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Tuesday, May 2 2000 23:57         28 Nisan 5760

US panel on religious persecution scores Sudan, China

WASHINGTON (May 2) - A US body commissioned to examine religious persecution worldwide and make policy recommendations to the US administration has singled out Sudan and China as two of the world's worst offenders and expressed severe concerns about trends in Russia.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, set up under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, issued its first report here yesterday. The report, a selective look at religious persecution, also briefly addressed the situation in Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.

The US must act "more effectively" to end the war in Sudan, where the Islamic government in Khartoum has for 17 years been trying to extend Islamic law by force to African Christians and traditional animists in the South, the report said. More than two million people have been killed in the civil war.

The commission urged the US to implement a 12-month plan to pressure Sudan to end the human rights violations.

"If it does, closer relations with the US should follow. If it doesn't, the US should make clear that, at the end of the 12-month period, it would begin providing non-lethal aid to appropriate opposition groups that adhere to specified human rights standards," commission chairman Rabbi David Saperstein told reporters.

Saperstein said the commission had found a "serious loophole" in US sanctions vis--vis Sudan and urged the government to prohibit any foreign corporation from obtaining capital in a US market as long as it collaborates in investment projects in Sudan.

He said he hopes the approach of "cutting off capital markets" to foreign investors as a means of ending rights violations could be expanded to other troublesome spots around the globe.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the report as a whole "lacked balance" and he hopes future policy recommendations would take into account "gross violations of Moslem rights around the world," including in Chechnya.

The commission said it plans to examine several dozen other states deemed religious-freedom deniers by the State Department over the coming year.

The commission recommended that Congress grant China Permanent Normal Trading Relations status "only if Beijing makes substantial improvements in religious freedom." The divisive issue is due to be brought for a vote in the coming weeks.

On Russia, the committee expressed grave concern about President Vladimir Putin's promise to liquidate all religious groups not registered by the end of the year.

While aimed more at evangelical Christian groups than Jewish organizations, Jewish leaders worry that the move could set a dangerous precedent.

Islamic groups, following rising anti-Chechen sentiment, could also be affected, Franklin added.

The report made mention of Egypt's "pervasive religious discrimination" of the Coptic Orthodox Church. In Iran, the commission said that espionage charges against the 13 Jews currently on trial "appear to be based solely on the men's religion," and condemned death sentences levied on three local leaders of the Baha'i faith.


©Copyright 2000, The Jerusalem Post

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