The story so far: U.S. Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives on Tuesday condemning alleged violations of human rights and religious freedom in India, and asking the U.S. Secretary of State to designate India as a “country of particular concern.” The resolution has been co-sponsored by Congresspersons Rashida Tlaib, Juan Vargas, and Jim McGovern.
The resolution is based on the 2022 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) which said that the Indian government “escalated its promotion and enforcement of policies — including those promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda — that negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other religious minorities”. The report recommended, for the third year in a row, that India should be classified as a “country of particular concern” (CPC).
India rejected the report, citing “vote bank politics in international relations.”
“It is unfortunate that vote bank politics is being practised in international relations. We would urge that assessments based on motivated inputs and biased views be avoided,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said while rejecting the findings of the report.
This is not the first time Ms. Omar has been at loggerheads with the Indian government. Earlier this year, the government of India criticised her visit to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), saying that it violated the country’s sovereignty.
What does Ms. Omar’s resolution say?
A simple resolution concerns a matter of operation of either the House of Representatives or the Senate. These resolutions are not binding by law but express the collective sentiment of the House, if passed. Resolutions are not presented to the U.S. President for action.
Ms. Omar’s resolution condemns the alleged “human rights violations and violations of international religious freedom in India, including those targeting Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, Adivasis, and other religious and cultural minorities”.
The resolution references several quotes from the USCIRF report, including one that blames the Indian government for continuing to “systemise its ideological vision of a Hindu State at both the national and state levels through the use of both existing and new laws and structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities.”
It also said that the government of India uses laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Sedition Law to intimidate those speaking against the government. The report mentioned that in 2021, “numerous attacks were made on religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, and their neighbourhoods, businesses, homes, and houses of worship. Many of these incidents were violent, unprovoked, and/or encouraged or incited by government officials”.
Ms. Omar and other co-sponsors of the resolution have demanded that the U.S. House of Representatives condemn the alleged treatment of minorities in India. They have also called upon the U.S. Secretary of State to designate India as a country of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016.
The resolution has been referred to the Committe on Foreign Affairs for further action.
What is the International Religious Freedom Act?
The International Religious Freedom Act, 1998 (IRFA) makes religious freedom an important factor in U.S. foreign policy. According to this act, the foreign policy of the country includes condemning violations of religious freedoms across the world. It also provides the government with tools to implement this policy. USCIRF’s annual report is a way to monitor and report on the status of religious freedom in various countries.
What does “country of a particular concern” mean?
Countries of particular concern, or CPCs, are defined under the IRFA as countries where the government either engages in or tolerates “particularly severe violations of religious freedom”, which means “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of the internationally recognised right to freedom of religion”. This can include:
- torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,
- prolonged detention without charges,
- causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons, or
- other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.
The 2022 edition of the report has recommended that a total of 15 countries be designated as CPCs, including Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Vietnam and Syria.
Besides this, 12 countries have been recommended to be added to the State Department’s Special Watch List (SWL), including Algeria, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Nicaragua and Uzbekistan.