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Countries of Particular Concern, Special Watch List Countries, Entities of Particular Concern

Background

Under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998, the President is required to annually review the status of religious freedom in every country in the world and designate each country the government of which has engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). The law defines particularly severe violations as “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom,” including violations such as: (1) torture; (2) prolonged detention without charges; (3) forced disappearance; or (4) other flagrant denial of life, liberty, or security of persons.

Under the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016 (Wolf Act), the President is required to “designate each country that engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom during the previous year, but does not meet” all the criteria for being designated as a CPC to a “Special Watch List” (SWL).

The Wolf Act also further requires the designation of Entities of Particular Concern (EPC) for non-state actors that have engaged in particularly severe violations of religious freedom. According to the law, a “non-state actor” is defined as “a nonsovereign entity that (A) exercises significant political power and territorial control; (B) is outside the control of a sovereign government; and (C) often employs violence in pursuit of its objectives.” The President has delegated the authority to make CPC, SWL, and EPC designations to the Secretary of State.

Countries of Particular Concern

The most recent Countries of Particular Concern designations were made by the Secretary of State on December 29, 2023:

Burma, People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

Special Watch List Countries

The most recent Special Watch List designations were made by the Secretary of State on December 29, 2023:

Algeria, Azerbaijan, the Central African Republic, Comoros, and Vietnam.

Entities of Particular Concern

The most recent Entities of Particular Concern designations were made by the Secretary of State on December 29, 2023:

al Qa’ida affiliate Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS-Sahel (formerly known as ISIS-Greater Sahara), ISIS-West Africa, al Qa’ida affiliate Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and the Taliban.

Previous Religious Freedom Designations

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future