Syria (MNN) — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is calling for the U.S. State Department to add Syria to its list of Countries of Particular Concern.
International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) was created to monitor religious freedom abuses abroad. The USCIRF last week released its 2014 Annual Report.
In it, the USCIRF recommended that the U.S. State Department add eight more nations to its list of “countries of particular concern,” defined under law as countries where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.
USCIRF also recommended that the following eight countries be re-designated as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
The report notes:
A tragedy on many levels, Syria also represents one of the worst situations in the world for religious freedom, yet the IRFA tools are almost irrelevant to address the actions of terrorist organizations fighting a brutal, dictatorial regime or when the longstanding government is no longer seen as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
In fact, despite a decade of worsening religious freedoms, the list has been stagnant since 2006, and the report concludes that the current CPC-designation list should actually be doubled in size.
That’s not really surprising to Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton. In Syria–the newest addition to the list, a civil war has been steadily worsening since March 2011. Today, there are growing divisions between the opposition troops themselves–between moderate and radical Islamists.
From an earlier VOM report, a contact wrote:
“This war is like a knife in the heart of the church. No human can stand that suffering. But there is God’s presence. I can see Christ in the midst of darkness,” said a VOM national contact from Syria. The ongoing war in Syria has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people, both Muslim and Christian.
More than 2 million Syrians have fled, seeking refuge in other countries. Through the boldness of Christian workers who have been providing medical supplies as well as Bibles, transformation is being seen.
Once referred to as “infidels,” these Christians are now being affectionately called, “the Bible people.” The fruit of their loving actions is becoming apparent in the way that Muslims have responded to the message of God’s love. The Voice of the Martyrs’ Syrian contact says, “Today in Syria, I’m not talking about one person. We’re talking about hundreds and even thousands of Muslims coming to know Christ.”
And it got personal. Although rebels have given up the city of Homs, elsewhere the rebel grip has tightened on cities like Raqqa. Recent reports from the region indicated a protection tax levied against Christians, strict Sharia law implementation and brutal punishment for enemies in the form of public executions. Of the recent ones, two men were crucified, and their pictures were tweeted for the world to see. “I think what they are saying is: ‘If you cross us, you will die, and it will be painful and it will be shameful.’ They want to exercise control. This is yet another chapter in the barbarism of these radical Sunni rebels.”
The message was not only to the world, but also to the already terrified residents of Raqqa. “The fact that it was so public also was designed to instill fear in the populace there. This was apparently right in the center of town in a crossway that a lot of people were around.”
Nettleton says although they had received some confirmation about earlier reports, “It is a very dangerous and very scary place to be a Christian. We are still trying to get direct reports from the church there.”
So extreme was the persecution and harassment and abuse, that al Qaeda distanced themselves from the rebels who were part of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Christians have gone as far underground as possible. Nettleton explains, “We know that as these radical Sunni groups take territory, they persecute Christians. They look to dominate the Christian communities there.”
Finally, it seems the international community may take some notice about the specifics in the deterioration in Syria as it applies to religious freedom However, despite the ceasefires and the political maneuvering, for those on the ground Nettleton says, “Prayer is the thing they most request of us: ‘Pray for us. Pray for us. Pray for us.’ I think especially right now, pray that they’ll be faithful. Pray that they’ll have hope and be encouraged in spite of what really is a desperate situation.”