Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today called on the Obama Administration to toughen its approach on holding nations accountable for violating their citizens’ religious freedoms.
During a nomination hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, Rubio challenged the administration to issue its “country of particular concern” designation on an annual basis, a precursor to sanctions on violator nations. These sanctions, along with other punitive measures that can be imposed, expire automatically after two years.
“Religious persecution is on the rise in many parts of the world,” said Rubio. “This administration issued these designations only once in its first term, and that was back in [August] of 2011. Would you be supportive of an effort to make that designation an annual occurrence as we do with other issues? I would imagine the shaming effect of that would be similar to that of trafficking in persons.
“The sanctions that correspond to the designation expire after two years,” added Rubio. “Would you be supportive of the idea that the sanctions actually remain in place for ‘countries of particular concern’ for as long as the designation is in place? What’s the wisdom in allowing them to expire if they haven’t taken any steps to be removed from that list?”
Rubio urged Dr. Sarah Sewall, President Obama’s nominee to be Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, to work with officials in the State Department to make this “shame and sanctions” approach a more routine occurrence when warranted. Currently, the “country of particular concern” designation for nations that violate religious freedoms occurs at the administration’s discretion.
The last time the Obama Administration made this designation was in August 2011. Although this designation remains active indefinitely unless revoked, the sanctions tied to this designation expire after two years, meaning that no nation in the world is currently subject to U.S. sanctions for gross violations of religious freedom. Rubio believes that the sanctions should not be allowed to expire as long as the “country of particular concern” designation is valid.