U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom to hold hearing on citizenship laws next week

‘Witnesses will discuss how citizenship laws are used to target religious minorities, particularly in Myanmar and India’, USCIRF said in a statement

February 25, 2020 02:36 pm | Updated 02:37 pm IST - Washington

India has been witnessing widespread protests against CAA and NPR, NRC. | File

India has been witnessing widespread protests against CAA and NPR, NRC. | File

A U.S. commission on international religious freedom will hold a hearing next week on how citizenship laws in countries like India and Myanmar are leveraged to deny the religious minorities legal protection, making them vulnerable to exploitation, discrimination and mass atrocities.

The announcement of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) came amidst the widespread protests in India against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the ongoing maiden official visit of U .S. President Donald Trump to India .

Also read | Citizenship Amendment Act will cause Muslims to face exclusion: U.S. panel on religions

According to the CAA, members of the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 following religious persecution there will get Indian citizenship.

The Indian government has been emphasising that the new law will not deny citizenship rights, but has been brought to protect the oppressed minorities of neighbouring countries and give them citizenship.

The USCIRF hearing is scheduled for March 4.

“Witnesses will discuss how citizenship laws are used to target religious minorities, particularly in Burma (Myanmar) and India, and will highlight the importance of the atrocity prevention framework for understanding the potential consequences of these laws,” it said in a statement.

With widespread protests in recent months in India in response to the CAA and a proposed National Register of Citizens , however, citizenship laws as a tool to target religious minorities is receiving much needed international attention, the USCIRF said.

“This phenomenon has a long-standing precedent with such measures as the 1982 Citizenship Law in Burma stripping the Rohingya of their rights as citizens.

“Without citizenship rights, minority communities are left to face further persecution and violence by both governments and non-state actors. In particular, government efforts to strip religious minorities of their citizenship can be a key predictor of mass atrocities,” it said.

Also read | Citizenship Amendment Act may leave Muslims stateless, says U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres

Several experts have been invited to testify at the hearing.

Tony Perkins, Chair, USCIRF; Gayle Manchin, Vice Chair, and Anurima Bhargava, its Commissioner would make opening remarks.

India maintains that the Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including its minority communities.

A senior official of the Ministry of External Affairs has said it is widely acknowledged that India is a vibrant democracy where the Constitution provides protection of religious freedom, and where democratic governance and rule of law further promote and protect fundamental rights.

Defending the CAA, Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month said that the law is not about taking away citizenship , it is about giving citizenship.

“We must all know that any person of any religion from any country of the world who believes in India and its Constitution can apply for Indian citizenship through due process. There’s no problem in that,” he said.

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