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'Uphold Modi's US visa ban till Guj gets justice'

December 05, 2012 20:06 IST

A letter signed by United States Congressmen urges the State Department to deny Modi entry into US for his involvement in human rights violations in India. Vicky Nanjappa reports

The Coalition Against Genocide -- an alliance dedicated to justice and accountability for the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 -- has hailed the bipartisan letter signed by twenty-five Congresspersons, calling on the State Department to maintain the ban on a United States visa for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

During a press conference at Capitol Hill, Washington DC, Congressmen Joe Pitts, Frank Wolf, Keith Ellison and Trent Franks urged that the ban on Modi's US visa be maintained until justice was served in Gujarat.

The press conference was attended by representatives from the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom, The Advocates for Human Rights, as well as family members of victims of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002.

This comes on the heels of the continuing efforts by human rights activists in India to secure convictions for the masterminds of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. 

Joe Pitts recalled his visit to Gujarat and the site of the massacre at Gulbarg Society. "We saw the remains of the blood on the walls, the remains of the carnage. We met victims of the massacres, and the officials in Gujarat province, we asked them, why did the police not respond to what was happening? 'We had no orders to respond', the police said, recalled Congressman Pitts.

In 2005, Modi's US visa was revoked and his entry to the US was banned by the State Department under the provisions of the International Religious Freedom Act, which makes any foreign government official who "was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom" ineligible for a visa.
In 2003, Modi's administration enacted the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, which curtails the freedom of individuals to convert to a religion of their choice. The law is targeted and primarily applied against religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims.

Although Modi has not applied for a visa recently, he has intensified his efforts to have the ban revoked by hiring several lobbying firms to give himself an image makeover. The Congressmen at the press conference however, were emphatic that justice and accountability were higher priorities than Modi's ambitions.

Trent Franks said, "Modi, who failed his responsibility and his test of leadership in India, should not be afforded the opportunity to gain a higher station of leadership in that country until this issue is dealt with." Keith Ellison echoed this sentiment by calling on people of all backgrounds and all faiths to stand together for the sanctity of human life, for human rights and for accountability.

The letter, signed by eight Republican and seventeen Democratic Congresspersons, urges the State Department to "deny Modi entry due to numerous reports of his involvement in horrific human rights violations in India".

The letter also quotes the Human Rights Watch report on the 2002 violence, which states that the "attacks against Muslims (and other religious minorities) in Gujarat have been actively supported by state BJP government officials and by the police." The Gujarat pogrom resulted in the killing of over 2,000 people, brutal sexual violence against hundreds of women and the displacement of over 150,000 people.

Congressman Frank Wolf urged the administration "...never to grant a visa to allow Chief Minister Modi to visit the United States under any circumstances."  

Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru