The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has explained why it has not recommended the designation of Iraq and Egypt under "countries of particular concern" after receiving backlash over its decision.
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On May 17, seven USCIRF commissioners met at the Government Publishing Office to talk about its 2017 annual report which was released last month. Given that the Islamic State has seized swathes of land in Iraq and that Christian churches in Egypt have been targeted in a string of bombings in the last few months, the commissioners were questioned why the two countries were no longer classified under "countries of particular concern," The Christian Post details.
Based on the International Religious Freedom Act, countries that are labeled "of particular concern" are those that have "engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom."
The USCIRF acknowledged that both Egypt and Iraq have religious freedom issues. However, it explained that the government actions or inactions are not that serious for them to be placed under that classification.
"Egypt was a tough decision, really one of the toughest," said USCIRF commissioner Sandra Jolley.
"It is entirely possible that a country can be moving forward in addressing issues of religious freedom and at the same time, be extremely problematic in terms of other human rights abuses. This is the situation that we found in Egypt," she adds.
As for Iraq, Foundation for Defense of Democracies founder Clifford May said it was removed from the recommendation list because they believed that the authorities recognize the problem brought by the Islamic State and are taking concrete steps to solve it. Nevertheless, the commissioner said they will re-examine the country for their report next year.
Meanwhile, Christians from all over the word gathered for the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians last week. On May 12, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. delivered a speech saying Western believers cannot rest, knowing that many of their brethren are still being persecuted, Catholic News Agency reports.
The summit aimed to shed light on religious extremism and push for action to promote religious liberty. In light of the continuous persecution of Christians in different parts of the world, Cardinal Wuerl urged western believers to speak up on behalf of those who are suffering.