Tibetan Buddhists as well as Uyghur Muslims are among the minority groups that Chinese authorities are clamping down on. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Tibetan Buddhists, as well as Uyghur Muslims, are among the minority groups that Chinese authorities are clamping down on. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The US State Department has called North Korea, China, Russia, and Iran “forces of instability” in its latest set of country reports on human rights, saying they “violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis”.

The 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, published on 20 April, document the status of human and workers’ rights in nearly 200 countries and territories. The reports do not focus specifically on abuses of religious freedom, instead referencing the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report.

At the release of the reports, acting secretary of state John Sullivan drew attention to eight countries in which he cited “egregious” abuses of human rights: Syria, Myanmar, North Korea, China, Iran, Turkey, Venezuela and Russia. Six of those also appear on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

North Korea

World Watch List ranking: 1

Sullivan said North Korea is “one of the most repressive and abusive regimes in the world”.

“As the report makes clear, the Kim regime systematically neglects the well-being of its people to underwrite and fund its illicit weapons programmes via forced labour, child labour, and the export of North Korean workers.”


WWL ranking: 10

Sullivan said Iranians “continue to suffer at the hands of their leaders. The right of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression are the legitimate expectation of all individuals worldwide. Unfortunately for the Iranian people, these human rights are under attack almost daily”.


WWL ranking: 24

Sullivan highlighted the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis, which he said amounted to “ethnic cleansing” on the part of the Burmese government.


WWL ranking: 31

Sullivan cited the detention of “tens of thousands” of individuals, which he said had “undermined the rule of law”. World Watch Monitor has reported extensively on the case of US pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been detained for 18 months, accused of espionage and terrorism.


WWL ranking: 42

China, Sullivan said, “continues to spread the worst features of its authoritarian system, including restrictions on activists, civil society, freedom of expression, and the use of arbitrary surveillance.”

“We’re particularly concerned about the efforts of Chinese authorities to eliminate the religious, linguistic, and cultural identities of Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, as well as restrictions on the worship of Christians,” he added.


Russia is not on the World Watch List but is on Open Doors’ special ‘Watch List’ of countries beyond the top 50.

Sullivan called on Russia “to end its brutal occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula; to halt the abuses perpetrated by Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region; and to address impunity for the human rights violations and abuses in the Republic of Chechnya”.

In February, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom accused Russia of abusing anti-extremism laws to crack down on peaceful religious minorities.


Sullivan said the Maduro regime in Venezuela denies people “the right to have a voice in their government” and that “thousands flee their homes daily in response to this growing humanitarian crisis”.

A few positives

Sullivan concluded with three positives – of Uzbekistan’s “strategic reform agenda” and release of eight high-profile prisoners; of Liberia’s “milestone” election; and of Mexico’s new law on forced disappearances.