On the final working day of the Bush administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice designated eight countries as egregious violators of religious freedom, but waived the possibility of sanctions against Uzbekistan for 180 days and Saudi Arabia indefinitely, while also refusing to designate Pakistan a “country of particular concern.” The controversial waivers effectively commit the U.S. government to inaction on violations of religious freedom in those countries, according to a May 2009 report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Felice D. Gaer, chair of the USCIRF, a nonpartisan, multifaith body, expressed frustration. “Religious freedom conditions in Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia are appalling, and a specific U.S. government response is required,” Gaer told CBS News.
“Christians must first pray for persecuted believers around the world,” USCIRF commissioner Don Argue told Sojourners. “If the statistics released by the British Secret Service MI6 in 2007 are correct, then around 200 million believers are in danger of being persecuted for their faith. The U.S. actually has a commission to assess these issues, but it’s up to Congress and the president to take action on them.” The May report recommends that the U.S. list 13 countries as “countries of particular concern,” and move 11 to the commission’s “watch list.” —Joey Ager