Nov 24, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

2010 IRF Report

Last week the State Department released its 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF Report), our government’s annual assessment of the state of religious freedom around the world.  The release of a new IRF report has never been a particularly grand media event, typically receiving limited coverage and going largely ignored domestically outside the limited sphere of human rights organizations.

Perhaps in part these reports go ignored due to an issue we’ve tangled with in the past, the difficulty of impacting change through public diplomacy without the support of policy change (or words without actions).  In many ways this appears to be a typical difficulty faced by the State Department, particularly in the area of human rights there’s little intention to take action beyond the status quo of economic sanctions.  Sanctions, which are pretty widely recognized as being ineffective or counterproductive and further seem to contrast the words of Secretary Clinton and past officials, asserting that the report is not an attempt by the US to judge other nations.

Internationally the reports earn little more press than they do domestically, save among those nations criticized in the report.  Largely in nations like Iran and China, which can be expected to remain in the report for the foreseeable future, these reports either go ignored or elicit responses which revolve around the assertion that we’ve neither the right nor the moral high ground to criticize other nations on issues of human rights.  In either case the reports seem only to illustrate the mutual hostility we have with these nations refracted through the lens of human rights.  Among our allies and those nations with tenuous US relations however, responses can be more pointed and useful. Nations like Egypt, Israel and Russia might be valuable in assessing whether or not these reports have any worth or tangible effect on future religious freedom policy.  Here as in other areas, public diplomacy only seems effective in nations where some manner of positive relationship already exists, if even there.



  • My issue with this report and others like it is that it seems like a colossal waste of time and resources with very little practical result. As you point out, our diplomatic efforts generally have little effect where relations are strained or non-existent. This is a massive report. I can’t help but think about the man hours it represents that might have been diverted elsewhere to a more productive end.

  • I agree completely. While the reports do have value (I often use them), it’s hard to know what to do with them from a policy perspective given the difficulty of coming up with programs to encourage religious freedom that make any sense.

  • 1804, Haiti was autonomous & independent with minimal technology. In 2010,Haiti is cursed: 1, earthquake, 2, cholera 3, botched elections.

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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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