Says its recent actions were designed to "push back strongly" on any movement toward softening the U.S. stance on this issue

After a U.S. panel monitoring violations of religious freedom abroad urged the State Department to not reconsider its 2005 decision to deny a visitor visa to Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, its Chairperson has said that its recent actions were designed to “push back strongly” on any movement toward softening the U.S. stance on this issue.

In a phone conversation with The Hindu, Katrina Lantos Swett said that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF)concern about the Modi case arose from its view that a “climate of impunity” was fuelled by the “failure of the Indian government to move with appropriate speed to closure on prosecuting those implicated” in cases of religious violence.

In its annual report, the USCIRF had noted that Mr. Modi should be “inadmissible to the U.S.” due to “severe violations of religious freedom,” a reference to his presiding over Gujarat in 2002, when riots claimed the lives of a thousand people or more, many Muslim.

Speaking to media earlier, Ms. Swett had said that there was “significant evidence linking him to the violence and the terrible events that took place in Gujarat and for this reason, a visa would not be appropriate.”

Ms. Swett further told The Hindu that the Commission was aware that the U.K. and Sweden have “softened their previously stronger stances on engaging with Mr. Modi,” and that some persons or groups in the U.S. were lobbying for a similar softening.

Arguing that the USCIRF saw it fit to “push back strongly on that,” Ms. Swett suggested that the U.S. should not be seen as being “all too willing to set aside human rights concern in pursuit of economic interests.”

In terms of the specific concerns regarding Mr. Modi’s alleged responsibility for the Gujarat violence, Ms. Swett indicated that the Commission had taken note of the affidavit filed by Sanjiv Bhatt, and particularly made note of his claim there that Mr. Modi had asked police officials to allow Hindus to vent their anger against Muslims in the wake of the Godhra incident.

She also said that the USCIRF had factored in the February 2012 Gujarat High Court ruling that said that “inadequacy, inaction and negligence” by the State government had led to the destruction of religious structures across the State and ordered compensation for more than 500 structures.

Further concerns about Mr. Modi’s alleged complicity were raised by the guilty verdict and the 28-year sentence handed out to Maya Kodnani in the context of the Narodya Patiya massacre near Ahmedabad, Ms. Swett said, referencing the involvement of the political leadership in Gujarat that this verdict implied.

In its annual report, the USCIRF reiterated this view, saying, “It was widely reported in the media that many in the Muslim community believe [Kodnani] was the ‘fall guy’ for Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time of the riots.”

While she confirmed that on November 14, 2012 the USCIRF wrote to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting that the “possible U.S. visa application by Narendra Modi... be denied until there is full transparency into the violence in 2002,” Ms. Swett did not rule out repeating that advice to the present Secretary, John Kerry, should that be appropriate.

Underscoring the panel’s perception of “complicity by state government officials,” Ms. Swett said, “There is certainly a lot of troubling evidence, of sins of omission if not commission.”

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