The atrocities committed by the Islamic State require a strong global response, including action by the International Criminal Court, said a prominent religious freedom report April 30. “All nations should care about abuses beyond their borders not only for humanitarian reasons but because what goes on in other nations rarely remains there,” stated the 2015 report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). “Standing for the persecuted against the forces of violent religious extremism is not just a moral imperative; it is a practical necessity for any country seeking to protect its security and that of its citizens.” The annual report on the global status of religious freedom is produced by USCIRF, an independent, bi-partisan federal commission that documents global threats to religious freedom and makes policy recommendations to Congress and the State Department. Mass displacement of religious and ethnic minorities by states, non-state terror groups, and sectarian violence was an especially troubling phenomenon in 2014, the report said, noting that “a horrified world has watched the results of what some have aptly called violence masquerading as religious devotion.” “Humanitarian crises fueled by waves of terror, intimidation, and violence have engulfed an alarming number of countries,” the commission said. This was at its worst in Iraq and Syria where millions of native Yazidis, Assyrians, Christians, and Muslim minorities have been driven from their homes by the Islamic State, as well as other government and extremist sects. In addition to displacement, the report said, atrocities “from summary executions to forced conversions, rape to sexual enslavement, abducted children to destroyed houses of worship” have been committed against Yazidis and Christians in “a systematic effort to erase their presence from the Middle East.” The violence, which spans the borders of Iraq and Syria, calls for action by the International Criminal Court, the U.S. commission said in its report. “For the first time, USCIRF recommends ICC prosecution of ISIL members for violations in Iraq and Syria. USCIRF recommends the U.S. government call for or support a referral by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court to investigate ISIL violations in Iraq and Syria against religious and ethnic minorities, following the models used in Sudan and Libya.” The situation in Iraq in Syria adds to the tsunami of refugees worldwide, with the number at its highest since World War II. The U.S. should help by expanding the number of refugees it can legally resettle and expedite the cases of those currently waiting in line, the commission said. The country should “raise the annual U.S. refugee resettlement ceiling from 70,000 to at least 100,000, with additional reserves for the Middle East region and the flexibility to further increase the ceiling to respond to emergency situations,” the report recommended. While violence in the Middle East is a major concern, violations of religious freedom are not limited to that region, the report continued. More than a million Nigerians have been displaced by the terror threat of Boko Haram, the commission found, while also noting a positive note in the free elections in the past year that were devoid of “interreligious violence” and marked by a peaceful transition of power. Additionally, conflict in the Central African Republic has led to massive displacement that has now escalated to “ethnic cleansing” levels as some 80 percent of Muslims in the country fled in 2014, according to the report. “Militias formed along opposing Muslim and Christian affiliations in CAR have engaged in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief,” the report’s summary states, adding that the government has been ineffective in stopping the violence since a 2013 coup. In response, the U.S. religious freedom commission asked the State Department to designate the Central African Republic as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC). This tiered designation denotes countries that are the worst violations of religious freedom. It can be a cause for U.S. sanctions of other penalties. In another new development, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is now petitioning the State Department to add countries to the CPC list where the governments are not directly behind violence against freedom, but where non-state actors violate the human and religious rights of citizens with impunity and without fear of opposition from the government. Meanwhile, Russia is recommended as a “Tier 2 Country of Particular Concern” by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and its human rights violations continued in 2014, the report said. “Amid a sharp increase in human rights abuses, serious violations of freedom of religion or belief continue in Russia,” the report said. The commission noted with gratitude that the U.S. has formally designated Turkmenistan as a “Country of Particular Concern” after USCIRF had lobbied for that designation for years. In a holdover from its authoritarian days as part of Soviet Russia, Turkmenistan has consistently violated human and religious rights for years, USCIRF stated. Among the abuses detailed were “police raids and harassment of registered and unregistered religious groups,” no “civilian alternative to military service,” and a repressive 2003 religion law that outlaws religious activity by unregistered religious groups. That law sets oppressive regulations even on registered religious groups, the report continued. Private religious worship is banned in the home and an official government council regulates who can and cannot be religious clerics. The U.S. religious freedom group reiterated the importance of religious freedom for stability in nations across the globe. “Rulers, regimes, and parties may come and go, but when a society commits itself to religious freedom, the security of religious communities — as well as that of dissenters from religion — is guaranteed no matter who holds power,” the report’s summary concluded.
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