Preface

“From the beginning, America has been a place that has cherished the freedom of worship. Sadly, many around the globe do not enjoy this freedom… [W]e pray for the strength and wisdom to achieve a better tomorrow – one where good people of all faiths, Christians and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according to their conscience.”
— President Donald J. Trump

Religious freedom is a cherished American value and a universal human right.

It has been 19 years since the enactment of the International Religious Freedom Act, landmark legislation that placed the promotion of religious freedom as a central element of America’s foreign policy. The United States promotes religious freedom as a moral imperative. As importantly, we promote religious freedom because countries that effectively safeguard this human right are more stable, economically vibrant, and peaceful. The failure of governments to protect this right breeds instability, terrorism, and violence.

This annual report to Congress provides a detailed and factual overview of the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories, and documents reports of violations and abuses committed by governments, terrorist groups, and individuals.

America’s promotion of international religious freedom demands standing up for the rights of the world’s most vulnerable populations. ISIS’ brutal treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East has drawn a great degree of attention over the last few years. The 2016 Annual Report details these atrocities.

ISIS has and continues to target members of multiple religions and ethnicities for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and death. ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controlled. ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities. The protection of these groups – and others who are targets of violent extremism – remains a human rights priority for the Trump Administration.

This report serves as a resource for governments and citizens alike, helping to inform the work of faith leaders, lawmakers, rights advocates, academics, business leaders, multilateral institutions, and non-governmental organizations.

We are firmly committed to advancing the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The release of this report gives voice to all those worldwide seeking to live their lives peacefully in accordance with their conscience.

I hereby transmit the Department of State’s 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom to the United States Congress. I appreciate the longstanding Congressional support for international religious freedom, and I look forward to working with Congress to preserve and protect this universal human right.

Rex. W. Tillerson
Secretary of State

Overview and Acknowledgements

Why and How the Reports are Prepared

The Department of State submits this report to the Congress in compliance with section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. U.S. embassies prepare the initial drafts of the reports based on information from government officials, religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, religious groups, academics, and others. U.S. foreign service officers go to great lengths, often under difficult circumstances, to collect the information on which the reports are based.

The Office of International Religious Freedom collaborates in collecting and analyzing information for the country reports, drawing on its own consultations with foreign government officials, religious leaders, nongovernmental and faith-based organizations, representatives from the UN and other international and regional organizations and institutions, journalists, academic experts, community leaders, and Department of State offices. The Department’s guiding principle is to ensure that all relevant information is assessed as objectively, thoroughly, and fairly as possible.

The reports can be directly accessed at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm in a format that allows readers to search the texts and compare reports across regions and themes. Translations of the report are available via www.humanrights.gov. Both the International Religious Freedom Report and the Human Rights Report spotlight examples of abuses and restrictions that typify and illuminate the types of problems frequently reported in each country in 2016. Specific inclusions or omissions should not be interpreted as a signal that a particular case is of greater or lesser importance to the U.S. government, or that a case is the only available example. Rather, our goal is to shed light on the nature, scope, and severity of the violations we report with illustrative examples. Both reports cover the calendar year so that readers can reference the two reports jointly and benefit from year-end data.

How the Reports Are Used

A wide range of U.S. government agencies and offices use the reports to shape policy; conduct diplomacy; and inform assistance, training, and other resource allocations. The Secretary of State also uses the reports to help determine which countries have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom in order to designate “Countries of Particular Concern.” The reports are similarly used by the Secretary in determining which countries to place on the “Special Watch List” for having engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom,” as recently mandated by the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016.

Acknowledgements

This report reflects the dedicated efforts of hundreds of people in the Department of State and at U.S. missions abroad. We thank the dedicated staff at our embassies and consulates for monitoring and promoting religious freedom, and for chronicling in detail the status of religious liberty.

The reports were produced under the direction of Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) Acting Assistant Secretary Virginia L. Bennett, with guidance from Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael G. Kozak, Deputy Assistant Secretary Randy W. Berry, Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby, and Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia Knox Thames.

The editorial staff of the International Religious Freedom Report consists of the following: Editor-in-Chief: Robert W. Boehme; Senior Editors: Daniel T. Fantozzi, Andrew Goodman, Carol Rodley, Vicente Valle, and Juliet Wurr; Office of International Religious Freedom Director Daniel L. Nadel and Deputy Director David T. Morris; and the office’s editorial and support staff: Victoria Alvarado, Emily Beeler, Chelsea Brint, Z. Nicholas Brown, Warren Cofsky, Sean Comber, Stacy Bernard Davis, Leticia De los Rios, Serena Doan, Amber Footman, Cassandra Harris, Sameer Hossain, Faraz Khan, Sarah Krech, Christine Malarkey, Benjamin W. Medina, Elise Mellinger, Mariah J. Mercer, Douglas Padgett, Aneesa Patwary, Megan Patel, Robin Schulman, Ian Turner, Victoria L. Thoman, Sharon Umber, Ariel Volk, Laurel Voloder, and Daniel W. Wright.

Special thanks to Laura Conn in the Office of the Legal Advisor, and to Aaron Bruce, Jonathan Collett, Janine Czarnecki, Carol Finerty, Claudette Laprise, and Kerri Spindler-Ranta in DRL’s Office of Policy Planning and Public Diplomacy for their contributions.

2016 Report on International Religious Freedom
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