Once again, Asia has more “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) than any other region. Last week, the U.S. State Department designated Burma, China, North Korea, and seven other nations as CPCs for violating religious freedom. State also placed Pakistan, a long-time serial violator of religious freedom, on its Special Watch List.
The action regarding Pakistan was especially significant. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal commission monitoring religious freedom conditions worldwide, has recommended since 2002 that the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) designate Pakistan as a CPC.
USCIRF maintains that Pakistan merits CPC designation because of its severe persecution of religious minorities, the government’s failure to prevent religious violence, the continued practice of forcibly converting Hindu and Christian girls to Islam, and the use of blasphemy laws. There are other issues, as well. One longstanding concern is the unjust imprisonment of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy more than seven years ago. She remains on death row, waiting for the Pakistani Supreme Court to hear her case.
While the Trump administration stopped short of designating Pakistan as a CPC, the country’s placement on the Special Watch List was a positive step toward addressing longstanding patterns of persecution against people of all faiths in the country.
Other Asian nations require attention. Perhaps now, more than ever, Burma merits its designation as a CPC. Late last year, the UN determined that the Rohingya, a Muslim minority population in Burma, were victims of state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing. More than half a million Rohingya have been displaced by violence in Rakhine state. Human rights groups have documented mass killings, brutal violence, and the systematic sexual violation of Rohingya women and girls. Persecution of Rohingya and other religious minorities, including Christians, is not likely to subside in 2018.