The United States on Monday expressed disappointment over India denying visas to members of the United States Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). A USCIRF team was planning to travel to India on March 4, but India did not process their visa applications.
The Indian Embassy in Washington said that there was no change in India’s policy with respect to such visits and saw no “ locus standi of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pass its judgment and comment on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.”
Visas denied for the seventh year
India has been denying visas to USCIRF for seven years now.
“We’re disappointed by this news,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said, and added that religious freedom in India has been a “topic of conversation between the two countries.” “It’s not a topic of conversation that we’re afraid to have with our Indian counterparts,” he said.
‘We support the commission’
“We are supportive of the commission and the important role they play in reviewing facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom around the world. As President Obama himself noted during his visit last year, we support the Government of India’s commitments – commitment to promoting religious freedom and diversity,” he said, recalling Mr. Obama’s statement during his visit to India in January 2015.
“Our nations are stronger when every person has the right to practice the faith they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear of discrimination,” Mr. Obama had said.
‘We remain engaged in talks’
Asked whether U.S. officials have reached out to India after the visa denial, Mr. Kirby said: “We don’t talk about the details of diplomatic conversations, but I can tell you we remain engaged in a number of discussions with the Indian government about this and other issues with respect to religious freedom.”
Refusing to be drawn into a discussion on the current issues related religious freedom in India, Mr. Kirby said he did not have “a formal policy statement with respect to the state of religious freedom in India right now.”
Why State Department responding now?
When it was pointed out that the U.S. State Department had not responded when visas were denied to the USCIRF commissioners in previous years, Mr. Kirby said: “….the question seems to presuppose that because it’s happened before, we should just not comment on it and we should just be okay with it, and we’re not.”
Responding to India’s position that USCIRF has no locus standi in the issue as religious freedom is enshrined in the Indian Constitution, Mr. Kirby said: “…we want issues like that that are enshrined in a constitution to be upheld, to be observed. And again, we support the work of the commission and what they stand for, and I don’t know how else I can say it. We remain disappointed by the news.”