International concern

Published : Oct 25, 2002 00:00 IST

THE National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is proud of India being an ally of the United States in its global "war against terrorism". Therefore, naturally, it must have been surprised to hear that a U.S. government agency, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), views the atrocities against Muslims in India with concern and wants the State Department to designate India as being among the "countries of particular concern" countries that are blacklisted for violations of religious rights.

The USCIRF was created under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), 1998 to monitor the status of religious freedom in other countries and to advise the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress on how best to promote it.

The IRFA was introduced to promote religious freedom as a U.S. foreign policy goal and to combat religious persecution in other countries. The Commission has issued a list of 12 countries that it wants the State Department to designate as countries of particular concern. They are Myanmar, China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Vietnam, India and Pakistan. The last three are recent additions.

The State Department designates certain countries as countries of particular concern on the basis of the Commission's report and after considering the nature and extent of the violation of religious liberty. The IRFA identifies a wide range of diplomatic and economic tools that the U.S. President can apply in the case of such countries. The Commission's report makes policy recommendations to the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government.

The USCIRF does not take into account the often complex relations that the United States has with several countries; it assesses religious freedom in other countries in an independent manner. This has often put the USCIRF at odds with the State Department, which often declines to accept its recommendations frequently. The State Department would like to view issues of religious freedom and human rights vis-a-vis the U.S.' strategic interests. Therefore, the State Department may refuse to term both India and Pakistan as countries of particular concern. But that does not mean that the U.S. government refuses to acknowledge the extent and severity of the violence against minorities in the two countries.

While detailing the riots in Gujarat following the Godhra tragedy, the USCIRF report points out that the increase in the violence against the minorities has coincided with the rise in the political influence of groups associated with the Sangh Parivar, which views non-Hindus as foreigners, who deserve to be attacked. According to the report, with the ascendancy of the Sangh Parivar's political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the climate of immunity for the perpetrators of attacks on minorities appears to have strengthened.

The report concludes that although the BJP-led Central government might not be directly responsible for instigating the violence against religious minorities, the government did not do all that it could to capture the perpetrators of the attacks and to counteract the climate of hostility that prevailed against minority groups. The report refers to the Election Commission's finding that fear is still a palpable reality in the State with the riot victims "fearing risk to their life and property".

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