The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) to monitor violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in IRFA and set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments, and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress.
Although the work of the Commission is conducted year round, the Commission compiles an annual report of its policy recommendations in May to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. This report covers the period May 2004 through April 2005.
Countries of Particular Concern: Commission Recommendations
In compliance with IRFA, the Commission has assessed the facts and circumstances, including those in the State Department's 2004 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, regarding violations of religious freedom around the world. As a result of this review process, and in furtherance of the Commission's statutory responsibility, the Commission wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in April 2005 recommending that she designate as CPCs 11 countries, including People's Republic of China.
In China, the government continues to be responsible for pervasive and severe violations of religious freedom and related human rights. Every religious community in China is subject to restrictions, discrimination, and state control. The most serious religious freedom abuses are experienced by Roman Catholics, house church and unregistered Protestants, and spiritual groups such as the Falun Gong, abuses involving imprisonment, torture, and other forms of ill treatment. Though the Chinese government issued a new Ordinance on Religion in March 2005, its provisions in fact restrict rather than protect religious freedom, offering Party leaders more extensive control over all religious groups and their activities.
Country Reports: China
The Chinese government continues to engage in systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom. The State Department has stated publicly that conditions for human rights, including religious freedom, deteriorated in 2004. Chinese government officials control, monitor, and restrain the activities of all religious communities, including Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, various spiritual movements such as the Falun Gong, "underground" Catholics, and "house church" Protestants, maintaining final authority over leadership decisions and doctrinal positions. Prominent religious leaders and laypersons alike continue to be confined, tortured, imprisoned and subjected to other forms of ill treatment on account of their religion or belief. Since 1999, the Commission has recommended that China be designated as a "country of particular concern," or CPC. The State Department has followed the Commission's recommendations and named China a CPC.
In November 2004, the Chinese government announced a new set of regulations on religious affairs. Though Chinese leaders have heralded the regulations as "a significant step forward in the protection of religious freedom," the bulk of the regulations codify provisions once scattered throughout several sets of laws, ordinances, and regulations. The regulations do include several new provisions, however, including conditions under which religious organisations can provide social services in local communities, accept donations from overseas religious groups, and host inter-provincial religious meetings. The regulations also do not specify that official recognition is limited to the five "official religions" (Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, and Taoism) as was the case under previous policy.
Legal and human rights experts agree that the new regulations were not issued to protect the rights and security of religious believers, but to regularise management practises, thus offering Party leaders more extensive control over all religious activity and groups. Moreover, the regulations threaten criminal punishments and civil fines for groups engaging in religious activities without having registered with the official "patriotic" religious organisations.
In May 2004, a joint document issued by the Department of Propaganda offered instructions on "integrating Marxist atheism propaganda and education" into the national education system, civil society and economic sectors, the media, and academia. Observers have suggested that this document, along with several directives to discourage "superstitious activity," represent a pointed effort on the part of the Chinese government to stem the burgeoning spread of religious belief among the Chinese people.
Beginning with the banning of Falun Gong in 1999, the Chinese government has continued to carry out a campaign against what it calls [slanderous word omitted]. Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been sent to labour camps without trial or sent to mental health institutions for re-education due to their affiliation with a [slanderous word omitted]. Falun Gong practitioners claim that between 1,000 to 2,000 practitioners have been killed as a result of police brutality. Given the lack of judicial transparency, the number and treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in confinement is difficult to confirm. Nevertheless, there is substantial evidence from foreign diplomats, international human rights groups, and human rights activists in Hong Kong that the crackdowns on the Falun Gong are widespread and violent. In addition, the Chinese government has reportedly continued to pressure foreign businesses in China to sign statements denouncing the Falun Gong and to discriminate against its followers in hiring. Local officials in foreign countries have also stated that they were warned by Chinese diplomatic personnel about the loss of potential business contacts if they continued to advocate on behalf of Falun Gong.
In March 2005, the State Department announced that it would not introduce a resolution at the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), citing "significant steps" taken by the Chinese government to address "structural issues concerning human rights." Among the steps mentioned by the State Department was a public announcement by the Chinese government that "religious education of minors is consistent with Chinese law and policy" and new regulations that exempt small family or home worship activities from governmental registration. These are concerns that this Commission has repeatedly raised in the past; yet, it is too soon to determine whether there will be any substantive impact from these steps. The Commission will continue to monitor the actions of the Chinese government and report on whether the cited "significant steps" lead to any measurable progress in the protection of the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief.
In addition to the steps mentioned above, the State Department also cited as evidence of progress invitations from the Chinese government to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit China in 2005. Similar promises were mentioned the last time the United States decided to forgo a resolution on China at the 2003 session of the UNCHR. Later that year, however, promised visits by this Commission and various UN thematic mechanisms were cancelled or postponed by the Chinese government.
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