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India’s designation by the USCIRF

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    4th May, 2022

Context

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), i.e., the category of governments performing most poorly on religious freedom criteria.

About

About USCIRF:

  • The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan body created by the International Religious Freedom Act, 1998 (IRFA) with a mandate to monitor religious freedom violations globally and make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
  • It is a congressionally created entity and not an NGO or advocacy organisation.
  • It is led by nine part-time commissioners appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the House and the Senate.
  • According to the IRFA, commissioners are “selected among distinguished individuals noted for their knowledge and experience in fields relevant to the issue of international religious freedom, including foreign affairs, direct experience abroad, human rights, and international law.”

How does it work?

  • In practice, the USCIRF has little teeth in implementation, but acts as a conscience-keeper for the two branches in the US government- the legislature and the executive.
  • The USCIRF is mandated by US statute to “monitor the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad — not in the United States — using international standards to do so and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress”.

The USCIRF’s main responsibilities:

  • To issue an annual report by May 1 of each year, assessing the US government’s implementation of IRFA.
    • It recommends countries that the Secretary of State should designate as “Countries of Particular Concern”for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”.
  • To engage Congress by working with Congressional offices, advising on legislation, testifying at hearings, and holding briefings on religious freedom issues.
  • To meet regularly with Executive Branch officials to share information, highlight situations of concern, and discuss USCIRF’s recommendations for US policy.

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

  • IRFA requires the 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, which are defined as “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion”.
  • The 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 the CPC designation.
  • They include India, Pakistan, Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam.
  • Countries recommended for a SWL designation include Algeria, Cuba, Nicaragua, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.
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