India receives the harshest rating in USCIRF annual religious freedom report 2020

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Cover Photo of the Annual Report 2020. Grabbed from USCIRF website.

Enamul Hafiz Latifee compiles,

A US commission published it’s Annual Report 2020 and mandated to monitor religious freedoms around the world on Tuesday, 28 April 2020, recommended the Trump administration should add India to a list of countries seen by the US as systematic and egregious violators and sanction Indian government agencies and officials responsible for it.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) cited the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which fast-tracks Indian citizenship for non-Muslim refugees fleeing persecution, and “nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities” as its reasons.

 

In its 2020 annual report released Tuesday, the commission recommended that the US government (technically, the state government) should designate India a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC), for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations”. India was on the commission’s for Tier 2 list of countries to be watched in 2019.

The commission also recommended that the US government should impose targeted sanctions against Indian government agencies and officials responsible for religious freedom violations, freeze their assets in the United States and ban them from entering the country.

It separately recommended to US congress to continue to hold hearings on the state of religious freedoms in India.

It could not be immediately ascertained if the recommendation were binding and whether the Trump administration would indeed accept those meant for the US government. It had ignored a previous recommendation by the commission in December to sanction Union Home Minister Amit Shah if the CAA was enacted.

India had dismissed the USCIRF’s December recommendations as “guided only by its prejudices and biases” and has in the past denied its officials entry into the country. Anurag Srivastava, the spokesman for India’s ministry of external affairs, rejected the conclusions in the report. The commission’s “biased and tendentious comments against India are not new,” he said. “On this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels.”

He suggested the Indian government would keep its distance from the commission. “We regard [USCIRF] as an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly,” said Srivastava.

 

During a visit to India in February, President Trump of the USA defended Modi’s record on religious tolerance, even as violence erupted in the country over the citizenship law.

“We did talk about religious freedom, and I will say that the prime minister was incredible in what he told me,” Trump said. “He wants people to have religious freedom and very strongly.”

 

However, the commission held a hearing on India’s citizenship laws and changes and the state of religious freedom in March at which the CAA and a proposed National Register of Citizens had been criticized by expert witnesses as aimed as India’s Muslim minorities.

The USCIRF said religious freedom had also “continued to deteriorate” in China, where as many as 1.8 million Muslims have been detained in concentration camps.

The report cited improvements in two countries in particular — Sudan and Uzbekistan. USCIRF removed Sudan from the CPC list for the first time since the list was created in 2000 and Uzbekistan since 2005. The report praised the developments in both countries, which remained on the “special watch list.”

 

The report also highlighted concerns about growing anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe. It noted that 4 in 10 young European Jews are considering emigrating because of anti-Semitism and urged the Trump administration to “ensure that combating anti-Semitism is a key priority.”

The report applauded the administration for organizing events around religious freedom and issuing statements and said it had “prioritized” the topic. Maenza said Trump had raised international religious freedom “to a level it’s never been raised before.”

But the authors said the administration failed to use its powers to issue sanctions against foreign officials in cases of religious freedom violations. They noted the administration cut the number of refugees — including those fleeing religious persecution — to 18,000, the lowest in history.

 

Among the recommendations, the report urges the U.S. government to “exert significant pressure on Turkey to provide a timeline for its withdrawal from Syria,” while ensuring its allies neither expand control of more land, nor “otherwise abuse the rights of religious and ethnic minorities there.”

 

At a summing up note, the commission recommended re-designating Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as CPC and adding to it along with India, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam. It also sought for Cuba, Nicaragua, Sudan, and Uzbekistan to be kept on the next tier of special watch list and add 11 more: Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Central African Republic (CAR), Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, and Turkey.

 

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