Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
Religious freedom is an unalienable right, and the bedrock upon which free societies are built and flourish. Today, the United States – a nation founded by those fleeing religious persecution, as the recent Commission on Unalienable Rights report noted – once again took action to defend those who simply want to exercise this essential freedom.
The United States is designating Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, the DPRK, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
We are also placing the Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Russia on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” Additionally, we are designating al-Shabaab, al-Qa’ida, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern under the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016.
We have not renewed the prior Entity of Particular Concern designations for al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Khorasan, due to the total loss of territory formerly controlled by these terrorist organizations. While these two groups no longer meet the statutory criteria for designation, we will not rest until we have fully eliminated the threat of religious freedom abuses by any violent extremist and terrorist groups.
There are also positive developments to share. I am pleased to announce that Sudan and Uzbekistan have been removed from the Special Watch List based on significant, concrete progress undertaken by their respective governments over the past year. Their courageous reforms of their laws and practices stand as models for other nations to follow.
And yet our work is far from complete. The United States will continue to work tirelessly to end religiously motivated abuses and persecution around the world, and to help ensure that each person, everywhere, at all times, has the right to live according to the dictates of conscience.
- World Press Freedom DayBy Sam NewsMay 4, 2021
- Nevada Bottled Water Companies and Owners Ordered to Stop Distributing Adulterated and Misbranded Water ProductsBy Sam NewsJune 1, 2021A federal court permanently enjoined a Henderson, Nevada, company from preparing, processing, and distributing adulterated and misbranded bottled water.[Read More…]
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- Statement by Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division on Veterans DayBy Sam NewsNovember 11, 2020The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and its Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative would like to wish a happy Veterans Day to our soldiers, both past and present. We owe you our thanks, but more than that, we owe you our freedom. As the head of the Civil Rights Division, I am entrusted with enforcing laws that protect the rights of the brave men and women of our nation’s armed forces, and the veterans who have served in the past. Enforcement of these very important federal civil rights laws helps ensure that these men and women can continue to safeguard our freedom.[Read More…]
- Afghanistan Security: U.S. Efforts to Develop Capable Afghan Police Forces Face Challenges and Need a Coordinated, Detailed Plan to Help Ensure AccountabilityBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2021Since 2005, the Department of Defense (Defense), with support from the Department of State (State), has directed U.S. efforts to develop the Afghan National Police (ANP) into a force capable of enforcing the rule of law and supporting actions to defeat insurgency, among other activities. This testimony discusses (1) U.S. efforts to develop a capable ANP; (2) challenges that affect the development of a capable ANP; and (3) GAO analysis of U.S. efforts to develop a coordinated, detailed plan for completing and sustaining the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which comprise the ANP and the Afghan National Army (ANA). This statement is based on a concurrently issued GAO report titled Afghanistan Security: Further Congressional Action May Be Needed to Ensure Completion of a Detailed Plan to Develop and Sustain Capable Afghan National Security Forces, GAO-08-661 (Washington, D.C.: June 18, 2008).Although the ANP has reportedly grown in number since 2005, after an investment of more than $6 billion, no Afghan police unit (0 of 433) is assessed by Defense as fully capable of performing its mission and over three-fourths of units (334 of 433) are assessed at the lowest capability rating. In addition, while the ANP has reportedly grown in number to nearly 80,000 personnel, concerns exist about the reliability of this number. Several challenges impede U.S. efforts to develop capable ANP forces. First, the shortage of police mentors has been a key impediment to U.S. efforts to conduct training and evaluation and verify that police are on duty. Second, the ANP continues to encounter difficulties with equipment shortages and quality. Third, the ANP faces a difficult working environment, including a weak Afghan judicial sector and consistent problems with police pay, corruption, and attacks by insurgents. Defense has recognized challenges to ANP development and, in November 2007, began a new initiative called Focused District Development--an effort to train the police as units--to address them. This effort is too new to fully assess, but the continuing shortfall in police mentors may put the effort at risk. Despite a 2005 GAO recommendation calling for a detailed plan and a 2008 congressional mandate requiring similar information, Defense and State have not developed a coordinated, detailed plan with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, milestones for completing and sustaining the ANSF, and a sustainment strategy. In 2007, Defense produced a 5-page document intended to address GAO's 2005 recommendation. However, the document does not identify the role or involve the participation of State--Defense's partner in training the ANP. Further, State has not completed a plan of its own. In the absence of a coordinated, detailed plan that clearly defines agency roles and responsibilities, a dual chain of command exists between Defense and State that has complicated the efforts of mentors training the police. Defense's 5-page document also contains few milestones, including no interim milestones that would help assess progress made in developing the ANP. Without interim milestones, it is difficult to know if current ANP status represents what the United States intended to achieve by 2008. In addition, Defense's 5-page document lacks a sustainment strategy. Without a detailed strategy for sustaining the ANSF, it is difficult to determine how long the United States may need to continue providing funding and other resources for this important mission.[Read More…]
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- Indian Health Service: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Federal Facilities’ Decision-Making About the Use of FundsBy Sam NewsNovember 12, 2020The Indian Health Service's (IHS) oversight of federally operated health care facilities' decision-making process about the use of funds has been limited and inconsistent. Funds include those from appropriations, as well as payments from federal programs, such as Medicaid and from private insurance, for care provided by IHS to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN). While some oversight functions are performed at IHS headquarters, the agency has delegated primary responsibility for the oversight of health care facilities' decision-making about the use of funds to its area offices. Area office officials said the oversight they provide has generally included (1) reviewing facilities' scope of services, and (2) reviewing facilities' proposed expenditures. However, GAO's review found that this oversight was limited and inconsistent across IHS area offices, in part, due to a lack of consistent agency-wide processes. While IHS officials from all nine area offices GAO interviewed said they reviewed facilities' scope of services and coordinated with tribes when doing so, none reported systematically reviewing the extent to which their facilities' services were meeting local health needs, such as by incorporating the results of community health assessments. Such assessments can involve the collection and assessment of data, as well as the input of local community members and leaders to identify and prioritize community needs. These assessments can be used by facilities to assess their resources and identify priorities for facility investment. While IHS has identified such assessments as a priority, the agency does not require federally operated facilities to conduct such assessments or require the area offices to use them as they review facilities' scope of services. To ensure that facilities are effectively managing their resources, IHS has a process to guide its review of facilities' proposed construction projects that cost at least $25,000. However, IHS does not have a similar process to guide its oversight of other key proposed expenditures, such as those involving the purchase of major medical equipment, the hiring of providers, or the expansion of services. Specifically, GAO found limitations and inconsistencies with respect to requiring a documented justification for proposed expenditures; documenting the review and approval of decisions; and conducting an impact assessment on patient access, cost, and quality of care. The limitations and inconsistencies that GAO found in IHS's oversight are driven by the lack of consistent oversight processes across the area offices. Without establishing a systematic oversight process to compare federally operated facilities' current services to population needs, and to guide the review of facilities' proposed expenditures, IHS cannot ensure that its facilities are identifying and investing in projects to meet the greatest community needs, and therefore that federal resources are being maximized to best serve the AI/AN population. IHS, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, provides care to AI/AN populations through a system of federally operated and tribally operated health care facilities. AI/AN have experienced long standing problems accessing needed health care services. GAO has previously reported that IHS has not been able to pay for all eligible health care services; however, the resources available to federally operated facilities have recently grown. This report assesses IHS oversight of federal health care facilities' decision-making about the use of funds. GAO reviewed IHS policies and documents; and interviewed IHS officials from headquarters, nine area offices, and three federally operated facilities (two hospitals and one health clinic). GAO recommends that IHS develop processes to guide area offices in (1) systematically assessing how federally operated facilities will effectively meet the needs of their patient populations, and (2) reviewing federal facilities' spending proposals. HHS concurred with these recommendations. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Military Operations: Actions Needed to Better Guide Project Selection for Commander’s Emergency Response Program and Improve Oversight in IraqBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021Since fiscal year 2003, Congress has appropriated more than $46 billion dollars for relief and reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The Department of Defense (DOD) is one of several U.S. agencies that administer U.S.-funded relief and reconstruction programs in Iraq. In particular, DOD manages the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), which is designed to enable local commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements within their areas of responsibility by carrying out programs that will immediately assist the indigenous population. Thus far, Congress has appropriated more than $3 billion for CERP in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the program's inception, DOD has steadily increased its funding requests in response to theater conditions, and reported obligations have also grown substantially. DOD's funding requests have increased by more than a billion dollars from fiscal years 2004 through 2008. For fiscal year 2008, DOD requested $1.2 billion to fund CERP projects in Iraq and Afghanistan and plans to request an additional $507 million, primarily for CERP in Iraq. Furthermore, DOD's reported obligations for Iraq and Afghanistan have grown from about $179 million in fiscal year 2004 to more than $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2007. In addition, over the same period of time, the number of projects in both countries has grown from about 6,450 to about 8,700. According to DOD regulations, CERP is intended for small-scale, urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects for the benefit of Iraqi people. The guidance issued by the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) establishes 19 authorized uses for CERP funds, including transportation, electricity, and condolence payments. CERP funds can be used for both construction and non-construction projects. In Iraq, commanders follow Multinational Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) standard operating procedures for CERP, which expand upon DOD regulations. MNC-I guidance states that the keys to project selection are to (1) execute quickly, (2) employ many Iraqis, (3) benefit the Iraqi people, and (4) be highly visible. DOD regulations identify the roles and responsibilities that different offices play in managing CERP. The Secretary of the Army serves as the executive agent and is responsible for ensuring that commanders carry out CERP in a manner that is consistent with applicable laws, regulations and guidance. The Commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) is responsible for allocating CERP resources. Public Law No. 108-106 and subsequent laws require DOD to provide Congress with quarterly reports on the source, allocation, and use of CERP funds. The reports are compiled based on information about the projects that was entered by unit officials into the Iraq Reconstruction Management System, a database that tracks projects' status and maintains a historical record of all reconstruction activity in Iraq, including those projects funded by CERP. Because of significant congressional interest, we conducted this work under the authority of the Comptroller General to undertake work at his own initiative and examined the following questions regarding the CERP program in Iraq: (1) To what extent does DOD guidance establish selection criteria for CERP projects? (2) To what extent do commanders in Iraq coordinate CERP with other U. S. government agencies and with the government of Iraq? and (3) To what extent do DOD and MNC-I exercise oversight of CERP projects in Iraq?DOD has established broad selection criteria for CERP projects, which gives significant discretion to commanders in determining the types of projects to undertake. CERP is intended to provide commanders a source of funds that allow them to respond to urgent, small-scale humanitarian relief and reconstruction needs that will immediately assist the local Iraqi population. However, DOD guidance provides no definition for small-scale or urgent, which leaves commanders with the responsibility of developing their own definitions. Commanders we interviewed had varying definitions for small-scale. Our review of the quarterly reports to Congress demonstrated the wide spectrum in size and costs of projects. For instance, projects ranged from a waterline repair costing slightly more than $100 to an electrical distribution system costing more than $11 million. In addition, during our visit to Iraq, we observed three projects: a multimillion-dollar sewage lift station, a several hundred thousand dollar sports center and community complex, and a fruit and vegetable stand that had been renovated with a $2,500 grant. Commanders typically defined urgent as restoring a basic human need, such as water and electricity, or projects identified by the local Iraqi government as its most pressing requirement for the area. As a result, the scale, complexity, and duration of projects selected vary across commands. While the majority of CERP projects have cost less than $500,000, the number of projects costing more than $500,000 has increased significantly. According to DOD officials, factors contributing to the increasing number of CERP projects costing more than $500,000 include the lack of other available reconstruction money, improved security in the region and the fact that many of the immediate needs of the Iraq people were addressed during the initial phases of CERP. Commanders reported that they generally coordinated projects with the appropriate U.S. and Iraqi officials, as required by guidance. The officials include Iraqi government personnel as well as military and nonmilitary U.S. officials. MNC-I guidance further states that coordination with local officials is critical to ensure that a project meets a need and will be maintained and that numerous projects have been built that did not meet their intended purpose because of lack of coordination. MNC-I guidance notes that coordination efforts may include synchronizing CERP projects with complementary programs funded by United States Agency for International Development or other nongovernmental organizations within the commander's area of responsibility. While the MNC-I project approval process provides some oversight, the Offices of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), the Army and MNC-I have limited oversight of CERP in Iraq because they (1) do not require units executing projects to monitor them, (2) have not established performance metrics, and (3) have limited knowledge of projects under $500,000. Neither DOD nor MNC-I guidance establishes a requirement for units executing projects to monitor them. MNC-I guidance has a broad requirement for the MNC-I engineer to monitor reconstruction projects, but does not include a requirement for units executing projects to monitor them. No performance metrics exist for CERP. As we have previously reported, federal agencies should develop plans that establish objective, quantifiable, and measurable performance goals that should be achieved by a program. Although MNC-I officials have some visibility over projects costing more than $500,000 because they approve these projects, they have limited visibility and oversight for projects costing less than $500,000. The quarterly reports do not provide information about the number of projects completed during a quarter, the number of projects that have been started but not completed, or the number of projects that have not been sustained or maintained by the Iraqi government or the local population.[Read More…]
- Owner of North Carolina Temporary Staffing Firms Sentenced to Prison for Employment Tax FraudBy Sam NewsOctober 7, 2020A Greensboro, North Carolina, business owner was sentenced to 42 months in prison yesterday for failing to pay employment taxes, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Matthew G.T. Martin for the Middle District of North Carolina.[Read More…]
- Afghanistan: Key Oversight Issues for USAID Development EffortsBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO Found In 2010, the United States pledged to provide at least 50 percent of its development aid directly through the Afghan government budget within 2 years. This direct assistance is intended to help develop the capacity of Afghan government ministries to manage programs and funds. Using bilateral agreements and multilateral trust funds, the United States more than tripled its direct assistance awards to Afghanistan in the first year of the pledge, going from over $470 million in fiscal year 2009 to over $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2010. The U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) most current reporting shows that for fiscal year 2012 the agency provided over $800 million in mission funds through direct assistance. In 2013, GAO reported that while USAID had established and generally complied with various financial and other controls in its direct assistance agreements, it had not always assessed the risks in providing direct assistance before awarding funds. USAID has taken steps in response to GAO's recommendations to help ensure the accountability of direct assistance funds provided to the Afghan government. Recently, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported that USAID determined that seven ministries were unable to manage direct assistance funds without a risk mitigation strategy in place. However, SIGAR reported that USAID approved assistance for the ministries, but did not mitigate for all identified risks. GAO has previously reported on systemic weaknesses in USAID's monitoring and evaluation of programs carried out by its implementing partners in Afghanistan. For example, although USAID collected progress reports from implementing partners for agriculture and water projects, it did not always analyze and interpret data to, among other things, inform future decisions. USAID has undertaken some efforts to improve its monitoring and evaluation of the billions of dollars invested towards development projects in Afghanistan. GAO and other oversight agencies, however, have highlighted gaps that show USAID continued to inconsistently apply performance management procedures, falls short in maintaining institutional knowledge, and needs to improve oversight of contractors. USAID's ability to conduct its mission and the challenges it has faced in providing oversight and monitoring of its development projects in Afghanistan are likely to be exacerbated by the planned withdrawal of U.S. and coalition combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. The United States is currently transitioning from counterinsurgency and stability operations toward more traditional diplomatic and development activities. As U.S. combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan, provincial reconstruction teams will continue to decline in number, thus challenging USAID's opportunities to directly monitor and evaluate programs in certain parts of Afghanistan. To prepare for the possible lack of USAID personnel in the field, USAID has undertaken various planning efforts to mitigate against potential challenges. For example, USAID is planning to implement a remote monitoring program that will use contractors to verify activities that implementing partners have completed. As the United States plans for the withdrawal of its combat troops and the transition from an integrated civilian and military effort to a civilian-led presence, GAO believes it is important to have safeguards in place to help ensure sustainment of the gains made by U.S. and coalition investments. Why GAO Did This Study The U.S. government has been engaged in efforts in Afghanistan since declaring a global war on terrorism that targeted al Qaeda, its affiliates, and other violent extremists. The U.S. effort has involved a whole of government approach to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates and strengthen Afghanistan so that it can never again be a haven for terrorists. This approach includes USAID's development assistance and reconstruction efforts, which to date have invested over $15 billion in Afghanistan since 2002. To assist Congress in its oversight, GAO has issued over 50 products in the past 5 years focusing on U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. This testimony summarizes the findings from those products related to USAID efforts in Afghanistan and discusses: (1) levels of U.S. direct assistance and need for continued oversight, (2) the importance of routine monitoring and evaluation of USAID projects in Afghanistan, and (3) the need for mitigation planning for how USAID will continue to operate in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.[Read More…]
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- U.S. Citizen Charged with Murder of Department of Defense Employee in BahrainBy Sam NewsFebruary 12, 2021A U.S. citizen arrived in the United States today after being ordered detained and removed from Bahrain to the United States for the alleged murder of his mother, a Department of Defense civilian employee working in Bahrain.[Read More…]