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25 February 2004 Wednesday 04 Muharram 1425

US wants religious freedom improved in India, Pakistan

By Our Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Feb 24: An official US body has recommended that 11 countries, including India and Pakistan, be designated as "countries of particular concern" for committing serious violations of religious freedom.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which is funded by the US government, has sent the recommendation to Secretary of State Colin Powell for further action.

The commission's report, issued earlier this week, accuses these countries of committing "systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom that the governments are responsible for or have tolerated".

The 11 countries the commission wants in the designated category are: Myanmar, North Korea, Eritrea, India, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

The previous list, issued last May, included Myanmar, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan but did not have India or Pakistan. "It is the opinion of the commission that with the exception of Iraq, nothing has changed to warrant the removal of these countries from the list of CPC designations," the commission chair, Michel Young, said in the letter to the secretary of state.

"In addition to the five countries previously designated by you as countries of special concern, the commission finds that the governments of Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom," Mr Young said in the letter. "We recommend that they be designated this year.

INDIA: "In India violence, including fatal attacks against Muslims and Christians, continues and the government has yet to address adequately the killing of an estimated 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002," Mr Young wrote.

"Several ministers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have publicly allied themselves with extremist Hindu organizations known collectively as the Sangh Parivar whose members regularly employ hate speeches against religious minorities," the commission observed.

It noted that BJP ministers have been implicated in violence against them and seek legislation to prohibit the religious conversion of Dalits and others from Hinduism.

"The designation of countries of particular concern is one of the most important human rights acts by the US Government. We strongly urge the State Department to name those countries that have not yet been designated," said the chairman of the commission

He cautioned the secretary of state that merely designating the countries would not do and that specific actions would have to be taken under the provisions of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998.

In critical observations of the action taken by the State Department thus far, the commission said: "For every country named as a country of special concern to date, the only official actions taken have been to invoke already existing sanctions rather than to take additional action to advance religious freedom."

The commission also asked the Indian government to allow its members to visit the country for a firsthand assessment of the state of religious freedom in the country.

The commission said that New Delhi should not block a fact-finding mission if it believed that the situation was not as bad as made out in media reports. "India is the only democratic country that has not extended an invitation for the commission to visit, and we would welcome that invitation," Mr Young said while speaking to journalists in Washington.

How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?

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