State Department’s 2020 International Religious Freedom Report and the Need for IGE
In May, the U.S. State Department released its latest annual International Religious Freedom (IRF) Report. The report analyzes the state of religious freedom around the world and highlights countries in which religious persecution is especially severe. The report also demonstrates the importance of IGE’s work in key countries:
Uzbekistan – State Department Findings
Last December, the Secretary of State announced that Uzbekistan was removed from the Special Watch List, indicating that the country “no longer engaged in or tolerated ‘severe violations of religious freedom.’” Uzbekistan is one of the rare instances where religious freedom has significantly improved over the past few years. Since 2018, IGE has partnered with the Uzbekistan government to build and strengthen freedom of faith in the country. In April, IGE was on the ground listening to a wide spectrum of religious communities, observing how Uzbekistan is at the forefront of fundamental shifts in freedom of faith in the region. IGE is looking forward to continuing its groundbreaking programs in the country later this year.
Vietnam – State Department Findings
The report notes that there have been both positive and negative trends in how freely faith communities can live out their beliefs. At the local level where many of the violations of religious freedom occur, many government officials hold hostile attitudes towards religion. Moreover, both officials and people of faith are unaware of the protections afforded to religious communities under the law. IGE is filling this gap by providing trainings for government officials, faith leaders, and the general public on the contributions of faith communities to the common good. IGE is also creating new Vietnamese-language scholarship on religious literacy, rule of law, and religious freedom. In 2020, IGE and its Vietnam partners published a graduate-level textbook on religious freedom, the only one of its kind in the country. IGE and its government partners also published a four-volume compendium of translated articles from IGE’s journal, The Review of Faith & International Affairs. Looking ahead, IGE will be publishing in Vietnam a bilingual Vietnamese-English edition of the book, Religion and Security: The New Nexus in International Relations.
Myanmar (Burma) – State Department Findings
Myanmar (referred to as Burma by the U.S. government) was re-designated by the Secretary of State as a “Country of Particular Concern”, a classification reserved for countries engaging in “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Since the IRF Report was released, the situation has gotten even worse with the Burmese military conducting a coup to imprison democratically elected leaders. Widespread protests across the country have been met with brutal suppression from security forces including shootings, beatings, and torture of protesters. The military has also intensified attacks against ethnic and religious minority communities such as the Kachin, a majority-Christian ethnic group in northern Myanmar. Kachin civilians have been forced from their homes, churches destroyed, and torture and rape are regularly perpetrated by Burmese soldiers. Last December, IGE partnered with the Kachin Baptist Convention to hold a Religion and Rule of Law training program for Kachin church leaders, lawyers, journalists, and civil society activists. The training provided a rare opportunity for Kachin leaders to hear from international experts and practitioners in religion, law, and religious freedom. IGE’s Center for Women, Faith, & Leadership (CWFL) has also funded a research study and direct programming by women-of-faith in Myanmar focusing on the self-care and collective wellbeing needs of refugee women, most of whom are from ethnic and religious minority groups.
Pakistan – State Department Findings
Last December, the Secretary of State redesignated Pakistan as a “Country of Particular Concern” for engaging in or tolerating “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” The report notes that religious minority women suffered abduction, rape, physical attacks, and forced conversions. CWFL has supported documentation by women-of-faith on the status of religious minorities as targets and victims in Pakistan, and the advocacy by women-of-faith for policies at the local level which help religious minorities advance in educational and vocational opportunities.
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