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Continuing violence against religious minorities – India on US watch list

May 5, 2011 | By

New York (May 4, 2011): India is placed on the Watch List of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for continuous incidents of religious violence and impunity from such violence. The USCIRF Report for 2011 places India on Watch List “because justice for past communal violence continues to be slow and ineffective and because of concerns about the state “Freedom of Religion Act(s).”

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.

According to Leonard Leo, Chairman of the USCIRF, India has been put on the watch list because “incidents of religious violence are greater and the problem of impunity from such violence is heightened”.

The report specifically refers to lack of justice for the victims of large-scale communal violence. Referring to the 2007-08 anti Christian violence in Orissa, 2002 violence against Muslims in Gujarat and 1984 violence against Sikhs, the USCIRF report noted that the justice for victims remain slow and often ineffective. As per USCIRF report “in some regions of India, law enforcement and judicial officials have proven unwilling or unable to seek redress consistently for victims of religiously-motivated violence or to challenge cultures of impunity in areas with a history of communal tensions, which in some cases has fostered a climate of impunity”.

In 2009, members of USCIRF who wanted to visit India to discuss religious freedom conditions with officials, religious leaders, civil society activists and others in the world’s largest democracy, were denied visa by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government.

According to attorney Gurpatwant S. Pannun, legal advisor to Sikh For Justice (SFJ) who practices human rights law in the United States, putting India on the watch list by USCIRF is a step which will spread international awareness regarding the plight of religious minorities and continuous denial of justice to members of religious minorities who suffered violence in India. In November 1984 Sikhs were attacked and killed with the complicity of senior members of the Congress Party. Although there are witnesses and evidence that attacks were orchestrated by senior political figures, none have yet been convicted for the 1984 killings added attorney Pannun.

Attorney Pannun further stated that in the light of USCIRF’s placing India on watch list, SFJ has approached US Department of State with the names of Congress leaders and police officials who participated in violence against Sikhs in November 1984 demanding ban on their entry into United States.

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