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Violence against Christians, Muslims
US panel puts India on watch list
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

An independent and largely toothless US government commission on religious freedom has placed India on its watch list citing an increase in violence against Christians in Orissa and Muslims in Gujarat.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom's 2009 country report on India was released here on Wednesday without any of the commissioners actually visiting India because the Indian government has repeatedly denied the commission's request for visas.

“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 USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo.

“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,” Mr. Leo added. The report was released on the first anniversary of the start of anti-Christian violence in Orissa, which was triggered by the slaying of a Hindu priest by Maoist rebels.

The commission recommends the Obama administration urge the government of India to take new measures to promote communal harmony, protect religious minorities, and prevent communal violence. However, the report is unlikely to have any dire consequences for India. The USCIRF's reports are not binding on the U.S. government and past administrations in Washington have largely ignored its recommendations pertaining to India.

The USCIRF report 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."

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.” Keeping India company on the watch list are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.

The commission's members had initially planned to visit India in April but were told by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi that it was not a good time for a trip since India was in the midst of an election.



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