Editorial: USCIRF report a helpful reminder, but may also create problems

26 April 2022

The annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) can be a helpful reminder about the persecution faced by our brothers and sisters.

The 2022 report, released on 25 April, highlights the perpetual threat to the lives of Christians in Afghanistan.

It also underlines the severity of the persecution faced by ethnic-minority Christians in Myanmar, which has increased since the military coup of February 2021.

Nadine Maenza, now chair of USCIRF, was appointed to the Commission in 2018 [Image credit: VOA]

Yet there remain question marks over whether USCIRF’s recommendations may do more harm than good.

For example, USCIRF has recommended that Egypt be added to the US Government’s Special Watch List (SWL) for “engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom”.

Yet this week we have been able to report the release without charge of nine Christians arrested for engaging in a peaceful protest. Last week we reported that a man accused of killing a church minister was swiftly arrested and charged with murder, while the Egyptian government granted licences to 239 more churches. Earlier this year a Christian was appointed president of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court.

Similar questions could be raised about the recommendations that Iraq and Turkey be included on the SWL, and the recommendation that Syria be designated a Country of Particular Concern.  

Should USCIRF succeed in persuading the US Government to take action against these countries, this could harden official attitudes towards Christians and other religious minorities, who are already often seen as in league with foreign, Western powers.

There is the risk that Western censure of national governments in the name of religious freedom could undo the progress that has so far been made.

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