India Rights & Wrongs
From: U.S. Commission on International
Sent: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 2:19 PM
To: Angana Chatterji
Subject: USCIRF Places India on Watch List
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 12, 2009
USCIRF Places India on
WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the release of its 2009 country report on India, the
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed India on its
“Watch List” today for the government’s largely inadequate response in
protecting its religious minorities.
USCIRF said India earned the Watch List designation due to the disturbing
increase in communal violence against religious minorities–specifically
Christians in Orissa in 2008 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002–and the largely
inadequate response from the Indian government to protect the rights of
“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 Maoist rebels in Kandhamal
sparked a prolonged and destructive campaign targeting Christians in Orissa,
resulting in attacks against churches and individuals.
These attacks largely were carried out by individuals associated with Hindu
nationalist groups, and resulted in at least 40 deaths and the destruction of
hundreds of homes and dozens of churches. Tens of thousands were displaced and
today many still remain in refugee camps, afraid to return home.
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.”
The other countries currently on USCIRF’s Watch List are Afghanistan, Belarus,
Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Tajikistan,
Turkey, and Venezuela.
“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
Similarly, during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, India’s National Human
Rights Commission found that the Indian government not only failed to prevent
the attacks against religious minorities, but that state and local officials
aided and participated in the violence.
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 released today 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
The report recommends that the Obama Administration urge the government of India
to take new measures to promote communal harmony, protect religious minorities,
and prevent communal violence by calling on all political parties and religious
or social organizations to publicly denounce violence against and harassment of
religious minorities, women, and low-caste members, and to acknowledge that such
violence constitutes a crime under Indian law.
USCIRF issues its annual report on religious freedom each May. This year’s India
chapter was delayed because USCIRF had requested to visit India this summer. The
Indian government, however, declined to issue USCIRF visas for the trip.
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.
To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact Tom Carter, Communications Director
or (202) 523-3257.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the
International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of
thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments, and to give
independent policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and