On January 4, 2024, Secretary Blinken made a significant announcement that the United States had designated Pakistan, the People’s Republic of China, Burma, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Nicaragua as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for either engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.
Furthermore, Secretary Blinken designated Algeria, Azerbaijan, Comoros, the Central African Republic, and Vietnam as Special Watch List (SWL) countries. These countries were identified as engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom and require closer monitoring.
Entities of Particular Concern (EPC) included prominent groups such as al Qa’ida affiliate Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS-Sahel (formerly known as ISIS-Greater Sahara), ISIS-West Africa, al Qa’ida affiliate Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and the Taliban. These entities were recognized for their roles in perpetrating or tolerating egregious violations of religious freedom.
Secretary Blinken emphasized that significant violations of religious freedom also occur in countries not designated, urging governments to address issues such as attacks on religious minority communities, communal violence, imprisonment for peaceful expression, transnational repression, and calls to violence against religious communities.
While the designations were generally well-received, criticism arose over the omission of certain countries. On the same day, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent bipartisan federal government agency, expressed disappointment in the exclusion of Nigeria and India from the Countries of Particular Concern list.
However, USCIRF called for a public hearing in Congress to address the State Department’s failure to follow recommendations regarding Nigeria and India. The dispute highlights the ongoing complexities and debates surrounding the identification of countries facing religious freedom challenges on the international stage.
The omission of Nigeria from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) or Special Watch List (SWL) is perplexing, especially considering that some of the top entities and groups engaged in terrorism are based in Nigeria. The situation gained added significance following the tragic events of Christmas Eve 2023 when hundreds of people fell victim to extremists in Nigeria.
Adding to the complexity of these global concerns, the recent designation by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for severe violations of religious freedom. This designation brings attention to the situation in Pakistan, where various religious communities, including Christians, face challenges and persecution.