Annual Report Chronicles Key Trends in International Religious Freedom

U.S. Department of State - DipNote Blog

Suzan Johnson Cook serves as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Today the Secretary of State released the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report, the most comprehensive source of information on freedom of religion in the world. Respect for religious freedom is both a core American value and a universally acknowledged right enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As President Obama said, “As history repeatedly reminds us, freedom of religion, the protection of people of all faiths, and the ability to worship as you choose are critical to a peaceful, inclusive, and thriving society.”
The International Religious Freedom Report documents where people live, think, pray, and speak freely and where, in contrast, governments limit those freedoms, abusing the rights of their people, violating international agreements, and diminishing the reputations of their own countries. The report highlights key trends such as the impact of political and demographic transitions on religious minorities and the effects of conflict on religious freedom. It documents an increased number of anti-Semitic acts, as well as anti-Christian and anti-Muslim sentiment and actions around the world. These acts are emblematic of the types of restrictions members of virtually all religious groups faced somewhere in the world.

Even as this report documents abuses of religious freedom, the events of 2011 also show that change is possible and suggests that countries whose constitution, laws, policies, and practices protect religious freedom and human rights will be the most vibrant and stable. We noted some improvements in religious freedom in 2011. Turkey returned various previously confiscated religious properties and has discussed reopening Halki Seminary. The transitions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya hold a promise of greater religious freedom for all that we hope will be realized.

Unfortunately, as the report shows, governments continued to restrict religious freedom, often allegedly in response to conflict and to groups deemed “violent extremists.” Governments used blasphemy, apostasy, and defamation of religion laws to restrict religious liberty, constrain the rights of religious minorities, and limit freedom of expression, or they allowed members of civil society to abuse these laws for political or personal goals. Such restrictions contributed to societal intolerance in many countries.

A range of countries remained chronic and systemic violators of religious freedom in 2011. For example, in China, the government continued to severely restrict the religious freedoms of Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, members of Protestant Christian house churches, such as the Shouwang church in Beijing, and Catholics. The Iranian government continued to imprison leaders of the Baha’i community and Christian leaders such as Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. Religious freedom simply does not exist in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, or Eritrea.

This year’s report is available through a new searchable interface that can be accessed at www.humanrights.gov/reports. You can also learn more about the U.S. government’s engagement on international human rights issues at HumanRights.gov.

Disclaimer: The Office of Policy Planning and Public Diplomacy, in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, of the U.S. Department of State manages this site as a portal for international human rights related information from the United States Government. External links to other internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.