The 2015 Annual Report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been criticized by India but lauded by Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio after its release October 14th.
The report listed India as a Tier 2 country, in which “the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing and egregious’ standard, but do not fully meet the CPC (countries of particular concern) standard.”
Six out of 29 state governments in India enforced existing “anti-conversion” laws and there were also reports of religiously motivated killings, arrests, coerced religious conversions, religiously-motivated riots, and actions restricting the right of individuals to change religious beliefs, according to the report.
“In some cases, local police failed to respond effectively to communal violence, including attacks against religious minorities, although local officials used broad authorities to deploy police and security forces to control outbreaks of religiously-motivated violence,” it read. The local non-governmental organization Act Now for Harmony and Democracy reported over 800 religiously-motivated attacks from May through the end of the year, it said.
India snubbed the report that expressed concern over reports of religiously-motivated killings in the country, saying the Indian constitution provides every citizen equal religious, political and social rights.
According to media reports, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said the report is “internal to the U.S. administration. It is widely acknowledged that the Indian constitution guarantees equal rights – religious, political and social rights – to its citizens, including its minorities; and any abuses are handled by internal process, including the judiciary, a vibrant media, civil society and the National Human Rights Commission etc.”
However, the report gave a thumbs-up to the Indian authorities as they “continued to enforce laws designed to protect ‘religious sentiments’ and minimize the risk of religious violence, which some argued had the effect of limiting freedom of expression related to religion.”
Meanwhile, Rubio called for Pakistan to be designated as a Country of Particular Concern, adding the State Department does not utilize the tools it has to name and shame violators of religious freedom. “Religious freedom must be a bedrock of American foreign policy. The stakes are too high for anything less. We need to redouble our efforts to serve as a beacon for religious freedom around the world and press countries to implement policies that protect religious expression and worship,” Rubio said in a statement.
The administration should re-designate countries every year for their religious freedom violations, Rubio urged. In its global overview, the report said, in 2014, non-state actors committed some of the world’s most egregious abuses of religious freedom and other human rights. Government failure, delay, and inadequacy in combating these groups often had severe consequences for people living under significant and dire restrictions on, and interference with, their exercise of freedom of religion, it said. Pakistan has been placed as a Tier 1 country, comprised of “countries whose governments engage in or tolerate particularly severe violations of religious freedom that are systematic, ongoing and egregious,” the report said.