Religious Abuse Continues In Iraq, Report Says

December 17, 2008

Author: Adelle M. Banks

Source: Religion News Service

Iraq should be designated as a "country of particular concern" because its government tolerates the abuse of religious communities, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The federal commission said many Iraqi religious minorities, including Christians, Yazidis and Sabean Mandaeans have fled, threatening their faiths' existence within the country.

"The lack of effective government action to protect these communities from abuses has established Iraq among the most dangerous places on earth for religious minorities," said Felice D. Gaer, chair of the commission at a Washington news conference.

Only five of the nine commissioners agreed with the "country of particular concern" designation, the report noted. That designation is used when a government has engaged in "systemic" and "ongoing" religious freedom violations. But the report said all of the commissioners agreed that the Iraqi government needs to take more action to address the plight of religious minorities.

Commissioners encouraged President-elect Barack Obama's incoming administration to make prevention of abuse a high priority and to seek safety for all Iraqis and fair elections.

They also asked the U.S. government to appoint a special envoy for human rights in Iraq and Iraqi officials to establish police units for vulnerable minority communities. They also seek changes in Iraq's constitution, which currently gives Islam a preferred status, to strengthen human rights guarantees.