The United States State Department has once again saddled Burma with the moniker of a 'country of particular concern' (CPC) for the Burmese government's failure to address the lack of religious freedom inside the troubled Southeast Asian country.
Burma maintains the distinction of being named to the CPC list every year since the inception of the categorization in 1999 – with the exception of 2007, in which the State Department failed to compile a list.
The 2008 list, released at the end of last week, is a product of the former administration and the State Department under then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The CPC list is identical to its predecessor, consisting of Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
The CPC designation is reserved for the governments of countries in which persecution of religious freedom is found to be "particularly severe", including torture, and characterized by the "flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons."
In recent weeks, Burma's predominantly Muslim Rohingya population has come under international attention for its alleged and prolonged persecution at the hands of Burmese authorities and their travails in attempting to flee the harsh living conditions of Burma.
If not granted a waiver, designation as a CPC requires the President to take measures, such as enacting sanctions against the government in violation, to impel an improvement in the status of freedom of religion inside the country of concern.
Following the nationwide uprising of 1988, and principally after passage of the 2003 Burma Freedom and Democracy Act, the United States has maintained comprehensive sanctions against Burma and its military leaders.
Prior to releasing the results, the findings were forwarded to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for reaction and recommendation.
In its ensuing statement, released on Friday, the USCIRF responded critically with regard to both the lack of action taken against the most serious violators and to the composition of the CPC list itself.
"[T]he Commission concludes that the State Department should have acted years ago in the case of a number of the countries our Commission recommended for CPC designation," voiced Felice Gaer, Chair of the USCIRF.
Gaer went on to say that "we [USCIRF] hope the Obama Administration will recognize the added value that CPC status can bring to American public diplomacy on human rights."
USCIRF had counseled inclusion of Pakistan, Vietnam, Turkmenistan and Iraq as CPCs in the most recent State Department listing of the world's worst violators of religious freedom – but the State Department declined to act on any of the referrals.
The list has often been criticized for being unduly influenced by political necessity, as epitomized by the waiver routinely granted to Saudi Arabia, effectively relieving the kingdom of any potential punishment stemming from their categorization, despite the Middle Eastern country's abominable record with respect to honoring freedom of religion.