US panel on religious freedoms flags India as country of concern again

The US Commission for International Religious Freedom highlighted a ‘sharp downward turn’ in religious freedoms in the country in 2019 and flagged India as a ‘country of particular concern’ in its 2020 report. So far, however, the US government has not added India to the list of countries of concern or particular concern.  

The United States on Friday designated 12 countries, including China, Pakistan and Myanmar, as “countries of particular concern” for the current status of religious freedom in these nations. 

Panel’s recommendations on religious freedom in India 

Ahead of the announcement of such an annual designation by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, there were massive lobbying efforts by groups like Indian American Muslim Council and pressures from organizations like US Commission for International Religious Freedom to designate India as a country of concern. 

The Commission is an autonomous and bipartisan American government agency that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion and shares policy suggestions with the White House. 

In fact, last year, reacting to the panel’s concerns about religious freedom violations in India, the Ministry of External Affairs had said that the USCIRF is “an organization of particular concern.” Dismissing the findings, the Ministry at the time lambasted the USIRF and said that the commission’s “misrepresentation” had stooped to “new levels.” 

“Today, I am announcing designations against Burma (Myanmar), the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, the DPRK, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” Blinken said in a statement on Friday. 

Simultaneously, Blinken also placed Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros and Vietnam on the Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom. 

The US also designated al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, the Taliban, and the Wagner Group based on its actions in the Central African Republic as “Entities of Particular Concern”. 

“Our announcement of these designations is in keeping with our values and interests to protect national security and to advance human rights around the globe. Countries that effectively safeguard this and other human rights are more peaceful, stable, prosperous and more reliable partners of the United States than those that do not,” Blinken said. 

Blinken said the US will continue to carefully monitor the status of freedom of religion or belief in every country around the world and advocate for those facing religious persecution or discrimination. 

“We will also regularly engage countries about our concerns regarding limitations on freedom of religion or belief, regardless of whether those countries have been designated,” he said. 

Image courtesy of thesatimes

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