India’s designation by the USCIRF

Contact Counsellor

India’s designation by the USCIRF

In its 2022 Annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that India be designated a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC).

What is the USCIRF and how is it constituted?

  • USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan body created by International Religious Freedom Act, 1998 (IRFA) of US.
  • Mandate: to monitor religious freedom violations globally and make policy recommendations to President, Secretary of State, and Congress.
  • It is a congressionally created entity and not an NGO or advocacy organisation.
  • Led by nine part-time commissioners appointed by President and leadership of both political parties in the House and the Senate.

Why in news now?

  • It wants India to be designated under CPC category of governments performing most poorly on religious freedom criteria.
  • It has called for “targeted sanctions” on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ or entities’ assets and/or barring their entry” into the US.

What does a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC) designation mean?

  • IRFA requires USCIRF to annually identify countries that merit a CPC designation.
  • As per IRFA, CPCs are countries whose governments either engage in or tolerate “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom.
  • Such freedoms are defined as systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion.
  • Other designation, for less serious violations, is Special Watch List (SWL)

Which other countries have been designated as CPCs?

  • For 2022, based on religious freedom conditions in 2021, a total of 15 countries have been recommended for CPC designation.
  • They include India, Pakistan, Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam.
  • Countries recommended for SWL designation include Algeria, Cuba, Nicaragua, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

Why does USCIRF want India to be designated as a CPC?

  • USCIRF, in its annual report, in 2021, stated that religious freedom conditions in India significantly worsened.
  • Noted that Indian government escalated its promotion and enforcement of policies including those promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda.
  • This negatively affects Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other religious minorities.
  • Highlighted use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) against those documenting religious persecution and violence.
  • Criticised spate of fresh anti-conversion legislations, noting that “national, State and local governments demonised and attacked the conversion of Hindus to Christianity or Islam.”

Are USCIRF recommendations binding on the US government?

  • No, they are not.
  • The USCIRF typically recommends more countries for a CPC label than the State Department will designate.
  • This is because USCIRF is concerned with the state of religious freedom when it makes a recommendation.
  • However, US State Department also takes into account other diplomatic, bilateral and strategic concerns before making a decision on a CPC designation.

Is this the first time India is being designated as a CPC by the USCIRF? What has been India’s reaction?

  • This is third year in a row that India has received a CPC recommendation.
  • India has in the past pushed back against the grading, questioning the locus standi of USCIRF.
  • In 2020, Indian EAM called the Commission an “Organisation of Particular Concern.”
  • US needs to introspect itself on HR violations by the state authorities on the basis of racism, ethnocentrism and religion (particularly Sikhs).

What is the likely impact of the USCIRF’s recommendation?

  • US State Department hasn’t acted on such recommendations so far.
  • But India may come under greater pressure this time, given its divergence from the American position on Ukraine war and refusal to endorse US-backed resolutions against Russia at the UN.
  • Hence USCIRF is another force of Anti-India lobby in the US to bully other nations by countering an accusation with another.