US religion panel puts India on Watch List, cites slow justice

The US government panel that monitors global religious freedom has once again listed India among countries that require close monitoring due to religious freedom violation.

In its annual report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed India on a 'Watch List' for 2012, citing concerns that justice for past communal violence continues to be "slow and ineffective".

"Progress in achieving justice for victims of past large-scale incidents of communal violence in India continued to be slow and ineffective. In addition, intimidation, harassment, and occasional small-scale violence against members of religious minority groups continued, particularly against Christians in states with anti-conversion laws," states the report, released on Tuesday.

While there has been no large-scale communal violence against religious minorities since 2008, and despite the Indian government's recognition of past communal violence, the report noted that the slow pace of the judicial responses continued to enable impunity.

Expressing concern over anti-conversion laws, the report said five Indian states have adopted the Freedom of Religion Act(s), and several others were considering similar laws.

"While intended to reduce forced conversions and decrease communal violence, states with these laws have higher incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence against religious minorities, particularly Christians," the report said.

It recommended the US government to integrate concern for religious freedom into all bilateral contacts with India, and urge India to increase training on human rights and religious freedom standards and practices for police and the judiciary.

The USCIRF further encouraged the establishment of an "impartial body of interfaith religious leaders, human rights advocates, legal experts, and government officials to discuss and recommend actions to promote religious tolerance and understanding".

Besides India, Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Sudan and Venezuela were given the Watch List status.

Further, the advisory panel designated 16 countries to a list of "countries of particular concern". These include Tajikistan, Turkey, Vietnam, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, China, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Eritrea.

"It's no coincidence that many of the nations we recommend to be designated as CPCs are among the most dangerous and destabilizing places on earth," said USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo. "Nations that trample upon basic rights, including freedom of religion, provide fertile ground for poverty and insecurity, war and terror, and violent, radical movements and activities."

According to the federal agency, Iran and China remain gross abusers of human rights and among the world's worst religious freedom violators.

The USCIRF, established in the year 1998, monitors status of freedom of religion abroad and provides policy recommendations to the US President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. These recommendations are formally presented through an annual report.