(RNS) — Final week, the State Division deployed its most potent software in its non secular freedom toolbox when it launched its latest list designating the worst violators of spiritual freedom worldwide. In what has turn into an annual ritual, observers welcomed new additions and bemoaned notable exclusions, and as standard they make good factors.
However the designations beg the query — do they assist?
Below the Worldwide Spiritual Freedom Act of 1998, the U.S. secretary of state is allowed to blacklist nations that severely violate the liberty of faith or perception. Blacklisting permits the State Division to levy sanctions, although most administrations have waived any punitive motion, or just piggyback non secular freedom sanctions on preexisting penalties towards blacklisted states.
Nonetheless, no different nation has such a mechanism, which permits the US to shine a lightweight on abuse.
On Friday (Dec. 2), Secretary of State Antony Blinken designated 12 nations as “nations of specific concern,” signifying they’re the worst of the worst. Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have appeared on the listing earlier than. Cuba and Nicaragua had been new additions. Blinken named Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros and Vietnam to the Particular Watch Record, a second tier of violators.
Blinken additionally recognized “Entities of Specific Concern” — nonstate actors who severely violate non secular freedom. The listing included al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis in Yemen, ISIS-Better Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, the Taliban and the Wagner Group “based mostly on its actions within the Central African Republic.”
General, the announcement accommodates hits and misses. America designating nations like China and Russia doesn’t shock, based mostly on present world occasions. The redesignation of countries reminiscent of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, each pivotal gamers in U.S. international coverage, nonetheless, demonstrates a willingness to call buddy and foe alike. Naming Russia’s Wagner Group acknowledged a Western nonstate group as a persecutor for the primary time.
Many welcomed Vietnam’s look on the Particular Watch Record, although many advocates believed it deserved redesignation as a CPC, which it was in 2004-5. Boat People SOS, a gaggle centered on human rights violators within the nation, and Abraham Cooper, vice chair of the U.S. Fee on Worldwide Spiritual Freedom, each welcomed the choice whereas believing, in Cooper’s phrases, that “circumstances in Vietnam meet the CPC commonplace.”
However others identified a number of obtrusive omissions, foremost India and Nigeria’s absence on all lists. “USCIRF Outraged by Omission of Nigeria and India from State Division’s Record of Nations of Specific Concern,” mentioned the fee’s press release, and its chair, Nury Turkel, acknowledged, “There is no such thing as a justification for the State Division’s failure to acknowledge Nigeria or India as egregious violators of spiritual freedom, as they every clearly meet the authorized requirements for designation as CPCs.”
The truth that Blinken selected to not title both nation to even the decrease Particular Watch Record is deeply problematic. Their trendlines are unmistakably within the improper course. Definitely, policymakers in Washington have excessive hopes for each nations for increasing U.S. affect in Africa and Asia, however ignoring their persecution of Christians, Muslims and atheists hinders efficient partnership.
Likewise, Blinken’s relisting of the Taliban as an entity of specific concern pulled a punch. With their uncontested management of Afghanistan, the Taliban are the de facto energy, now not hiding in caves. Their inclusion on the CPC listing would have been stronger, which the US did earlier than 9/11 with out recognizing their “authorities.”
The State Division’s selections on these violators not solely fails to ship applicable messages of concern, they hinder proactive diplomacy and weaken the US’ leverage overseas.
That is vital as a result of in my twenty years in authorities engaged on these points, I’ve discovered that these lists do assist — however provided that they’re adopted up with consequential diplomacy. These designations are only one software, and so they have to be used. They won’t work if they’re thought to be containers to examine.
In Uzbekistan, the Trump administration used Uzbekistan’s CPC designation to result in long-needed reforms, but in addition labored with new management in Tashkent that was trying to reset relations. With out CPC and the specter of penalties, change wouldn’t have come as far or as quick.
Equally, in Vietnam and elsewhere, the State Division and U.S. non secular freedom ambassador Rashad Hussain have a possibility to enrich itemizing or delisting with energetic diplomacy to create political will the place none exists.
India, Nigeria and others would require energetic advocacy. The draw back of getting these lists is that nations that escape them hear an unmistakable message that non secular persecution ranks low within the hierarchy of priorities.
Within the State Division launch, the secretary mentioned the US will “repeatedly have interaction nations about our issues concerning limitations on freedom of faith or perception, no matter whether or not these nations have been designated.”
Hopefully so, however higher if backed by penalties.
(Knox Thames, the State Division particular adviser on non secular minorities within the Obama and Trump administrations, is writing a e-book on ending non secular persecution. Comply with him on Twitter @KnoxThames. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially mirror these of Faith Information Service.)