|8/12/2009: USCIRF Places India on Watch List|
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 12, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the release of its 2009 country report on India, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed India on its “Watch List” today for the government’s largely inadequate response in protecting its religious minorities.
USCIRF said India earned the Watch List designation due to the disturbing increase in communal violence against religious minorities– specifically Christians in Orissa in 2008 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 – and the largely inadequate response from the Indian government to protect the rights of religious minorities.
“It is extremely disappointing that India, which has a multitude of religious communities, has done so little to protect and bring justice to its religious minorities under siege,” said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair. “USCIRF’s India chapter was released this week to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of the anti-Christian violence in Orissa.”
Last year in Orissa, the murder of Swami Saraswati by Maoist rebels in Kandhamal sparked a prolonged and destructive campaign targeting Christians in Orissa, resulting in attacks against churches and individuals.
These attacks largely were carried out by individuals associated with Hindu nationalist groups, and resulted in at least 40 deaths and the destruction of hundreds of homes and dozens of churches. Tens of thousands were displaced and today many still remain in refugee camps, afraid to return home.
Any country that is designated on the USCIRF Watch List requires “close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the government.”
The other countries currently on USCIRF’s Watch List are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela.
“India’s democratic institutions charged with upholding the rule of law, most notably state and central judiciaries and police, have emerged as unwilling or unable to seek redress for victims of the violence. More must be done to ensure future violence does not occur and that perpetrators are held accountable,” said Mr. Leo.
Similarly, during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, India’s National Human Rights Commission found that the Indian government not only failed to prevent the attacks against religious minorities, but that state and local officials aided and participated in the violence.
In both Orissa and Gujarat, court convictions have been infrequent, perpetrators rarely brought to justice and thousands of people remain displaced.
The USCIRF India chapter released today notes that the deficiencies in investigating and prosecuting cases have resulted in a culture of impunity that gives members of vulnerable minority communities few assurances of their safety, particularly in areas with a history of communal violence, and little hope of perpetrator accountability.
The report recommends that the Obama Administration urge the government of India to take new measures to promote communal harmony, protect religious minorities, and prevent communal violence by calling on all political parties and religious or social organizations to publicly denounce violence against and harassment of religious minorities, women, and low-caste members, and to acknowledge that such violence constitutes a crime under Indian law.
USCIRF issues its annual report on religious freedom each May. This year’s India chapter was delayed because USCIRF had requested to visit India this summer. The Indian government, however, declined to issue USCIRF visas for the trip.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. 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 Congress.