been successfully prosecuted for the killings. Perpetrators of attacks on minorities are seldom brought to justice.
Successive governments have seriously violated religious freedom in Pakistan. Discriminatory religious legislation has helped to create an atmosphere of religious intolerance and eroded the social and legal status of non-Muslims. Government officials provide fewer protections to non-Muslims than to members of the majority Sunni Muslim community. Belated efforts to curb extremism by reforming Pakistans thousands of Islamic religious schools appear to have had little effect thus far. Despite the proposed madrassa reform law, too many of Pakistans Islamic religious schools continue to provide ideological training and motivation to those who take part in violence targeting religious minorities in Pakistan and abroad. American journalist Daniel Pearl was forced to confess his religion as Jewish before being beheaded on a training video by Islamic extremists.
The Constitution of Pakistan declares members of the Ahmadi religious community to be non-Muslims despite their insistence to the contrary. Ahmadis are prevented by law from engaging in the full practice of their faith. Barred by law from posing as Muslims, Ahmadis may not call their places of worship mosques, worship in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer rooms that are otherwise open to all Muslims, perform the Muslim call to prayer, use the traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quote from the Quran, or display the basic affirmation of the Muslim faith. These acts are punishable by imprisonment of up to three years. It is illegal for Ahmadis to preach in public, to seek converts, or to produce, publish, and disseminate their religious materials. These acts are also punishable by imprisonment of up to three years. Ahmadis have been arrested and imprisoned for all of the above acts, and they are reportedly subject to ill treatment from prison authorities and fellow prisoners. Ahmadis who refuse to disavow their claim to being Muslims are effectively disenfranchised. There is no indication that the Musharraf government intends, or has even seriously considered, changes to the anti-Ahmadi laws.
Prescribed penalties for blasphemy include death for whoever defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and life imprisonment for whoever willfully defiles, damages, or desecrates a copy of the holy Quran. Blasphemy allegations, often false, result in lengthy detention of and sometimes violence against Christians, Ahmadis, and other religious minority members, as well as Muslims on account of their religious beliefs. The negative impact of the blasphemy laws is further compounded by the lack of due process and evidentiary standards that are involved in these proceedings. In addition, during blasphemy trials, Islamic militants often pack the courtroom and make public threats about the consequences of an acquittal. Defense attorneys in blasphemy cases have been the targets of violence. One judge who ruled in favor of the defendants in a high-profile blasphemy case was subsequently assassinated. Although no one has yet been executed by the state under the blasphemy laws, some persons have been sentenced to death. Several accused under the blasphemy laws have been attacked, even killed, by vigilantes, including while in police custody; those who escape official punishment or vigilante attack are forced to flee the country. Others have died in police custody under allegedly suspicious circumstances. Following an abortive attempt in 2000 at introducing procedural reforms, the Musharraf government has made no further effort to reform, much less repeal, the blasphemy laws. In a positive development, however, in August of 2002, the Supreme Court of Pakistan threw out the conviction of Ayub Masih, the first Pakistani Christian sentenced to death in a blasphemy case. His conviction was overturned on grounds that the accusations against him were false; however, the provisions of law under which he was charged remain unchanged.