The United States on Wednesday denounced the "genocide" carried out by the Islamic State group against Christians, Shiites and Yazidis, as the State Department unveiled its somber annual report on religious freedom around the world. In its comprehensive look at the situation in more than 200 countries in 2015, the State Department singled out its usual bugbears on the issue of religious repression: ally Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sudan.
And as in previous years, the US government expressed concern at the rise of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Europe, against a backdrop of the continent's migrant crisis and an uptick in jihadist attacks. But the report denounced non-state actors like the IS group and the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, which "continued to rank amongst the most egregious abusers of religious freedom in the world."
The IS group "continued to pursue a brutal strategy of what Secretary (John) Kerry judged to constitute genocide against Yazidis, Christians, Shiites, and other vulnerable groups in the territory it controlled," the State Department said. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who formally unveiled the report, recalled that Kerry in March "made clear his judgment that Daesh is responsible for genocide against religious communities in areas under its control."
"Daesh kills Yazidis because they are Yazidi, Christians because they are Christian, Shia Muslims because they are Shia," Blinken told reporters, using an Arabic acronym for the IS group. He also accused the Sunni jihadists, who control swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, of being "responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing."
Kerry and United Nations experts had previously used the term "genocide" -- which has legal implications in the United States -- to refer to crimes carried out by IS jihadists in Iraq and Syria. In the two war-torn countries, jihadists were "responsible for barbarous acts, including killings, torture, enslavement and trafficking, rape and other sexual abuse against religious and ethnic minorities and Sunnis," the report said.
The State Department's global view on religious freedom does not spare many countries, with the notable exception of home soil, where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been criticized for his anti-Muslim rhetoric. The US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, David Saperstein, was cautious in addressing the Trump question.
He told reporters that no matter "the statements that are made, the policies of the United States, the law in the United States, the constitutional structure of the United States," the country's "promise of religious freedom remains intact." Washington's usual targets bear the brunt of the tough language in the report, though no sanctions result from the heavily detailed report, compiled by State Department staff.
Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, which bans churches and all other non-Muslim places of worship, was slammed for condemning to death, prison or flogging those convicted of apostasy and blasphemy. Blogger Raif Badawi's sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison has sparked international concern. So far, Saudi Arabia has carried out 50 lashes.
Riyadh's Shiite rival Iran, which does not have diplomatic relations with the United States, was rapped for restrictions on its Christian and Sunni minorities. In Pakistan, the United States expressed concern over an increase in the number of blasphemy charges and their use as "justification for mob justice."
Similar concerns were raised about Afghanistan. China, the target of US criticism over its human rights record in general, earned scorn for demolishing Catholic and Protestant churches and arresting lawyers working for church communities.
Even if the United States put less of an emphasis on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Europe than in the 2014 report, it criticized Hungary's official defense of the "Christian values of Europe" and slammed Slovakia for threatening to only resettle Christian migrants. Washington did praise the European Commission for appointing two new coordinators in late 2015 for combating anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred.