US Concerned by Indian Visa Refusal for US Commission on Religious Rights

US President Barack Obama/Credit: The White House

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Washington, DC – The Obama Administration expressed “the concern of the United States with respect to,” the denial of visas by the Modi Government in Delhi to members of a US Commission scheduled to visit India last week to discuss and report on the conditions of religious freedom in the country.

Replying to a question raised by Indian American Times on Monday at the State Department Briefing, John Kirby, the State Department Spokesman said, “We’re aware that visas were not issued by the Indian embassy to commissioners of the United States Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) who were planning to travel to India on the 4th of March, and we’re disappointed by this news.”

Kirby put the weight of the US Administration behind the mission saying, “We are supportive of the commission and the important role they play in reviewing facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom around the world.”

Quoting US President Barack Obama, Kirby continued, “As President Obama himself noted during his visit last year, we support the Government of India’s commitments – commitment to promoting religious freedom and diversity.”

Kirby cited Obama’s message, “And his message during his trip to India was clear and it remains true: “Our nations are stronger when” – and I’m quoting now the President – “every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear of discrimination,” end quote.”

Last week after a three-member delegation of USCIRF was denied visas by the Indian Embassy, Robert P George, chairman of USCIRF issued a statement saying, “We are deeply disappointed by the Indian government’s denial, in effect, of these visas.”

“As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit,” he said, adding, “”USCIRF will continue to pursue a visit to India, given the ongoing reports from religious communities, civil society groups, and NGOs that the conditions for religious freedom in India have been deteriorating since 2014.”

Asked to comment if the State Department had reached out to its counterparts in Delhi on this, Kirby said, “It’s not a topic of conversation we don’t have, and it’s not a topic of conversation that we’re afraid to have with our Indian counterparts.”

Without going into the “details of diplomatic conversations,” Kirby told journalists, “We’ve – remain engaged in a number of discussions with the Indian Government about this and other issues with respect to religious freedom.”

On the other hand, the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC posted a statement on its website saying, “There is no change in the policy of the Government of India with respect to such visits. India is a vibrant pluralistic society founded on strong democratic principles. The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens including the right to freedom of religion.”

Without highlighting where and how Indian Constitution protects rights of its citizens, the Embassy statement said, “We do not see the locus standi of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pass its judgment and comment on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.”

The USCIRF delegation was scheduled to leave for a one-week visit to India starting March 4 to meet with government officials, religious leaders and activists in India.

USCIRF’s principal responsibilities include reviewing, through the lens of international human rights law, the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and making policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission with commissioners appointed by the President and the leaders in both Houses of Congress.

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