The Bush administration has rejected the recommendation
by a government commission to list Saudi Arabia as a major violator of
religious freedom, a move that could have resulted in U.S. sanctions on the
Officials said Secretary of State Colin Powell had assured Saudi leaders
that he would not comply with the recommendation to classify Saudi
Arabia as a major violator of religious freedom. They said the decision was part of the Bush administration's effort to maintain U.S. relations with Riyad until at least the end of 2003 and the
expected war against Iraq.
Last year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called
on the Bush administration to add Saudi Arabia to the list of major
violators of religious freedom, Middle East Newsline reported. In a report, the panel said Riyad is one of
the worst violators of religious freedom in the world.
The State Department list of countries "of particular concern" regarding violations of religious
freedom includes: Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Sudan.
Instead, Powell renewed the designation of those same six countries deemed
in 2002 as severe violators of religious freedom.
"Regrettably, the status of religious freedom has not significantly
improved in any of these countries since that time," the State Department
said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the commission expressed deep disappointment with the
failure of the State Department to deem Saudi Arabia and several other
countries as major violators of religious freedom. They include India,
Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.
The department issues a list of countries of particular concern for the
violation of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom
Act. The legislation also established a governmental panel that monitors
religious rights around the world.
"For three years, the commission has recommended Saudi Arabia,
Turkmenistan, and Laos for CPC [country of particular concern] status
because of their deplorable religious freedom violations, yet none has been
named," Felice Gaer, who chairs the commission, said. "Even the State
Department's own report states that religious freedom 'does not exist' in
Saudi Arabia. We urge the department to continue to assess the religious
freedom violations in these countries and make CPC designations throughout
Under U.S. law, the administration has 90 days to explain its decision
regarding the State Department's latest list of major violators of religious
freedom. Last year, commission members complained of long delays by the
department in dealing with the issue.
In separate reports, the commission as well as the State Department
reported the detention and torture of numerous foreign Christian workers for
their religious views. The commission report also complained of the Saudi
police, "who exercise their vague powers in ways that violate others'
The department did not explain why Saudi Arabia was not added to the
list of major religious violators. But the statement said the designation of
"countries of particular concern" is just "one of many tools the U.S.
government uses to address religious persecution and bring pressure on those
governments which are responsible."
Last month, the American Jewish Committee released a report that
asserted that Saudi textbooks promote hatred of Christians and Jews. The
study by the AJC and the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace examined
93 books used in Saudi schools between 1999 and 2002.
"Despite Saudi government statements to the West promoting unity,
friendship and tolerance, the report clearly demonstrates a disturbing
pattern of hateful language that is pervasive in official textbooks
published by the Saudi Ministry of Education," AJC executive director David
Harris said. "Given that these books are being used in government schools,
the inescapable conclusion is that this represents the position of the Saudi