Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) noted with concern the findings of the 2013 Annual Report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which is required by Congress to evaluate religious freedom conditions and offer recommendations on protection of religious freedom in countries where abuses are severe.
"This year's report shows that, at the very least, the United States must do more to ensure that countries receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. assistance are not simultaneously committing gross violations of their citizens' right to religious freedom," said Rep. Smith, referring to several of the countries covered by the report, including Egypt, Pakistan, and Iraq. Rep. Smith has chaired multiple hearings on the abductions and forced conversions of Coptic women and girls and strongly supported Congressional efforts to require improvement in Egypt's religious freedom before disbursement of U.S. assistance to Egypt. "Unfortunately, the Administration waived the reasonable requirement on Egyptian assistance and also failed to designate Egypt as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC)."
"The Obama Administration must make better use of the tools given to them by Congress to advance and protect religious freedom, including the sanctions required by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act," Smith said. He also said that because so many countries that are currently designated as CPCs are not sanctioned or did not receive any new sanctions when they were so designated, these countries have no incentive to improve--the Administration's unwillingness to act removes the "teeth" from the law created by Congress.
"In China, religious freedom regressed markedly in 2012 for Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims; Catholic clergy were thrown into detention or disappeared, Falun Gong adherents faced torture, and attorneys who bravely tried to defend religious rights were harassed, intimidated, disbarred, or disappeared themselves--yet the Administration refuses to apply real sanctions against the Government of China and continues business as usual," Smith noted from the report.
The USCIRF 2013 Annual Report details abuse in 23 countries and recommends that the Secretary of State designate the following countries as CPCs: Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. "As a nation, we must not turn a blind eye or lend unconditional support to governments that systematically, consistently, and egregiously violate the religious freedom of their citizens or create a climate of impunity for others to do so," said Smith.
Smith is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Human Rights and International Organizations in the Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) and a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He is also a member of the Executive Committee of Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
USCIRF is a non-partisan federal agency whose Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of the Congress to ensure that religious freedom plays a central role in U.S. foreign policy. Smith chaired the committee hearings that prepared the passage of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).