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International – US-India visa row

April 2016

A US government body monitoring international religious freedom has been denied visas to enter India. According to a Reuters report, Indian officials defended the decision, saying the group had no business judging the situation in the country.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had intended to send a delegation to India in March for a long-planned visit, but failed to get the necessary visas.

Despite ongoing concerns over abuses against religious minorities in India, a statement on the website of the Indian Embassy in Washington said the Indian constitution ‘guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including the right to freedom of religion’.

Therefore, it said the USCIRF had no right to interfere, adding, ‘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’.

USCIRF chairman Robert George told Reuters the agency was ‘deeply disappointed’ by the effective denial of visas for the delegation. He said the USCIRF had been able to travel to many countries, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China, and Myanmar, which are among the worst offenders of religious freedom.

As reported in the Daily Mail, last year the US ran into problems arranging visits to India, by the head of its office to combat human trafficking, and by its special envoy for gay rights, despite a fresh start in ties between the two countries under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In its 2015 report, USCIRF said incidents of religiously motivated and communal violence in India had reportedly increased for three consecutive years.