US body accuses India of failing to protect minorities

August 13th, 2009 - 3:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 13 (IANS) A US government body tasked with making policy recommendations has accused India of doing “so little to protect and bring justice to its religious minorities under siege”.
With the release of its 2009 report on India Wednesday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed India on its “Watch List”, putting the country on par with Afghanistan, Somalia and Belarus as well as Cuba.

A statement from USCIRF faulted the Indian government for what it said were its largely inadequate response in protecting religious minorities.

USCIRF said India earned the Watch List designation due to the increase in communal violence against religious minorities - specifically Christians in Orissa in 2008 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.

USCIRF issues its annual report on religious freedom each May. Its principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to recommend policies to the president, Secretary of State and Congress.

This year’s India chapter was delayed because USCIRF wanted to visit India but New Delhi declined to issue visas, the statement added.

“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 Maoists in Kandhamal district sparked a prolonged destructive campaign targeting Christians, resulting in attacks against churches and individuals.

The statement said the attacks were largely carried out by individuals linked to Hindu nationalist groups, and resulted in at least 40 deaths and the destruction of hundreds of homes and dozens of churches.

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”.

“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 Leo.

“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 notes that the deficiencies in investigating and prosecuting cases have resulted in a culture of impunity that gives members of 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 India to take new steps to promote communal harmony, protect religious minorities, and prevent communal violence by calling on all political parties.

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