Term India as 'country of particular concern': US panel

US panel on religious freedom wants Donald Trump administration to designate India as 'country of particular concern'

India hits back at USCIRF, calls it 'organization of particular concern'

Representative image/PTI Photo

A United States federal commission on Tuesday recommended President Donald Trump’s administration in Washington D.C. to designate India as a “country of particular concern” in view of its “sharp downward turn” in religious freedom.

It also recommended to the US State Department to impose “targeted sanctions” on Indian Government’s “agencies and officials” responsible for severe violations of religious freedom, by freezing their assets and barring their entry into the United States.

“The Citizenship (Amendment) Act in #India “potentially exposes millions of Muslims to detention, deportation, and statelessness when the government completes its planned nationwide National Register of Citizens” the USCIRF tweeted quoting its vice-chair.

The Government of India hit back at the USCIRF, stating that it regarded the commission itself as an “organization of particular concern”.

Further, New Delhi immediately dismissed the observation made by the commission and its recommendation to the US State Department.

“We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF Annual Report. Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels,” Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), said in a statement issued in New Delhi late in the evening. “It (the USCIRF) has not been able to carry its own commissioners in its endeavour,” the MEA spokesperson said, adding: “We regard it as an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly.”

The United States Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2020 annual report on Tuesday, accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in New Delhi of introducing policies, which violated religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims, using its “strengthened parliamentary majority” after its re-election to power in May 2019.

“Perhaps the steepest, and most alarming, deterioration in religious freedom conditions was in #India, the largest democracy in the world,” the USCIRF posted on Twitter quoting its Vice-Chair Nadine Maenza.

It recommended the Trump Administration to designate India as a “country of particular concern” for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, as defined by the US International Religious Freedom Act.

The USCIRF has been publicly criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. This is, however, the first time that the commission has recommended designation of India as a “country of particular concern” in its annual report after 2004.

The USCIRF is an “independent, bipartisan federal government entity” established by the American Congress, mandated to monitor, analyze and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. It makes foreign policy recommendations to the US President, the US Secretary of State and US Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief.

The nine other countries the USCIRF tagged as “country of particular concern” are Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. They all, however, have already been designated as such by the US State Department. 

The panel in its Annual Report 2020 particularly referred to the process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. It also referred to the introduction of the new Citizenship (Amendment) Act or the CAA. It mentioned about to the violent clashes in North East Delhi between the groups supporting and opposing the CAA.

The report even referred to Home Minister Amit Shah’s remark referring to the migrants as “termites”. The commission had in December 2019 asked American State Department to impose sanctions on Home Minister of India and bar his entry to the US.

The commission in its latest report also referred to the August 5, 2019 move by the Modi Government to start the process of stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its “special status” and reorganizing the state into two Union Territories.

India is one of the five countries which the USCIRF recommended the US State Department to add to its list of the “countries of particular concern” in terms of religious freedom.

The four other countries the panel wanted to be included in the list are Syria, Russia, Vietnam and Nigeria.