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International Religious Freedom Report 2021

  • 22 Apr 2021
  • 7 min read

Why in News

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended for the second year in the row to put India on a list (‘Countries of Particular Concern’ or CPCs) for the worst violations of religious freedoms in 2020.

Key Points

  • About the USCIRF:
    • USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission, dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.
    • It is an advisory body to the US Congress.
    • USCIRF’s 2021 Annual Report assesses religious freedom violations and progress during calendar year 2020 in 26 countries and makes independent recommendations for US policy.
    • It is Headquartered at Washington DC.
  • About the Report:
    • The Report’s primary focus is on two groups of countries:
      • “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)” is a designation by the US Secretary of State of a nation engaged in severe violations of religious freedom under IRFA (International Religious Freedom Act of 1998).
      • A “Special Watch List” country is one that is deemed not to meet all of the CPC criteria but engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom.
    • The Report also includes USCIRF’s recommendations of violent nonstate actors for designation by the US State Department as “entities of particular concern,” or EPCs, under IRFA.
  • Latest Recommendations of USCIRF:
    • For the CPC List:
      • Recommendations for the CPC list are Russia, Syria and Vietnam and India.
      • Countries already on the CPCs list and recommended by USCIRF for re-designation are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
    • For A Special Watch List:
      • Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey and Uzbekistan are recommended for a ‘Special Watch List’, along with Cuba and Nicaragua, both of which were already on the list for 2019.
    • For EPCs:
      • Recommends seven non-state actors for redesignation as “entities of particular concern” (EPCs)—al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), and the Taliban.

India’s Case

  • Areas of Concern Highlighted :
    • Passage of the Religiously Discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA): CAA fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim refugees from South Asian countries meeting certain other criteria.
    • Delhi Riots: The report mentions the attack that took place on religious minorities during Delhi riots by the religious majority population in February 2020.
    • National Register of Citizens (NRC): The consequences of exclusion – as exemplified by a large detention camp being built in Assam – are potentially devastating.
    • Anti-Conversion Laws: Despite India’s constitutional protections for religious freedom, approximately one-third of India’s 28 states limit or prohibit religious conversion to protect the dominant religion from perceived threats from religious minorities.
    • Disinformation and Incitement of Violence: Government officials and nonstate actors continued to use social media and other forms of communication to harass and spread hatred and disinformation against minority communities, including Muslims, Christians, and Dalits.
      • The fervor around cow slaughter continues to take root in policy, in December, the state of Karnataka revised an earlier bill to impose fines and imprisonment for the transport, sale, and purchase of cattle for slaughter.
    • Religious Freedom in Jammu and Kashmir: In Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly negatively impacted religious freedom, including the observance of religious holy days and the ability to attend prayers.
      • The shutdown of the internet for nearly 18 months—the longest-ever shutdown in any democracy—and other restrictions on communications caused significant disruption and limited religious freedom.
    • Closing Space for Civil Society: Government officials used the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other statutes to detain advocates, media, and academics, including religious minorities.
      • In September 2020, the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) was amended to place further restrictions on NGOs, including reducing the amount of foreign funds that could be used for administrative expenses and requiring that accounts be held in a government-designated bank.
  • Recommendations of USCIRF:
    • It has recommended the US administration to impose targeted sanctions on Indian individuals and entities for ‘severe violations of religious freedom’.
    • Condemn ongoing religious freedom violations and support religious organizations and human rights groups being targeted for their advocacy of religious freedom.
    • The US administration should promote inter-faith dialogue and the rights of all communities at bilateral and multilateral forums “such as the ministerial of the Quadrilateral (the Quad).
    • The US Congress should raise issues in the US-India bilateral space, such as by hosting hearings, writing letters and constituting Congressional delegations.

Freedom of Religion in India

  • Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25-28 of the Constitution of India.
    • Article 25 (Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion).
    • Article 26 (Freedom to manage religious affairs).
    • Article 27 (Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion).
    • Article 28 (Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions).
  • Further, Article 29 and 30 of the Constitution deal with the protection of interest of minorities.

Source: TH

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