NATIONAL

USCIRF downgrades India in 2020 list

A file photo of an anti-CAA protest in New Delhi.

A file photo of an anti-CAA protest in New Delhi.  

Religious freedom panel lists nation among ‘countries of particular concern’

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has downgraded India to the lowest ranking, “countries of particular concern” (CPC) in its 2020 report. The report, released in Washington by the federal government commission that functions as an advisory body, placed India alongside countries, including China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. India was categorised as a “Tier 2 country” in last year’s listing. This is the first time since 2004 that India has been placed in this category.

“India took a sharp downward turn in 2019,” the commission noted in its report, which included specific concerns about the Citizenship Amendment Act, the proposed National Register for Citizens, anti-conversion laws and the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. “The national government used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national-level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims.” The panel said that the CPC designation was also recommended because “national and various State governments also allowed nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities to continue with impunity, and engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence against them”.

The Centre reacted sharply to the USCIRF report on Tuesday, terming it “biased and tendentious” and rejected its observations.

“We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF Annual Report,” official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said. “Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels. It has not been able to carry its own Commissioners in its endeavour. We regard it as an organisation of particular concern and will treat it accordingly,” Mr. Srivastava added.

Three of the 10 USCIRF commissioners, including Gary Bauer, Johnnie Lee, and Tenzin Dorjee, dissented with the panel’s recommendation on India as being ‘too harsh’ and that ended up placing the country alongside what they termed as “rogue nations” like China and North Korea.

“I am confident that India will reject any authoritarian temptation and stand with the United States and other free nations in defence of liberty, including religious liberty,” wrote Commissioner Bauer in his dissenting note.

The commission also recommended that the U.S. government take stringent action against India under the “International Religious Freedom Act” (IRFA). It called on the administration to “impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States under human rights-related financial and visa authorities, citing specific religious freedom violations”. In 2005, Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was at the time the Chief Minister of Gujarat was censured by the USCIRF. The commission had recommended sanctions against Mr. Modi for the 2002 riots and the U.S. government had subsequently cancelled his visa.

The USCIRF 2020 report makes a specific mention of Home Minister Amit Shah, for not taking what it deemed as sufficient action to stop cases of mob lynching in the country, and for referring to migrants as “termites”. In December 2019, the USCIRF had also asked the U.S. government to consider sanctions against Mr. Shah and “other principal leadership” over the decision to pass the Citizenship Amendment Act.

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