U.S. group calls Iraq one of the worst violators of religious freedom

WASHINGTON – A U.S. watchdog group monitoring international religious freedom said Iraq should be named one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.

In a report released Dec. 16, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said Iraq deserved the designation “in light of the ongoing, severe abuses of religious freedom and the Iraqi government’s toleration of these abuses, particularly abuses against Iraq’s smallest vulnerable religious minorities.”

The commission said “the situation is especially dire for Iraq’s smallest religious minorities,” including Chaldean Catholics and other Christians.

“These groups do not have militia or tribal structures to protect them and do not receive adequate official protection,” it said. “Their members continue to experience targeted violence and to flee to other areas within Iraq or other countries, where the minorities represent a disproportionately high percentage among Iraqi refugees.”

The commission, an independent body, makes its recommendations to the president, secretary of state and Congress. Four commissioners out of nine voting members dissented from the decision to name Iraq as a country of particular concern, saying that government inaction or complicity with such abuses had not been established sufficiently.

Felice Gaer, chairwoman of the commission, said in the report that Iraq is “among the most dangerous places on earth for religious minorities.”

In 2007, the commission put Iraq on a less-severe watch list because the deterioration of human rights for non-Muslim groups resulted in thousands of Iraqi refugees.

This report said that although violence has lessened since May 2007, “there has been continued targeted violence” against religious minorities.

The commission urged President-elect Barack Obama’s administration to ensure that all Iraqis are protected, specifically by making certain that the Kurdistan regional government upholds minority rights in northern Iraq. Many minority groups are concentrated in northern Iraq.

Among other recommendations, the commission also called on the U.S. to urge Iraq to deploy police units in vulnerable communities and to implement a constitutional article guaranteeing minorities’ rights in northern Iraq.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.