USCIRF is proud to announce its new “Policy Update” series. This periodic publication will include information and analysis related to the status of religious freedom in the countries USCIRF monitors.
This report is an examination of religious freedom conditions in Nicaragua in 2019. Following an outbreak of anti-government protests in April 2018, the Catholic Church offered support to protesters by providing sanctuary in churches and medical care, and in some cases vocal encouragement. Consequently, President Daniel Ortega’s government, security forces, and supporters started a campaign of intimidation and harassment against Catholic institutions, clergy, and churchgoers. This has severely disrupted the ability of Catholics to worship freely in Nicaragua and has led to clergymen having to flee the country out of concern for their safety.
This report provides an overview of the key religious freedom violations that occurred in Cuba during 2019. While Cuba adopted a new constitution in April 2019 that changed the country’s constitutional provisions related to freedom of religion or belief, violations have continued. Alongside the constitution, the government uses a restrictive system of laws and policies, surveillance, and harassment to control religious groups and suppress freedom of religion or belief. The report examines the ongoing issues, including the continued detention and harassment of religious leaders and the denial of religious freedom for democracy and human rights activists and independent journalists.
During the past decade, the Chinese government has increasingly employed advanced technology to amplify its repression of religious and faith communities. Authorities have installed surveillance cameras both outside and inside houses of worship to monitor and identify attendees. The government has deployed facial recognition systems that are purportedly able to distinguish Uighurs and Tibetans from other ethnic groups. Chinese authorities have also collected biometric information—including blood samples, voice recordings, and fingerprints—from religious and faith communities, often without their consent.
In North Korea, the regime’s approach toward religion and belief is among the most repressive in the world. Put simply, freedom of religion or belief does not exist in North Korea. Although the North Korean constitution protects its people’s freedom of religion in principle, in practice the regime exerts absolute influence over a handful of statecontrolled houses of worship permitted to exist. This creates a facade of religious life maintained chiefly for propaganda purposes.
A USCIRF delegation visited Khartoum and North Darfur states in May 2018 to learn about specific violations and barriers to religious freedom perpetrated both by state and non-state actors. The delegation met with a wide range of interlocutors, including Sudanese government officials, members of civil society, women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, religious leaders, representatives of religious minority communities, and journalists, among others.
In November 2017, USCIRF Commissioners and staff traveled to Burma (also known as Myanmar) to meet with government officials, civil society, and religious representatives in Rangoon, Mandalay, and Naypyidaw. In January 2018, USCIRF staff traveled to Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to gather information on the situation of Rohingya Muslim refugees.
The next year will be a pivotal one in Iraq. The U.S.-led fight against ISIS has yielded significant success. The military battle to defeat ISIS, a group which then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson affirmed was “clearly responsible for genocide,” has come to an end. In September 2017, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) held its independence referendum, which passed with 92 percent voting in favor.
Throughout 2017, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has promoted its 50th year of existence, marked on August 8. The regional bloc comprising 10 countries has grown and integrated in ways hardly dreamed of five decades ago. But to this day, ASEAN lacks cohesion on human rights issues and, in particular, has a flawed record protecting freedom of religion or belief, both as a collective regional bloc and as individual Member States.
Since South Sudan’s secession in 2011, USCIRF has documented an escalation in the Sudanese government’s persecution of Christians. The government’s persecution of Christians is in line with the ruling National Congress Party’s (NCP) long standing campaign to strengthen Sudan’s Islamic and Arabic identity, disregarding the country’s vast religious and ethnic diversity.
The Central African Republic has a long history of political strife, coups, severe human rights abuses, and underdevelopment. Despite this, sectarian violence and targeted killing based on religious identity are new to the majority-Christian country. The ongoing conflict started after the 2013 coup by a coalition of Muslim-majority militias and has resulted in thousands of people dead, 2.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance, more than 480,000 refugees, and more than 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).