The House Committee on International Relations heard testimonies on Tuesday from religious freedom and human rights groups whose stories told of the ongoing repression of faith practice in this year's Countries of Particular Concern, as named in the U.S. State Department's most recent annual report.
Religious freedom has kept itself high on the U.S. government agenda with concerns heightening over the worsening conditions in several parts of the world and on several reports recently released on the status of human rights. Nina Shea, director of Center for Religious Freedom, Freedom House, expressed appreciation during the hearing in Washington, D.C., for the commitment towards addressing the critical issue.
She said the oversight sends "a powerful message to governments throughout the world that the American people are not indifferent to violations of religious freedom wherever they may occur."
Testimonies focused on CPCs named in the 2006 International Religious Freedom Report which include China, North Korea, Vietnam, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and Eritrea along with two other central Asian countries many say should have been included - Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Shea testified to the religious restriction in such countries as China, Saudi Arabia and North Korea and the violence against Christians in Egypt, Iraq and India among other countries.
Calling the report on Saudi Arabia "the weakest in the State Department's compilation," she criticized the summary that credited Saudis' efforts to improve the climate of tolerance.
"These assertions are so far off mark they should be omitted from the summary altogether," she said.
Michael Cromartie, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, expressed his surprise and disappointment with the omission of Turkmenistan.
"It makes the startling claim that the status of government respect for religious freedom improved during the period covered by this report," said Mr. Cromartie in a released statement. "This conclusion is regarded as erroneous not only by the commission but by most human rights organizations and other observers of Turkmenistan."
With such countries as Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan constantly showing a poor human rights record, human rights advocates are urging member states of the UN Democracy Caucus, who will be voting at the General Assembly on condemning certain countries for ongoing human rights abuses, to take a leading role in passing the resolutions.
The UN Democracy Caucus is a global coalition of over 100 democratic and democratizing nations committed to the promotion and strengthening of democracy and human rights at the United Nations. The caucus is an outgrowth of the Community of Democracies (COD), a grouping of democratically elected governments and countries in transition to democracy. The COD seeks to improve cooperation among democratic states in global and regional institutions, coordinate efforts to deepen respect for human rights and democracy, and support emerging democracies.