Context:

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended for the second year in the row to put India on a list (‘Countries of Particular Concern’ or CPCs) for the worst violations of religious freedoms in 2020.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Effect of Policies & Politics of Countries on India’s Interests, Important International Institutions and Reports), GS-II: Social Justice

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the International Religious Freedom report
  2. About the USCIRF
  3. About the previous 2020 report
  4. Latest Recommendations of USCIRF
  5. Concerns regarding India raised in the 2021 report
  6. Recommendations of the UCIRF in the 2021 report

About the International Religious Freedom report

  • The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) releases International Religious Freedom report annually.
  • The Report consists of country-wise chapters.
  • This report includes policy recommendations to the U.S. government based on the report’s evaluation of the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations worldwide.

The Report’s primary focus is on two groups of countries:

  1. “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)” is a designation by the US Secretary of State of a nation engaged in severe violations of religious freedom under IRFA (International Religious Freedom Act of 1998).
  2. A “Special Watch List” country is one that is deemed not to meet all of the CPC criteria but engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom.

About the USCIRF

  • The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is a U.S. federal government commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998.
  • USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
  • USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
  • In practice, the USCIRF has little teeth in implementation, but acts as a conscience-keeper for the two branches in the US government – the legislature and the executive.
  • The USCIRF is mandated to “monitor the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad — however, NOT in the U.S.

About the previous 2020 report

  • UCIRF downgraded India to the lowest ranking, “countries of particular concern” (CPC) in its 2020 report and it was the first time since 2004 that India has been placed in this category.
  • 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.
  • 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”.
  • Under IRFA, the USCIRF 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”.

Latest Recommendations of USCIRF

  • Recommendations for the CPC list are Russia, Syria and Vietnam and India.
  • Countries already on the CPCs list and recommended by USCIRF for re-designation are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
  • Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey and Uzbekistan are recommended for a ‘Special Watch List’, along with Cuba and Nicaragua, both of which were already on the list for 2019.
  • The report also recommends seven non-state actors for redesignation as “entities of particular concern” (EPCs)—al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), and the Taliban.

Concerns regarding India raised in the 2021 report

  1. Passage of the Religiously Discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA): CAA fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim refugees from South Asian countries meeting certain other criteria.
  2. Delhi Riots: The report mentions the attack that took place on religious minorities during Delhi riots by the religious majority population in February 2020.
  3. National Register of Citizens (NRC): The consequences of exclusion – as exemplified by a large detention camp being built in Assam – are potentially devastating.
  4. Anti-Conversion Laws: Despite India’s constitutional protections for religious freedom, approximately one-third of India’s 28 states limit or prohibit religious conversion to protect the dominant religion from perceived threats from religious minorities.
  5. Disinformation and Incitement of Violence: Government officials and nonstate actors continued to use social media and other forms of communication to harass and spread hatred and disinformation against minority communities, including Muslims, Christians, and Dalits.
  6. Religious Freedom in Jammu and Kashmir: In Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly negatively impacted religious freedom, including the observance of religious holy days and the ability to attend prayers.
  7. Closing Space for Civil Society: Government officials used the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other statutes to detain advocates, media, and academics, including religious minorities.

Recommendations of the UCIRF in the 2021 report

  • It has recommended the US administration to impose targeted sanctions on Indian individuals and entities for ‘severe violations of religious freedom’.
  • Condemn ongoing religious freedom violations and support religious organizations and human rights groups being targeted for their advocacy of religious freedom.
  • The US administration should promote inter-faith dialogue and the rights of all communities at bilateral and multilateral forums “such as the ministerial of the Quadrilateral (the Quad).
  • The US Congress should raise issues in the US-India bilateral space, such as by hosting hearings, writing letters and constituting Congressional delegations.

-Source: The Hindu

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