Religious freedom is a internationally acknowledged human right, recognized as such in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Helsinki Accords, and many covenants and declarations.
The promotion of religious freedom is a central element of the United States’ foreign policy. Countries that protect freedom of religion are more stable, economically successful and peaceful.
Nonetheless, “in far too many places around the globe, people continue to be persecuted, unjustly prosecuted, or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Today, a number of governments infringe upon individuals’ ability to adopt, change, or renounce their religion or belief, worship in accordance with their religion or beliefs, or be free from coercion to practice a particular religion or belief,” said State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert in a written statement.
In accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State annually designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom as “Countries of Particular Concern”.
At the end of December, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern, for having engaged in, or tolerated, particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom.
“From the beginning, America has been a place that has cherished the freedom of worship. Sadly, many around the globe do not enjoy this freedom,” said President Donald Trump. “We pray for the strength and wisdom to achieve a better tomorrow – one where good people of all faiths, Christians and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according to their conscience.”