The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent bi-partisan commission, has recommended for the second year in the row that the State Department put India on a list (‘Countries of Particular Concern’ or CPCs) for the worst violations of religious freedoms in 2020. One out of the ten USCIRF commissioners presented a dissenting view.
The USCISRF recommended that the administration impose targeted sanctions on Indian individuals and entities for ‘severe violations of religious freedom’.
A second recommendation was for the administration to promote inter-faith dialogue and the rights of all communities at bilateral and multilateral forums “such as the ministerial of the Quadrilateral [the Quad].” Another recommendation – to the U.S. Congress – was to raise issues in the U.S. – India bilateral space, such as by hosting hearings, writing letters and constituting Congressional delegations.
USCIRF recommendations are non-binding and the Trump administration had rejected the USCIRF recommendation to designate India a CPC last year, when it released its own determinations in December.
The key concerns of the 2021 report include the Citizenship Amendment Act which went into effect in early 2020 and fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim refugees from South Asian countries meeting certain other criteria. The report says, “Mobs sympathetic to Hindu nationalism operated with impunity,” and used “brutal force” to attack Muslims in Delhi’s riots in February 2020. On the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the report says, “The consequences of exclusion – as exemplified by a large detention camp being built in Assam – are potentially devastating…”Efforts to prohibit interfaith marriage – such as those in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh - are also highlighted as a concern. “These efforts targeting and delegitimizing interfaith relationships have led to attacks and arrests of non-Hindus and to innuendo, suspicion, and violence toward any interfaith interaction,” the report notes.
In an apparent reference to the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz in March 2020, the USCIRF says, “At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, disinformation and hateful rhetoric - including from government officials – often targeted religious minorities, continuing familiar patterns.”
Johnnie Moore, an evangelical who is the President of The Congress of Christian Leaders as per his USCIRF bio, included a dissenting note in the text of the report saying should not be designated a CPC but was at a “crossroads.” India is “diversity personified” and “its religious life has been its greatest historic blessing,” Mr Moore wrote.
“India’s government and people have everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose from preserving social harmony and protecting the rights of everyone,” he said. Last year, three of ten commissioners – including Mr Moore – had presented dissenting views. The others was Gary L Bauer and Tenzin Dorjee (now retired).
Last year India had denied visas to members of USCIRF who wanted to visit India for their assessment. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had written to an MP last June that foreign entities like USCIRF did not have the locus standi to “to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.”
Other new recommendations for the CPC list in the Commission’s 2021 were Russia, Syria and Vietnam. Countries already on the CPCs list and recommended by USCIRF for re-designation were Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey and Uzbekistan were recommended for a ‘Special Watch List’, along with Cuba and Nicaragua, both of which were already on the list for 2019.