The U.S. State Department removed Sudan from its list of governments that are engaging in or tolerating systemic and ongoing religious freedom violations and has placed Nigeria, Cuba, and Nicaragua on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom” for the first time.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Friday the State Departments’ annual designations for “countries of particular concern.”
The “CPC” designation is required under the International Religious Freedom Act and shames countries where governments have “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
The CPC designation carries the potential for the U.S. to enact sanctions and other diplomatic actions against offending governments and government officials. However, sanctions have inconsistently been applied over the years to countries given the CPC designation.
The State Department re-designated nine countries as CPCs. Those include Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
Sudan had been listed as a CPC for years. But it is no longer given that designation as dictator Omar al-Bashir was removed from power earlier this year and a transitional government has finalized a new constitutional declaration and has vowed to improve liberty and human rights.
Instead, Sudan has been placed on the State Department’s “special watch list” of countries that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom” but are not quite at the level to be labeled as CPCs.
“The changes that have taken place there in the [Sudanese] government with the actions that have taken we believe merited their move to special watch list and off the list of countries of particular concern,” U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told reporters on a press call Thursday.
Sudan joins Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan as well as fellow special watch list newcomers Cuba, Nicaragua, and Nigeria.
According to the State Department’s release, Sudan was moved to the special watch list due to “significant steps taken by the civilian-led transitional government to address the previous regime’s” violations of freedom.
Before the transition of power, Open Doors USA ranked Sudan as the sixth-worst country in the world for Christian persecution for its annual World Watch List. Bashir was ruling the country “as an Islamic state with limited rights for religious minorities,” according to Open Doors.
Under Bashir, Sudan had come…