On March 27, the U.S. State Department warned U.S. nationals not to travel to the following regions of Cameroon:
North, Far North, Northwest and Southwest Regions, and Parts of East and Adamawa Regions due to crime.
Far North Region due to terrorism.
Northwest and Southwest Regions due to armed conflict. 
For the North, Far North, Northwest and Southwest Regions, and Parts of East and Adamawa Regions, the Advisory states: “In the Adamawa Region north of the capital, Ngaoundere, and East Regions, there is a heightened criminal threat within 20 kilometers of the border with the Central African Republic.. . . Violent crime, including kidnapping by terrorists and/or kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, assault, and carjacking are serious concerns in Cameroon, especially in all these regions.”
For the “Far North Region, the Advisory states, “terrorists may attack with no warning, targeting local facilities and places frequented by Westerners.”
For the Northwest and Southwest Regions (the Anglophone regions), the Advisory states, “a separatist movement has led to increased levels of violence. Armed clashes between separatists and government forces, and other acts of violence, including kidnapping for ransom and arson, have occurred. Ongoing conflict has led to a breakdown in order, crimes of opportunity, and a significant decline in medical resources in large areas of both regions.”
Moreover, Cameroon as a whole is rated by the State Department as “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution due to crime.” It adds, “violent crime, such as armed robbery and carjacking, is common throughout Cameroon. Local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.”
If a U.S. citizen nevertheless decides to go to Cameroon, the State Department adds these specific suggestions:
“Do not display signs of wealth, such as expensive watches, handbags, or jewelry.
Monitor local media for breaking events and be prepared to adjust your plans.
Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program(STEP) to receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, help the Embassy contact you in an emergency, and help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.”
As noted in a previous post, on January 10, 2018, the State Department announced a new system of travel advisories for every country in the world with the same “four-level ranking system, starting with a Level 1, which is ‘Exercise normal precautions’ (e.g., Aruba); Level 2, ‘Exercise increased caution’ (e.g., Jamaica); Level 3, ‘Reconsider travel’ (e.g., Cuba); and level 4, ‘Do not travel’” (e.g., Mexican states of Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas due to crime).” 
On April 25, 2018, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its annual report on the subject for 28 countries in the world. Of these the Commission concluded that Cuba and 11 other countries had engaged in or tolerated religious freedom violations during 2017 that were serious and “systematic, or ongoing, or egregious.”
According to this report, “religious freedom conditions in Cuba remained poor” with the following Key Findings:
“The Cuban government engaged in harassment campaigns that included detentions and repeated interrogations targeting religious leaders and activists who advocate for religious freedom.”
“Officials threatened to confiscate numerous churches and interrogated religious leaders countrywide about the legal status of their religious properties.”
“The government continues to interfere in religious groups’ internal affairs and actively limits, controls, and monitors their religious practice, access to information, and communications through a restrictive system of laws and policies, surveillance, and harassment.”
“While the Cuban constitution guarantees freedom of religion or belief, this protection is limited by other constitutional and legal provisions. At the end of the reporting period, 55 religious communities were registered; only registered religious communities are legally permitted to receive foreign visitors, import religious materials, meet in approved houses of worship, and apply to travel abroad for religious purposes.”
“The Cuban Communist Party Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) answers only to the Party and so it has broad, largely unchecked power to control religious activity, including approving some religious ceremonies other than worship services, repair or construction of houses of worship, and importation of religious materials.”
“Authorities prevent human rights and pro-democracy activists from participating in religious activities, sometimes using force. Almost every Sunday in 2017, the government prevented members of Ladies in White from attending Mass.”
“In a positive development, officials verbally promised the Assemblies of God that the government would not confiscate 1,400 of their churches as it threatened to do in 2015 and 2016.”
Commission’s Recommendations About Cuba to U.S. Government
The Commission also made the following recommendations about Cuba to the U.S. Government:
“Publicly denounce violations of religious freedom and related human rights in Cuba.”
“Press the Cuban government to:
“Stop harassment of religious leaders;
End the practice of violently preventing democracy and human rights activists from attending religious services;
End destruction of, threats to destroy, and threats to expropriate houses of worship;
Lift restrictions on religious communities buying property, building or repairing houses of worship, holding religious processions, importing religious materials, and admitting religious leaders;
Allow unregistered religious groups to operate freely and legally, and repeal government policies that restrict religious services in homes or other personal property;
Allow registered and unregistered religious groups to conduct religious education;
Cease interference with religious activities and religious communities’ internal affairs; and
Hold accountable police and other security personnel for actions that violate the human rights of religious practitioners, including the religious freedom of political prisoners.”
“Increase opportunities for Cuban religious leaders from both registered and unregistered religious communities to travel to, exchange aid and materials with, and interact with coreligionists in the United States.”
“Apply the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, Executive Order 13818, or other relevant targeted tools, to deny U.S. visas to and block the U.S. assets of specific officials and agencies identified as responsible for violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief, including considering responsible officials from the ORA for such measures.”
“Use appropriated funds to advance internet freedom and widespread access to mass media, and protect Cuban activists by supporting the development and accessibility of new technologies and programs to counter censorship and to facilitate the free flow of information in and out of Cuba, as informed by the findings and recommendations of the Cuba Internet Task Force created pursuant to the National Security Presidential Memorandum, ‘Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba.’”
“Encourage international partners, including key Latin American and European countries and regional blocs, to ensure violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights are part of all formal and informal multilateral or bilateral discussions with Cuba.”
On May 29, the State Department will release its annual report on religious freedom in every other. country in the world. Thereafter we will examine its comments on Cuba and then analyze and evaluate the two reports’ discussion of Cuba.
 U.S. Comm’n Intl Religious Freedom, USCIRF Releases 2018 Annual Report, Recommends 16 Countries be Designated “Countries of Particular Concern,” (April 25, 2018). The other 11 countries in this category (Tier 2) were Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia and Turkey. The Commission also recommended that the State Department designate the following 16 countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” (countries whose government engage in or tolerates particularly severe (or systematic, ongoing, and egregious) religious freedom violations: Burma, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The Commission is an unusual quasi-governmental body. See U.S. Commission on International Freedom: Structure and Composition, dwkcommentaries.com (May 29, 2013).
On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, a moving Interfaith Worship Service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church was organized and conducted by clergy from the Downtown Congregations of Minneapolis.
This service was the perfect incarnation of a message given that same day by Pope Francis at a meeting of religious leaders in Nairobi Kenya. The Pope said there was a profound “need for interreligious understanding, friendship and collaboration in defending the God-given dignity of individuals and peoples, and their right to live in freedom and happiness”. Indeed, said the Pope, “ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury . . . [or] something extra or optional, but essential, something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs.”
Calls to Prayer
There were three Calls to Prayer at the Minneapolis service. Cantor Barry Abelson of Temple Israel sang one in Hebrew. The Westminster Choir in English sang “God Be in My Head” by Gwyneth Walker. Muezzin Elijah Muhammad of Masjid An-Nur (Mosque of the Light) sang his Call to Prayer in Arabic.
“I begin with the simple things of my days:
Fresh air to breathe,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.”
“I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:
The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;
The tightening of the grip in a single handshake when I feared the step before me in the darkness;
The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest and the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page when my decision hung in the balance.”
“I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:
The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before me, without whom my own life would have no meaning;
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see;
The workers whose sweat watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;”
“I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment to which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
The little purposes in which I have shared with my loves, my desires, my gifts;
The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence that I have never done my best, I have never dared to reach for the highest;
The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.”
All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,
O God, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.”
“Blessed is He Who made the stars in the heavens and made therein a sun and a moon giving light!” (25:61)
“And He it is, Who made the night and the day to follow each other, for him who desires to be mindful or desires to be thankful.” (25:62)
“And We have enjoined on man concerning his parents — his mother bears him with faintings upon faintings and his weaning takes two years — saying: Give thanks to Me and to thy parents. To Me is the eventual coming.” (31:14)
“So he smiled, wondering at her word, and said: My Lord, grant me that I may be grateful for Thy favour which Thou hast bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do good such as Thou art pleased with, and admit me, by Thy mercy, among Thy righteous servants.” (27:19)
“And He it is Who made for you the ears and the eyes and the hearts. Little it is that you give thanks!” (23:78)
“And certainly We established you in the earth and made therein means of livelihood for you; little it is that you give thanks!” (7:10)
“O people, keep your duty to your Lord and dread the day when no father can avail his son in aught, nor the child will avail his father. Surely the promise of Allah is true, so let not this world’s life deceive you, nor let the arch-deceiver deceive you about Allah.” (31:33)
“Surely Allah is He with Whom is the knowledge of the Hour, and He sends down the rain, and He knows what is in the wombs. And no one knows what he will earn on the morrow. And no one knows in what land he will die. Surely Allah is Knowing, Aware.” (31:34)
“Even as We have sent among you a Messenger from among you, who recites to you Our messages and purifies you and teaches you the Book and the Wisdom and teaches you that which you did not know.” (2:151)
“Therefore glorify Me, I will make you eminent, and give thanks to Me and be not ungrateful to Me.” (2:152)
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.”
“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.”
“You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
“You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.You shall not go around as a slanderer[a] among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood[b] of your neighbor: I am the Lord.”
“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
The above passage from Matthew stresses personal piety, almsgiving, prayers and calls for forgiveness. The text also tells us not to worry. But often being told not to worry just makes the situation worse. Matthew, however, points the way forward: “strive first for the kingdom of God.”
A helpful understanding of the kingdom of God comes from Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian pastor and author, who said:
“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.” 
We all are homesick for hope in this world, and the gathering at this common table of representatives of three great religious traditions is a sign of that hope.
The words of Leviticus that were just read by Rabbi Zimmerman also are important: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.”
These words from the Hebrew Bible reminded Rev. Nycklemoe of a celebration organized by one of his congregants in the State of Washington, Olaf Hanson, who owned an apple and potato farm. After harvesting what he needed, Olaf hosted a Gleaning Day for his guests to gather the gleanings of the fruit and vegetables and put them in paper bags for the poor and needy.
We too need to share our longings, our lostness, our need for love and the gifts of one another.
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.”
“Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
“And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”
“Rooted in a story of generosity and partnership, Thanksgiving offers an opportunity for us to express our gratitude for the gifts we have and to show our appreciation for all we hold dear. Today, as we give of ourselves in service to others and spend cherished time with family and friends, we give thanks for the many blessings bestowed upon us. We also honor the men and women in uniform who fight to safeguard our country and our freedoms so we can share occasions like this with loved ones, and we thank our selfless military families who stand beside and support them each and every day.”
“Our modern celebration of Thanksgiving can be traced back to the early 17th century. Upon arriving in Plymouth, at the culmination of months of testing travel that resulted in death and disease, the Pilgrims continued to face great challenges. An indigenous people, the Wampanoag, helped them adjust to their new home, teaching them critical survival techniques and important crop cultivation methods. After securing a bountiful harvest, the settlers and Wampanoag joined in fellowship for a shared dinner to celebrate powerful traditions that are still observed at Thanksgiving today: lifting one another up, enjoying time with those around us, and appreciating all that we have.”
“Carrying us through trial and triumph, this sense of decency and compassion has defined our Nation. President George Washington proclaimed the first Thanksgiving in our country’s nascence, calling on the citizens of our fledgling democracy to place their faith in “the providence of Almighty God,” and to be thankful for what is bequeathed to us. In the midst of bitter division at a critical juncture for America, President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the plight of the most vulnerable, declaring a “day of thanksgiving,” on which all citizens would “commend to [God’s] tender care” those most affected by the violence of the time — widows, orphans, mourners, and sufferers of the Civil War. A tradition of giving continues to inspire this holiday, and at shelters and food centers, on battlefields and city streets, and through generous donations and silent prayers, the inherent selflessness and common goodness of the American people endures.”
“In the same spirit of togetherness and thanksgiving that inspired the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, we pay tribute to people of every background and belief who contribute in their own unique ways to our country’s story. Each of us brings our own traditions, cultures, and recipes to this quintessential American holiday — whether around dinner tables, in soup kitchens, or at home cheering on our favorite sports teams — but we are all united in appreciation of the bounty of our Nation. Let us express our gratitude by welcoming others to our celebrations and recognize those who volunteer today to ensure a dinner is possible for those who might have gone without. Together, we can secure our founding ideals as the birthright of all future generations of Americans.”
Interspersed throughout the Service were pieces of wonderful music.
This was a powerful and meaningful worship service, especially in these days of too frequent expressions of hostility towards Muslims and Syrian refugees. This service was exactly what Pope Francis called for in his previously mentioned remarks in Kenya and on November 30 at the Grand Mosque of Koudoukou in the Central African Republic:
“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such. . . . Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace. Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years. They ought, therefore, to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good. Together, we must say no to hatred, no to revenge and no to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace, God salam.”
On July 28, 2014, the U.S. State Department released its annual report on religious freedom around the world.
Secretary of State Kerry’s Comments
Announcing the release of the report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said although the U.S. was “obviously far from perfect,” it was important for the U.S. to treasure freedom of religion as “a universal value. . . . The freedom to profess and practice one’s faith is the birthright of every human being . . . [and] are properly recognized under international law. The promotion of international religious freedom is a priority for President Obama and it is a priority for me as Secretary of State.” In short, “religious freedom remains an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement.”
Executive Summary of the Report
The world had the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory. In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs. Out of fear or by force, entire neighborhoods are emptying of residents. Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map.” In conflict zones (Syria, Central African Republic and Burma), this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm.
All around the world, individuals were subjected to discrimination, violence and abuse, perpetrated and sanctioned violence for simply exercising their faith, identifying with a certain religion, or choosing not to believe in a higher deity at all. Countries where this was a significant problem were Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Eritrea. Throughout Europe, the historical stain of anti-Semitism continued to be a fact of life.
Governments repressed religious freedom. Governments from all regions subjected members of religious groups to repressive policies, discriminatory laws, disenfranchisement, and discriminatory application of laws. These governmental actions not only infringed on freedom of religion themselves, but they also often created a permissive environment for broader human rights abuses. Restrictive policies included laws criminalizing religious activities and expression, prohibitions on conversion or proselytizing, blasphemy laws, and stringent registration requirements or discriminatory application of registration requirements for religious organizations. This was especially true in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, China, Cuba, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Burma, Russia and Bahrain.
Governments engaged in discrimination, impunity and displacement of religious minorities. When governments choose not to combat discrimination on the basis of religion and intolerance, it breeds an environment in which intolerant and violent groups are emboldened, even to the point of physically attacking individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs. Governments in these countries failed to protect vulnerable communities and many religious minority communities were disproportionately affected, resulting in a large number of refugees and internally displaced persons. This was especially true in Syria, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India and Nigeria. Rising anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in the following countries of Europe demonstrated that intolerance is not limited to countries in active conflict:Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and United Kingdom.
Religious minority communities were disproportionately affected by violence, discrimination and harassment. In many regions of the world, religious intolerance was linked to civil and economic strife and resulted in mass migration of members of religious minority communities throughout the year. In some of these areas, the outward migration of certain communities has the potential to permanently change the demographics of entire regions.
“Countries of Particular Concern”
Pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State designated the following countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC): Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Such countries “engage in or tolerate particularly severe violations of religious freedom” or “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, abduction or clandestine detention of persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons based on religion.”
Turkmenistan, which is new to this State Department list, is the only one of eight countries recommended for such designation by the latest report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The others so recommended by the Commission are Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam.
Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom
Simultaneously with this report’s release, the Obama administration announced the nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein as the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Rabbi Saperstein, a reform rabbi and lawyer known for his work in Washington to advance religious freedom, would be the first non-Christian to lead the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, if confirmed by the Senate.
The Commission relies upon this definition of the freedom in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Similar provisions are found in several multilateral human rights treaties. (P. 9.)
The Report stressed the importance of this freedom. It says this right “protects the freedom of religious communities, as groups, to engage in worship and other collective activities. It also protects every individual’s right to hold, or not to hold, any religion or belief, as well as the freedom to manifest such a religion or belief, subject only to the narrow limitations specified under international law.” (P. 9.)
This right is important, says the Commission, “because it enables people to follow what their conscience dictates. . . . People are entitled to religious freedom by virtue of their humanity.” Therefore, there can be no “coercion or compulsion in these matters.” (P. 2.)
Moreover, whenever this freedom is abused, “societal well-being would suffer” as well as democracy and other human rights and economic productivity. So too “peace and security may become more elusive.” In short, according to the commission, “the defense of religious freedom is both a humanitarian imperative and a practical necessity.” (P. 3.)
The Commission recommended that the U.S. do the following with respect to this freedom:
develop and implement a religious freedom strategy;
demonstrate the importance of religious freedom , including the designation of “countries of particular concern ” identified by the Commission;
reinvigorate and create new tools under the Act;
expand training, programming and public diplomacy about the subject;
expand multilateral efforts on the subject; and
protect asylum-seekers from being returned to countries where they face persecution for religious reasons. (Pp. 7-8.)
“Countries of Particular Concern” (Tier 1 Countries)
Under its authorizing statute, the Commission is required to designate as “countries of particular concern” (CPC) (or “Tier 1 Countries”) those that have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom. (P. 5.)
The latest report recommends that the Secretary of State re-designate the following eight countries as Tier 1 countries: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. In addition, the Report recommends that the following additional eight countries also be so designated by the State Department: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. (P. 5.)
Tier 2 Countries
The Commission also designates some countries as “Tier 2 Countries,” i.e., countries on the threshold of Tier 1 status, i.e., when their “violations . . . are particularly severe” and when at least one, but not all three, of the criteria for that status (“systematic, ongoing and egregious”) is met. (P. 5.)
The latest Report designated the following nine countries as Tier 2: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Russia and Turkey. (P. 5.)
The latest Report also discussed seven other countries (Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka) and one region (Western Europe) that it monitored during the year. (P. 5.)
Because of my personal interest in Cuba, including its religious freedom, a subsequent post will critique the Report regarding that country.
 The Act § § 202, 205. The Report contains an account of the development of the Act and the 15-year history of its implementation. (Pp. 11-23.) A prior post examined the fascinating structure and composition of the Commission, and another post its report issued in 2013.
 Previously the Commission called this group the “Watch List of countries where the serious violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments do not meet the CPC threshold, but require close monitoring.” According to the Commission, the “Watch List provides advance warning of negative trends that could develop into severe violations of religious freedom, thereby providing policymakers with the opportunity to engage early and increasing the likelihood of preventing or diminishing the violations.”
On June 20th, the United Nations refugee agency (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR) reported that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced (IDPs) people was 51.2 million in 2013. This is the first time after World War II that the number has topped 50 million. (Articles about this report may be found in the New York Times and the Guardian.)
This represented an increase of 6 million over the prior year due largely to the war in Syria and conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Here is a graph showing the totals (with components), 1993-2013:
Here is another graph showing the largest sources of refugees in 2013:
Developing countries host 86% of the world’s refugees. The top five host countries are Pakistan, 1.6 million; Iran, 0.9 million; Lebanon, 0.9 million; Jordan, 0.6 million; and Turkey, o.6 million. The U.S. ranks 10th as a host country with 0.3 million.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said,”We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict. Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue.” He added, “The international community has to overcome its differences and find solutions to the conflicts of today in South Sudan, Syria, Central African Republic and elsewhere. Non-traditional donors need to step up alongside traditional donors.”
Serge Schmemann of the New York Times editorial board observed that the report indicates that half “the refugees are children; a growing number of these are on their own . . . . More than half of the 6.3 million refugees under the refugee agency’s care have been in exile for five years or more, testifying to conflicts that rage on and on.” Schmemann added that the “stunning figures offer a bitter counterpoint to the growing resistance in Europe and the United States to letting in immigrants and asylum seekers, and to the endless sterile blame-games about responsibility for the various conflicts.”
This post will review the current status of the eight situations (all from Africa) currently under investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor (TOP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the 30 individuals that have been charged by the ICC with crimes in those situations.
In July 2004, pursuant to a referral by the government of Uganda, TOP opened an investigation into the situation of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)in Northern Uganda. That has resulted in charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against five individuals, four of whom remain at large: Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen. The other (Raska Lukwiya) is deceased.
The hunt for Kony and other LRA leaders continues. Uganda has some 2,500 soldiers deployed around the border areas of Central African Republic (CAR) the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, where Kony and his fighters are thought to spend most of their time. The Ugandan troops are joined by 500 Congolese fighters, 500 South Sudanese and 350 CAR troops, all operating under the auspices of the African Union (AU). They have been assisted by 100 U.S. special forces. These efforts will continue despite the recent coup in the CAR.
On March 18, 2013, TOP issued a statement that LRA members will not be killed or tortured if they surrender to the ICC. All their human rights will be protected and the cases against them will be in accordance with accepted international human rights standards. They will face a fair, impartial and public justice that respects all their rights, including the right to be represented by a lawyer of their choice, and to present evidence in their defense. If convicted they will not be sentenced to death. Therefore, they should hand themselves over and face a fair justice process at the ICC or remain fugitives in full knowledge that military forces from many countries are looking for them, and they may be cornered, captured, and possibly killed or wounded in the process.
In June 2004, pursuant to a referral by the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), TOP opened an investigation into the situation in the country since June 1, 2002. That has resulted in six cases against six individuals.
Thomas Lubanga Dyilo on March 1, 2012, was convicted of war crimes and on July 10, 2012, sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.
On July 8, 2012, the ICC issued its first decision on reparations. It decided that the potential beneficiaries are the direct and indirect victims who suffered harm following the crimes of enlisting, conscripting and using children under the age of 15 in Ituri in the DRC (9/1/02–8/13/03), including family members of direct victims and individuals who intervened to help the victims or to prevent the commission of these crimes. The decision also established the following principles for reparations:
no discrimination as regards age, ethnicity or gender;
reconciling the victims of child recruitment and their families and communities in Ituri;
preserving their dignity and privacy;
taking into account the age of the victims and the sexual violence that they may have suffered; and
the need to rehabilitate the former child soldiers within their communities.
Germain Katangawent on trial (with Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui) on November 24, 2009, on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes within the meaning of Article 25(3)(a) of the Statute (committing the crimes jointly through another person). On February 7, 2012, evidence in the case was closed and closing arguments were heard in May 2012 by the Trial Chamber.
On November 21, 2012, the Chamber, 2 to 1, issued an order severing Mr. Chui from this case and deciding that the mode of liability of Mr. Katanga might be changed under Regulation 55(2) to Article 25(3)(d) of the Statute (contributing in any other way to the commission of the crimes by a group of persons acting with a common purpose).
This proposed change (after the trial) was appealed by Mr. Katanga, and on March 27, 2013, the Appeals Chamber, 2-1, affirmed the Trial Chamber. It held that the decision was in accordance with Regulation 55(2) and did not violate the defendant’s right to a fair trial. However, it said, the Trial Chamber will have to be vigilant in its further deliberations to ensure that this right will not be infringed by further trial proceedings.
Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui , as just indicated, was tried with Mr. Katanga from November 24, 2009 through May 23, 2012 on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes within the meaning of Article 25(3)(a) of the Statute (committing the crimes jointly through another person), but on November 21, 2012, Mr. Chui’s charges were severed.
On December 18, 2012, the Trial Chamber issued its unanimous verdict acquitting Mr. Chui of all charges because it had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt that he was the commander of the Lendu combatants from Bedu-Ezekere during the attack against the Bogoro village on 24 February 2003. On December 21, 2012, Mr. Chui was released from detention pursuant to an order by the Appeals Chamber.
The Office of the Prosecutor has appealed that verdict.
Bosco Ntaganda has been charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and seven counts of war crimes.
On March 22, 2013, he voluntarily surrendered himself to the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda and asked to be turned over to the ICC. His decision prompted speculation as to why he did so. One theory says he was threatened by member of his own rebel group and wanted to save his own life. In any event, soon thereafter he made his initial appearance before the Court and said he was not guilty. The date for his confirmation of charges hearing was set for September 23, 2013.
Callixte Mbarushimana was charged with five counts of crimes against humanity and eight counts of war crimes, but on December 16, 2011, the Pre-Trial Chamber refused to confirm the charges, and on December 23, 2011, he was released from the Court’s custody.
Sylvestre Mudacumura on July 13, 2012, was the subject of the Pre-Trial Chamber’s arrest warrant for allegedly committing nine counts of war crimes in the DRC, including attacking civilians, murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, rape, torture, destruction of property, pillaging and outrages against personal dignity. He is at large.
On May 22, 2007, pursuant to a referral by the government of the Central African Republic (CAR), TOP opened an investigation into alleged crimes, in 2002 and 2003, in that country. In which civilians were killed and raped; and homes and stores were looted in the context of an armed conflict between the government and rebel forces.
Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is the only case. He is charged as a military commander, with two counts of crimes against humanity: (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging). His trial started on November 25, 2010, and is not finished.
On June 6, 2005, pursuant to a referral by the U.N. Security Council, TOP opened an investigation into the situation in Darfur, Sudan since July 1, 2002.
That has resulted in six cases involving seven individuals, the following four of whom are still at large: (i) Ahmad Muhammad Harun (20 counts of crimes against humanity and 22 counts of war crimes); (ii) Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman (22 counts of crimes against humanity and 28 counts of war crimes); (iii) Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, the President of Sudan (5 counts of crimes against humanity, 2 counts of war crimes and 3 counts of genocide); and (iv) Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein (7 counts of crimes against humanity and 6 counts of war crimes).
Bahar Idriss Abu Garda was charged with war crimes, but in 2010, the Pre-Trial Chamber refused to confirm the charges, and rejected the Prosecutor’s application to appeal.
Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain and Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus are charged with co-commission of three war crimes. Their trial is scheduled to start on May 5, 2014.
In the latest (December 2012) semi-annual report to the U.N. Security Council on this situation and cases, the Chief Prosecutor said that her office would consider whether further investigations and additional arrest warrants were needed to address recent violations, including reports of thwarting humanitarian aid deliveries, attacks on African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) peacekeepers and bombardments and attacks on civilian populations.
The Chief Prosecutor also told the Council, “The question that remains to be answered is how many more civilians must be killed, injured and displaced for this Council to be spurred into doing its part. There are no words to properly express the frustration of Darfur’s victims, which we share, about the lack of any meaningful progress towards arresting those indicted by the Courts.”
In response, Sudan’s representative told the Security Council that the Prosecutor’s report was flawed, saying it contained unsubstantiated allegations, and contradicted UNAMID reports. The report’s allegations of gender violence, for instance, did not provide sources, and it mistook tribal clashes for fighting between militias. Also, reported attacks on peacekeepers had in fact been committed by bandits now being pursued by Sudanese authorities. He said the Court had become a tool for “blackmail” and for violating the sovereignty of small States and was being exploited by certain political interests.
Among the other statements at the Council meeting, a U.S. diplomat said mounting violence was a grave concern, including targeted civilian attacks and denying UNAMID access to affected areas. Since UNAMID’s initial deployment in 2007, 43 peacekeepers had been killed, in attacks that could be prosecuted as war crimes. The Council should condemn any and all attacks on mission personnel. Reversing the cycle of violence required accountability for the perpetrators, he said, expressing dismay that the Sudanese Government was not cooperating with the Court, despite its obligation to do so fully. Continued impunity for crimes committed in Darfur fomented instability and sent a dangerous message that there were no consequences to attacking civilians. Welcoming the willingness of States to consider creative approaches and new tools to assist the Court, he also embraced further discussions on resolutions concerning Council referrals to the Court. 
On March 31, 2010, the Pre-Trial Chamber, 2-1, authorized TOP to proceed with an investigation that it had proposed into the situation in Kenya between June 1, 2005 and November 26, 2009.
Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta is charged as an indirect co-perpetrator of crimes against humanity (murder, deportation or forcible transfer, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts. The charges stem from his alleged role in funding and organizing ethnic violence leading to the death of an estimated 1,200 people after the 2007 presidential election. His trial is scheduled to start on July 9, 2013.
In the meantime, on March 3, 2013, Kenyatta, who employed anti-ICC propaganda in his presidential election campaign, was narrowly elected President of Kenya, and on March 30th the country’s Supreme Court unanimously rejected a challenge to the election from his main electoral opponent. Kenyatta’s election creates an “awkward” situation, as the New York Times said, for the U.S. and other countries who need good diplomatic relations with Kenya.
William Samoei Ruto was charged with being an indirect co-perpetrator of crimes against humanity. His trial is scheduled to begin on May 28, 2013.
Joshua Arap Sang was charged with having contributed to crimes against humanity. His trial is scheduled to begin on May 28, 2013.
Henry Kiprono Kosgey was charged as an indirect co-perpetrator of crimes against humanity, but the Pre-Trial Chamber declined to confirm the charges.
Mohammed Hussein Ali was charged with crimes against humanity, but in 2012, the Pre-Trial Chamber refused to confirm the charges.
Francis Kirimi Muthaura was charged as an indirect co-perpetrator of crimes against humanity, and the re-Trial Chamber in January 2012 confirmed some of the charges. In March 2013, however, TOP filed notice to withdraw the charges because several people who may have provided important evidence regarding his actions, have died, while others are too afraid to testify for the Prosecution; the Government of Kenya failed to provide TOP with important evidence; and the key witness against him had recanted a crucial part of his evidence and had admitted he had accepted bribes.
On February 26, 2011, the U.N. Security Council referred the situation in Libya since February 15, 2011 to the Court. That has resulted in TOP’s charges against three individuals, one of whom died (Muammar Gaddafi) resulting in the dismissal of his case.
The other two (Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah Al-Senussi) are in the custody of the Libyan Provisional Authority and have not been turned over to the Court despite negotiations to that effect.
In October 2012, Libya asked the ICC to abandon its claims against the two men because it said Libya can give them fair trials in Tripoli. In early 2013, Libyan officials told the ICC that the two men would be put on trial in Libya in May this year and would not face summary trial and execution.
In the latest (November 2012) semi-annual report to the U.N. Security Council on this situation and cases, the Chief Prosecutor said both Saif Al-Islam Qadhafi and Abdullah Al-Senussi had been arrested and detained in Libya, and that the Libyan authorities had challenged the admissibility of the ICC’s case against Mr. Qadhafi and possibly of the case against Mr. Al-Senussi. She said the ICC’s Pre-Trail Chamber would decide the merits of the challenge as to whether the case should be heard at the Court or in Libya, and should the challenge ultimately succeed, TOP would monitor those proceedings and cooperate with Libya, to the extent of the mandate.Emphasizing the pressing need for complementary and mutually supportive approaches to address accountability, she encouraged international support and assistance to enhance Libya’s capacity to deal with past crimes and to promote the rule of law.
A Libyan representative at the Council meeting said his Government had set out its plans for stability, reconciliation and comprehensive justice for crimes that had been committed in his country and that its investigation was already at an advanced stage in some of those cases although the Qadhafi trial had been postponed in order to allow for the most thorough possible investigation. Libya, he continued, has been cooperating with the ICC and was now awaiting the decision on the admissibility challenge in the Qadhafi case and a forthcoming similar challenge in the Al-Senussi case. He reiterated his country’s pledge to carry out all procedures in compliance with international law.
A U.S. diplomat at the Security Council urged the Libyan Government to continue its cooperation with the Court. It was an important moment for both Libya and the Court as they worked together, under their respective roles, in ensuring peace and accountability. It was critical for Libya to ensure the safety of ICC personnel on visits to the country. She added that the U.S. had endeavored to cooperate with the ICC in its efforts regarding Libya, consistent with U.S. law and policy. Impunity for all serious crimes in Libya, including gender crimes, must be avoided, and victims should be assisted. The U.S. would continue to work with the international community to assist Libyan efforts to reform its justice sector and advance human rights in the country.
On October 3, 2001, the Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber granted TOP request to commence an investigation into the situation in the Ivory Coast since November 28, 2010, and in February 2012 the Chamber expanded the investigation to cover the period September 19. 2002 through November 28, 2010.
Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of the country, has been charged with four counts of crimes against humanity. He was surrendered to the Court in November 2011, and his confirmation of charges hearing was held in February 2013.
Simone Gbagbo, the wife of Laurent Gbagbo, has been charged as an indirect co-perpetrator with four counts of crimes against humanity. She has not been turned over to the Court.
On July 13, 2012, the government of Mali referred the situation in that country since January 2012 to the ICC, which has assigned it to the Pre-Trial Chamber.
In January 2012 a rebellion began in Northern Mali, led by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). In March 2012, military officer Amadou Sanogo seized power in the country in a coup d’etat, citing the president’s failure to eliminate the rebellion. The MNLA quickly took control of the north, declaring independence as Azawad. However, Islamist groups that had helped the MNLA defeat the government, turned on the rebel group and took control of the North with the goal of implementing Sharia Law in Mali.
On January 11, 2013, the French Armed Forces intervened at the request of Sanogo’s government. On January 30th, the coordinated advance of the French and Malian troops claimed to have retaken the last remaining Islamist stronghold.
In the midst of these military engagements, on January 16, 2013, TOP announced that it formally had opened an investigation into the Situation in Mali since January of 2012. After thorough analysis it said it had found that evidence, admissibility, gravity of potential cases, and interest of justice all support the requirements to open a formal investigation into war crimes allegedly committed in Mali. Crimes alleged to have happened include murder; mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; intentionally directing attacks against protected objects; the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court; pillaging; and rape. The ICC will move to investigate these alleged crimes and bring charges against individuals “who bear the greatest criminal responsibility for the most serious crimes committed.
In late January 2013, TOP warned Malian authorities to put an immediate stop to the alleged abuses and, on the basis of the principle of complementarity, to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the alleged crimes. TOP reminded all parties to the on-going conflict in Mali that it has jurisdiction over all serious crimes committed within the territory of Mali, from January 2012 onwards. All those alleged to be responsible for serious crimes in Mali must be held accountable.
The following summarizes the status of those charged with crimes by the Court as it nears its 11th anniversary on July 1, 2013:
At large or not in Court custody
Pre-Trial: charges not confirmed
Trials scheduled to start by 12/31/14
Tried and convicted
Tried and status in question
Tried and acquitted
 There have been many prior posts about the ICC.
Regulation 55, which is titled “Authority of the Chamber to modify the legal characterization of facts,” says in part (2),”If, at any time during the trial, it appears to the Chamber that the legalcharacterisation of facts may be subject to change, the Chamber shall give noticeto the participants of such a possibility and having heard the evidence, shall, atan appropriate stage of the proceedings, give the participants the opportunity tomake oral or written submissions. The Chamber may suspend the hearing toensure that the participants have adequate time and facilities for effectivepreparation or, if necessary, it may order a hearing to consider all mattersrelevant to the proposed change.” Part (3) goes on to say, “For the purposes of sub-regulation 2, the Chamber shall, in particular,ensure that the accused shall:(a) Have adequate time and facilities for the effective preparation of his or herdefence [sic] in accordance with article 67, paragraph 1 (b); and (b) If necessary, be given the opportunity to examine again, or have examined again, a previous witness, to call a new witness or to present other evidence admissible under the Statute in accordance with article 67, paragraph 1 (e).”
 A prior post discussed the June 2012 ICC report to the Security Council on the Darfur/Sudan referral.
 The U.S. statement regarding Sudan/Darfur is available online.
 A prior post discussed the May 2012 ICC report to the Security Council on the Libyan referral.