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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.

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.

The commission also recommended that the U.S. government take stringent action against India under the “International Religious Freedom Act” (IRFA).

Details of what USCIRF claimed

  • 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”.

India’s Reaction

  • The Centre reacted sharply to the USCIRF report on 28th April 2020, terming it “biased and tendentious” and rejected its observations.
  • The Centre noted that the USCIRF biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels.
  • The Ministry of External Affairs had rejected the USCIRF statement as neither “accurate nor warranted” and questioned the body’s “locus standi” in India’s internal affairs.

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.

IRFA

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 was passed to promote religious freedom as a foreign policy of the United States, to promote greater religious freedom in countries which engage in or tolerate violations of religious freedom, and to advocate on the behalf of individuals persecuted for their religious beliefs and activities in foreign countries.

International Religious Freedom report

  • 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.
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