USCIRF Report Reveals Severe Violations of Religious Freedom

By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich

On May 1, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published its 2024 report, an annual publication that documents critical developments in the state of religious freedom around the world and outlines key recommendations for the U.S. government to promote this universal human right.

The 2024 USCIRF report marks the 25th anniversary of the passage of the landmark International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) and commemorates an important milestone in the United States’ commitment to champion the right to worship freely.

“IRFA sought to make religious freedom a priority in U.S. foreign policy in a variety of ways, including by creating governmental institutions, requiring monitoring and reporting on religious freedom violations, and establishing consequences for the worst violators,” as USCIRF explained.

Remarking on the 25th anniversary of IRFA and the significance of the findings in the 2024 report, USCIRF Chair Abraham Cooper said, “Twenty-five years after IRFA’s passage, many individuals and communities around the world still cannot freely practice their religion or belief. USCIRF is disheartened by the deteriorating conditions in many countries as highlighted in the Annual Report.”

The report recommends countries that should be designated by the U.S. Secretary of State as the world’s worst violators of religious freedom and provides supporting evidence.

Nations that have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom fall under one of two U.S. Department of State classifications – Countries of Particular Concern and Special Watch List Countries.

Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) are the most virulent suppressors of the right to worship freely, whereas Special Watch List (SWL) countries similarly deny the free exercise of faith, but don’t meet all the criteria of CPCs. 

USCIRF recommends that 17 countries be designated as CPCs and 11 countries for placement on the SWL.

Of the 17 countries the USCIRF determined to be among the worst violators of religious freedom, 12 were designated as CPCs by the U.S. Department of State in December 2023. These countries include Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. The five additional countries USCIRF recommends for CPC designation include Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Nigeria, and Vietnam.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban “continue to enforce a strict interpretation of Shari’a” and “expanded and enforced dozens of edicts and decrees based on their religious interpretation to restrict Afghans’ movement, dress, employment, and education, disproportionately impacting religious minorities as well as women and girls.”

The report finds that in Azerbaijan, religious freedom conditions declined, as the government imposed its restrictive 2009 law On Freedom of Religious Beliefs and authorities “surveilled, fined, detained, and arrested those considered to have violated Azerbaijan’s religious regulations.”

USCIRF reports that in India, 13 out of 28 states enforce anti-conversion laws as the government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, “reinforced discriminatory nationalist policies… and failed to address communal violence disproportionately affecting Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, Jews, and Adivasis (indigenous peoples).”

Additionally, USCIRF concludes that, in Nigeria, religious freedom conditions “remained extremely poor.” According to the report, “Violence across Nigeria impacted freedom of religion or belief as the government failed to prevent attacks against faith-based organizations or worshippers, with some accusing it of fomenting such attacks.”

Lastly, in Vietnam, officials “continued to persecute ethnoreligious minority groups,” restrict religious activities, force worshippers to renounce their faith, and arrest believers for “undermining national unity” and “abusing democratic freedoms.”

In the United States, the right to worship freely is often called America’s first freedom. It is a necessary component of U.S. foreign policy and our commitment to creating a more peaceful world.

History has shown that governments and societies that champion religious freedom are safer, more prosperous, and secure. Our commitment to protect this fundamental human right is both a moral necessity and a national security imperative.

Tragically, as the USCIRF 2024 report makes clear, religious oppression remains a daily reality for millions of people of faith around the world.

“In general, globally, we’re seeing freedom of religion and freedom of belief more and more challenged,” USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck recently told Crux. “Something is afoot in world history at this moment, which seems to be encouraging governments to weaponize against specific religions within their territory, and that’s very concerning.”

Given the recent findings of the 2024 U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom Report, the United States must increase its efforts to advance and defend religious freedom around the world.

For more commentary from Callista Gingrich, visit