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US not particularly concerned about
abuse of religious freedom in India
Shakti Bhatt in New York |
March 07, 2003 02:26 IST
US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday refused to designate India as a country of particular concern (CPC) ignoring a strong recommendation by the Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
The USCIRF, a non-partisan and independent body, makes annual recommendations based on extensive press and state department reports, hearings by experts and first-hand observations.
This year the commission proposed adding India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to the list of countries where severe religious violations take place.
"The commission knows that communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India is an old issue," Firuz Kazemzadeh, one of the ten commissioners, told rediff.com.
"But last year they took a particularly unpleasant form in Gujarat. The commission believes that the government of India did not take the appropriate measures to contain the violence and some high-ranking officials seem to have even encouraged it," he added.
But Powell stuck to China, Burma, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Sudan – the same six he designated last year - as CPCs for abuse of religious freedom.
The US government can implement a range of measures against them such as diplomatic pressure, sanctions, or cut military or economic aid.
Kazemzadeh expressed 'disappointment' at the exclusion of the countries that the commission suggested, stressing that the exclusion of Saudi Arabia, one of the least tolerant states, is particularly upsetting.
"Saudi Arabia has a state religion which is a direct contradiction of religious freedom," he said.
"India on the other hand," Kazemzadeh said, "is a democracy and a friend of the US. This was the time to alert India that the US is concerned about what is happening there."
It may be worth noting that many of the countries Powell chose not to include are potentially useful allies in case of a war against Iraq.
But Kazemzadeh laughed off suggestions to this end.
"The government has to consider many elements," he said. "I really would hesitate to discuss their motivations when they can do it themselves."