India on US `watch list` on religious freedom

A bipartisan US panel on global religious freedom has placed India on its `Watch List` for the 2nd year.

Washington: A bipartisan US panel on global religious freedom has named Pakistan and 12 other nations as "countries of particular concern" while placing India on its `Watch List` for the second year in succession.

In a report to the US Congress Thursday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) termed India`s progress in protecting the rights of minorities as mixed and placed it on the second category watch list.

While not rising to the statutory level under US law requiring designation as a "country of particular concern", watch list countries require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments, the report said.

The Indian government at various levels recognised the problem of communal violence and created some structures to address these issues, it said. "However, justice for victims of communal violence was slow and often ineffective, thereby perpetuating a climate of impunity.

"While there was no large-scale communal violence against religious minorities during the reporting period, attacks on Christians and Muslims and their places of worship continued, along with incidences of intolerance against both," the report said.

The USRIF, which was denied visas by India to have a spot assessment of the ground realities for the second consecutive year, urged "the US government to integrate concern for religious freedom and related human rights into all bilateral contacts with India, and for US ambassador to India to speak out against, and seek to visit sites of, communal violence".

In November 2009 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the US on the first state visit of the Obama administration, USCIRF wrote to President Barack Obama, urging him to raise religious freedom concerns in India with his guest.

The letter, while noting the stated commitment of the Congress party to religious tolerance, called attention to what it called the Indian government`s "inadequate responses" to violence against religious minority communities, including Christians in Orissa in 2008 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.

In a note of dissent, however, Felice D. Gaer, who was the USCIRF chair last year, said: "The Commission`s conclusion that the system`s `capacity and will is severely limited` and that government response to such incidents has been `largely inadequate` seems to fly in the face of the evidence of serious measures that have been undertaken."

Gaer argued the response of the Indian government during the past year have been significant, citing amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, establishing fast track courts to take up cases in Orissa, appropriating of funds for rebuilding and paying compensation to victims or the families, and to permitting a 10-country delegation of the European Union to travel to the region for a first-hand examination.

"I respectfully dissent from the decision to recommend that India be placed on the Commission`s Watch List of countries with egregious, severe violations of religious freedom that fall short of the statutory requirement for countries of particular concern," Gaer said.


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