For the seventh straight year, India has refused to let US observers into its country to report on religious freedom.
India denied visas to the delegation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on 3 March, the commission said. USCIRF is an advisory body to the US president and the Congress. Its reports on religious freedom in various countries are meant to help guide US diplomacy. In its most recent annual report, USCIRF says India “has long struggled to protect minority religious communities or provide justice when crimes occur, which perpetuates a climate of impunity.”
Commission Chairman Robert P. George issued a statement on 3 March saying the delegation is “deeply disappointed.”
USCIRF will try again next year, George said, “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.”
The Indian Embassy in Washington was quick to respond with its own statement: “We do not see [the standing] of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pass its judgment and comment on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights,” the embassy said. It said the Indian constitution “guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including the right to freedom of religion.”
To which US State Department spokesman John Kirby replied: “We want issues like that, that are enshrined in a constitution, to be upheld, to be observed.”