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Explained: What is USCIRF, the US body that feels Amit Shah should face sanctions for CAB?

The USCIRF is mandated by US statute to "monitor the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad — not in the United States — using international standards to do so and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress".

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 11, 2019 6:47:51 am
Explained: What is USCIRF, the US body that feels Amit Shah should face sanctions for CAB? Union Home Minister Amit Shah outside Parliament House in New Delhi. (Express Photo: Anil Sharma)

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said on Monday that should The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) go through Parliament, Washington should in-turn consider imposing sanctions on Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

In a statement, the USCIRF said it was “deeply troubled” by the CAB’s passage in Lok Sabha, “given the religion criterion in the Bill”, and recommended that “If the CAB passes in both Houses of Parliament, the US government should consider sanctions against the Home Minister and other principal leadership”.

Who are the USCIRF?

On its website, the USCIRF describes itself as an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission that was created by The International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). “The broad-based coalition that advocated strongly for IRFA’s enactment sought to elevate the fundamental human right of religious freedom as a central component of US foreign policy,” the website says.

And what is the IRFA?

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 was passed by the 105th US Congress (1997-99) and signed into law by the then President Bill Clinton on October 27, 1998. It is a statement of the United States’s concern over violations of religious freedoms overseas.

The full title of the Act reads: “An act to express United States foreign policy with respect to, and to strengthen United States advocacy on behalf of, individuals persecuted in foreign countries on account of religion; to authorize United States actions in response to violations of religious freedom in foreign countries; to establish an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom within the Department of State, a Commission on International Religious Freedom, and a Special Adviser on International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council; and for other purposes.”

Read | US Commission has no locus standi: India on Citizenship Bill remarks

What does the USCIRF do?

The USCIRF is mandated by US statute to “monitor the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad — not in the United States — using international standards to do so and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress”.

“USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and Congressional leaders of both political parties. While USCIRF is separate from the State Department, the Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom is a non-voting ex officio Commissioner.

“A professional, non-partisan staff supports USCIRF’s work,” according to the commission’s website.

The USCIRF’s main responsibilities are:

* To issue an annual report by May 1 of each year, assessesing the US government’s implementation of IRFA. It recommends countries that the Secretary of State should designate as “Countries of Particular Concern” for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”, documents conditions in about 30 countries, reports on significant trends, and makes recommendations for US policy.

* To engage Congress by working with Congressional offices, advising on legislation, testifying at hearings, and holding briefings on religious freedom issues.

* To meet regularly with Executive Branch officials, including the Departments of State and Homeland Security, to share information, highlight situations of concern, and discuss USCIRF’s recommendations for US policy.

How does USCIRF define “freedom of religion or belief abroad”?

On its website, the Commission says: “Religious freedom is an important human right recognized in international law and treaties… The freedom of religion or belief is an expansive right that includes the freedoms of thought and conscience, and is intertwined with the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. The promotion of this freedom is a necessary component of US foreign policy.”

In its statement issued to “raise serious concerns and eye sanctions recommendations” in the aftermath of the passage of the CAB in Lok Sabha, the USCIRF said the Bill “enshrines a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that specifically excludes Muslims, setting a legal criterion for citizenship based on religion”.

The CAB, it said, “is a dangerous turn in the wrong direction; it runs counter to India’s rich history of secular pluralism and the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law regardless of faith. In conjunction with the ongoing National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in Assam and nationwide NRC that the Home Minister seeks to propose, USCIRF fears that the Indian government is creating a religious test for Indian citizenship that would strip citizenship from millions of Muslims”.

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