Report: Religious freedom under 'serious and sustained assault' around the world

The report brands ISIS' treatment of Yazidis, Christians and other minorities as “a genocidal effort to erase their presence” from Iraq and Syria.Reuters

Religious freedom has come under "serious and sustained assault" across the globe in the past year, according to an annual report released today.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom  (USCIRF) today released its 2016 report, and found that religious liberty has deteriorated around the world, with abuses committed by both state and non-state actors.

A number of countries are "plagued by extremism and religious freedom violations," the report said.

"By any measure, religious freedom abroad has been under serious and sustained assault since the release of our commission's last Annual Report in 2015," the USCIRF said. "From the plight of new and longstanding prisoners of conscience, to the dramatic rise in the numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, to the continued acts of bigotry against Jews and Muslims in Europe... there was no shortage of attendant suffering worldwide."

The report highlights religious freedom violations in more than 30 countries, including China, Sudan, North Korea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria.

The USCIRF recommended that the US State Department add eight more countries to its list of "countries of particular concern", where "particularly severe violations of religious freedom are perpetuated or tolerated".

Included in that list were Vietnam, Egypt and the Central African Republic.

In China, the communist government has "stepped up its persecution of religious groups deemed a threat to the state's supremacy and maintenance of a 'socialist society'," the report said. "Christian communities have borne a significant brunt of the oppression, with numerous churches bulldozed and crosses torn down".

In Eritrea, up to 3,000 people are believed to be imprisoned on religious grounds, and to receive "the cruelest punishments". In Pakistan more people are serving life sentences or are on death row for blasphemy than any other country in the world.

The report also brands Islamic State's treatment of Yazidis, Christians, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims who do not "subscribe to [its] barbaric interpretation of Islam" as "a genocidal effort to erase their presence" from Iraq and Syria.

The report condemns ISIS' "summary executions, rape, sexual enslavement, abduction of children, destruction of houses of worship, and forced conversions".

"The governments of Syria and Iraq can be characterised by their near-incapacity to protect segments of their population from ISIL [ISIS] and other non-state actors, as well as their complicity in fuelling the sectarian tensions that have made their nations so vulnerable," the report continued.

"Syria's government has no only fuelled these tensions but committed crimes against humanity in its treatment of Sunni Muslims."

In Western Europe, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, the USCIRF said, characterising this as a "disturbing trend". it noted that various European countries restrict individuals from wearing religious symbols.

The international community must act to end religious freedom abuses, the commission said.

"[These] are crises in their own right which cry out for continued action on the part of the international community, including the United States. To be effective, such action must recognize the unmistakable fact that religious freedom is a common thread in each of these challenges, and deserves a seat at the table when nations discuss humanitarian, security, and other pressing issues.

"The United States and other countries must fully accord this right the respect it deserves and redouble their efforts to defend this pivotal liberty worldwide."

The report covers the period from February 1, 2015 to February 29, 2016.