On July 28, 2014, Secretary Kerry submitted the 2013 International Religious Freedom Report to the United States Congress. The reports, now in their 16th edition, are available on State.gov and HumanRights.gov. Mandated by Congress, the International Religious Freedom Reports help inform U.S. government policy and foreign assistance. They also serve as a reference for other governments, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, legal professionals, scholars, interested citizens, and journalists.
In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of members of religious communities in recent memory. In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs. In conflict zones, mass displacement has become all too common. Around the world, individuals were subjected to discrimination, violence and abuse, perpetrated and sanctioned violence for simply exercising their faith, identifying with a certain religion, or choosing not to believe in a higher deity at all.
Government Repression of Religious Freedom
Governments from all regions subjected members of religious groups to repressive policies, discriminatory laws, disenfranchisement, and discriminatory application of laws. These governmental actions not only infringed on freedom of religion themselves; they often created a permissive environment for broader human rights abuses. Restrictive policies included laws criminalizing religious activities and expression, prohibitions on conversion or proselytizing, blasphemy laws, and stringent registration requirements for religious organizations.
Repression of fundamental freedoms creates a more fertile environment for violent extremism to take hold, as people denied their right to practice their beliefs freely become more alienated and resentful and vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups. The actions of violent extremist groups led some governments to invoke draconian anti-extremism laws and impose restrictions that increasingly infringed on the religious freedoms of members of religious minorities.
Discrimination, Impunity and Displacement of Religious Minorities
The failure of many governments to combat religiously motivated discrimination creates an environment that emboldens violent and discriminatory actions by some in the society. In many instances, governments increasingly failed to investigate or prosecute crimes targeting members of religious minority groups, creating a climate of impunity.
Members of minority religious communities were disproportionately affected by violence, discrimination, and harassment. In many regions of the world, religious intolerance was linked to civil and economic strife and resulted in mass migration of members of religious minority communities throughout the year. In some of these areas, the outward migration of certain communities has the potential to change the demographics of entire regions permanently.
Countries of Particular Concern
Governments that engage in or tolerate particularly severe violations of religious freedom are designated by the Secretary of State (under authority delegated by the President) as "Countries of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The International Religious Freedom Act defines particularly severe violations of religious freedom as systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, abduction or clandestine detention of persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons based on religion.
Today, the Secretary announced the following countries as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC): Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan has been designated a CPC for the first time this year.
While marking International Religious Freedom Day on October 27, 2013, Secretary Kerry stressed that “nations that protect this fundamental freedom will have the partnership of the United States and the abiding commitment of the American people as we seek to advance freedom of religion worldwide.” It is our hope that this year’s report not only identifies the abuses, problems and violations, but also highlights areas for change, action, and accountability. We invite governments, community groups, faith-based and secular organizations, students, activists, human rights defenders, change makers, and citizens to use this report to defend and advance international religious freedom, a universal right to which we are all entitled.
For further information, please contact Carole Jackson at the DRL Press Office at DRL-Press@state.gov, or at (202) 647-4129. Learn more about U.S. government engagement on international human rights at www.HumanRights.gov, and follow the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on Facebook and Twitter at @HumanRightsGov. Join the conversation on Twitter at #IRF13.