Staff Reporter

Trip was to discuss conditions in India

CHENNAI: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has not been issued visas by the Centre for a visit, according to a press release from the panel.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. The commissioners are appointed by the U.S. President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives in the US.

USCIRF’s principal responsibilities include reviewing facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and making policy recommendations to the U.S. government.

The aim of the commission’s trip to India was to discuss religious freedom conditions in India. In the context of the increase in communal violence against religious communities in recent years, the commissioners sought to discuss the government’s responses and its development of preventive strategies at the local and national levels, the release said.

The commission had information that the Indian justice system had prosecuted only a handful of persons responsible for communal violence and related abuses since the mid 1980s.

The commissioners were to have left the U.S. on June 12, 2009. As the commission is a U.S. government body, its visits had to have an official status. USCIRF obtained U.S. State Department support, made travel arrangements, and requested meetings with a variety of officials. Despite this, the Centre did not issue the USCIRF delegation visas, the release said. The government has not offered alternative dates for a visit.

Expressing disappointment over the government’s refusal to provide visas, commission chair Felice D. Gaer said India had been unique among democracies in delaying and denying USCIRF’s ability to visit. The commission had visited China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and over 20 other countries.

USCIRF has been requesting visits since 2001. Cuba is the only other nation to have refused entry to the commission.

In 2002 the commission recommended that India be designated a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) following events in Gujarat that resulted in an estimated 2,000 deaths, the release said. Although the country was removed from the CPC list in 2005, USCIRF had continued to monitor, report, and comment publicly on events in the country, including last year’s violence in Orissa, attacks in Mumbai, and other events.

USCIRF issues its annual report on religious freedom each May and this year’s India section was delayed because of the planned trip. In the absence of in-country travel, the commission will release a report on India later this summer.