Despite some of the worst challenges to religious freedom the world has seen in decades, including “cleansing” campaigns against Christian and other minority groups in the Middle East, there are bright spots in the picture, a U.S. panel said.
A U.S. government commission is calling for international prosecution of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, over the militant group’s attacks on Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.
The request is a first for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in its 2015 report on the state of religious freedom around the world.
But the independent commission’s chairman sees some areas of optimism despite the extreme strains on world religious freedom from “non-state actors” such as ISIS and the persecution of Christians and others in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia.
“In some senses, I’m more optimistic about U.S. policy” because a new State Department ambassador covering the area has a strong track record on religious liberty issues, said Katrina Lantos Swett, a human rights activist who chairs USCIRF.
Lantos Swett also said positive signs could be found in the recent peaceful transition between elected governments in Nigeria, positive actions by the new government of Sri Lanka in the area of religious freedom and the interest of other governments and parliaments worldwide in the subject.
The 17-year-old commission was created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act and “monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.” The panel offers policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state and Congress, according to its website.
Among the key issues highlighted in the annual report are reactions to blasphemy laws in several Islamic countries; the displacement of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and the Central African Republic, as well as Burma; and the rise of non-state actors who are often “among the primary perpetrators of egregious religious freedom and human rights violations,” as a summary of the report’s findings noted.
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Mark A. Kellner, Deseret News