A Congress-established independent panel on religious freedom has called on the US to maintain a visa ban on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, saying there was significant evidence linking him to the violence in the state in 2002.
"There is significant evidence linking him to the violence and the terrible events that took place in Gujarat and for this reason, a visa would not be appropriate," Katrina Lantos Swett, chairwoman of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) told reporters today during a press conference held to release its annual report.
The annual report of USCIRF has placed India in the Tier 2 Countries on religious freedom along with that of seven other countries Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba,
Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia.
For the 2013 Annual Report, USCIRF has recommended that the Secretary of State to re-designate eight countries as countries of particular concern (CPCs): Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
USCIRF also found that seven other countries meet the CPC threshold and should be so designated: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.
In its annual report, the USCIRF notes that Modi is the only individual against whom the US has so far used its visa ban provision related to religious freedom in March 2005 due to his alleged complicity in the 2002 riots that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,100 to 2,000 Muslims.
"USCIRF continues to urge the Departments of State and Homeland Security to develop a lookout list of aliens who are inadmissible to the US on this basis," the report said, adding that in November 2012, it had written a letter to the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to continue the US policy against Modi apprehending that the Gujarat Chief Minister might apply for a visa.
"Directly related to identifying and barring from entry such severe religious freedom violators, IRFA (International Religious Freedom Act of 1998) also requires the President to determine the specific officials responsible for violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by governments of CPCs, and, when applicable and to the extent practicable, publish the identities of these officials in the Federal Register," the report said.
Despite these requirements, no individual officials from any CPC (Country of Particular Concern) countries responsible for particularly severe religious freedom violations have been identified to date," the report noted.
On the 2002 Gujarat riots, the report said, in the last two years approximately 100 people have been convicted of various crimes, with punishments ranging from minor monetary fines to life imprisonment, and more than 100 individuals have been acquitted because of lack of evidence, witnesses refusing to testify or the death of witnesses.
Additionally, "Gujarati police have closed a large number of cases, citing the unavailability of witnesses. Notably in the last year, Mayaben Kodnani, the former Minister for Women and Child Welfare, was sentenced to 28 years in jail for her involvement in the Gujarat violence," it said.
Observing that there has been no large-scale communal violence against religious minorities in India since 2008, and in recent years the Indian government has created special investigative and judicial structures in an effort to address previous such attacks, USCIRS, however said that in the past year, progress in achieving justice through these structures for the victims of past incidents continued to be slow and ineffective.
In addition, members of religious minority communities, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Jehovah's Witnesses, reported an increase during the period of intimidation, harassment, and violence, particularly in states with anti-conversion laws.
Based on these concerns, USCIRF places India on Tier 2 in 2013. India had been on USCIRF's watch list since 2009.