Author: Girish Balasubramanian.
The United States Commission on International Religions Freedom (USCIRF) is in the news and as guessed for all the wrong reasons. They have released their annual report for the year 2020 – in which India has been put under the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) alongside countries like Russia, China, Pakistan, Burma, Iran, North Korea to name a few. In the remainder of this article I intend to reverse the gaze and see how USA has fared when it comes to the framework that has been followed by USCIRF. Even before we proceed further it is instructive to mention the method adopted by this self-proclaimed independent/bipartisan body to arrive at their decision. As per the report, the findings are based on research by USCIRF. The research includes travel, hearings, meetings, and briefings and are subsequently approved by majority vote of Commissioners with each Commissioner having an option to include his/her individual views. This method is no less than a kangaroo court – as there is no evidence of alternate views put on record and finally the Commissioners get to decide on the fate of religious freedom in the country. These type of hearings actually violate the Principles of Natural Justice – the country/person/group who is being accused of some mischief also needs to be given adequate chance to present their side, albeit it is also a pertinent question the role of Uncle Sam in the business of a sovereign country (unless they have colonial intentions). While the team visited 11 countries – it is quite interesting that neither the USCIRF Commissioners nor their team members had the time to visit India before they could put India in the list of CPC and curiously same is the case with Russia, China and Pakistan too who are in CPC, albeit in the report they have provided a link to a hearing which they have conducted – although it needs to be mentioned that the not a single individual from India or the Hindu faith was included. The point that I try to make is that this report is nothing short of a fake propaganda by some vested interests under the guise religious freedom. The genesis of USCIRF can be traced to International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) – under which Freedom of Religion is considered a fundamental right for every American. Freedom of religion is also considered as a universal Human Right. USCIRF is an entity created under this IRFA – tasked with the responsibilities of:
- Reviewing Religious freedom globally
- Evaluating US Policy
- Making policy recommendation to President (USA), Secretary of State and Congress
- Coming out with an annual report mentioning the policy recommendations
The same factsheet also defines terms such as CPC, Entity of Particular Concern (EPC), Special Watch List (SWL). They also have set criteria to identify countries under any of the categories mentioned. They also tend to evaluate organizations and classify them under the categories mentioned above. Since India has been identified as CPC – in this article I will only elaborate on this specific category. The definition of CPC – Country of Particular Concern -, “countries whose governments either engage in or tolerate “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom during the reporting year. Particularly severe violations of religious freedom are defined as “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion,” such as torture or degrading treatment or punishment.” Further to be designated as CPC, IRFA provides four guidelines namely:
- torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment;
- prolonged detention without charges;
- causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or
- other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons
For a moment I would like to reverse the gaze and then use the same criteria to understand how the USA has fared on these indicators. In this current pandemic I will take only the fourth indicator – “flagrant denial of right to life, liberty or security of persons” against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. As per various studies the African American community is the worst hit due to this pandemic. As on 10th April, where race data was known for only 3300 casualties, African Americans constituted about 42% of the deaths.
If we go by the data available at John Hopkins University as on 29th April, they have mentioned that racial and ethnic information is available only for 35% casualties and yet it is alarming to note that Black Americans are hit the hardest. Despite being only 13% of the total population they account for 34% of the total casualties.
Though the US might come up with their defense that co-morbidity has to be looked into the casualties and that obesity and life style also matter, it needs to be pointed out that stress is also an important factor and racial discrimination and poverty contribute to the stress and consequent health outcomes.
Below is another infographic (as on 14th April, 2020) from the PEW research center which again highlights the disproportionate way in which African Americans have been hit the hardest in this pandemic – directly implying that their right to life and dignity has been heavily compromised.
As on 1st May the USA has reported over 1 million COVID-19 cases and over 63,000 casualties. Contrast this with that of India which is far more densely populated, which has reported 35,000 cases and a casualty of 1,154; although these are not comparable figures simply because of the disparity of the population. Possibly, a better indicator would be the case fatality ratio and in this USA has the ignominy of leading the world at 15.7% while for India it is 3.3% . Thus it is apparent that only on the right to life indicator USA has fared very badly.
Now let us take the first criteria – “torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” – and let us see how USA has fared on this aspect. Under Executive Order 13769, President Donald Trump banned entry of nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries namely Iran, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen for a period of 90 days in January 2017 and this has undergone another three rounds of iteration. The order further suspended entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely and any other refugees from coming to the USA for a period of 120 days. The order nonetheless was further upheld by the Supreme Court of USA in June 2018. Data suggests that this travel ban was in effect a Muslim ban. This data is from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Consular affairs which can be accessed here. The initial notification came in January 2017. Taking that as the base year if we check the number of non-immigrant visas issued to the countries mentioned in the initial list we find that there has been a drastic decrease. For instance as per the report Iran was issued 19801 visas in the non-immigrant category which reduced to 9014 (about 70% reduction) in 2018 and further to 4244 (about 80% reduction) in 2019. Similarly, 5411 non-immigrant visas were issued to Syria in 2017 which reduced to 2131 (60% reduction in 2018) which further reduced to 1775 (about 68%) in 2019. The story is similar as far as the immigrant visas are concerned. The figure below taken from https://qz.com/1736809/statistics-show-that-trumps-travel-ban-was-always-a-muslim-ban/ – narrates the same story of Muslims being at the receiving end as compared to their non-Muslim counterparts.
The point that I wish to make is that individuals who belong to pre-dominantly Muslim countries seem to be met with an inhuman/degrading treatment by being refused visas to travel to USA. Thus on this count too USA fails miserably and qualifies for being classified as a country of particular concern.
It is only logical that using the framework that they have provided – USA itself needs to be put under the CPC category for criminally neglecting their African American population in the face of a grave pandemic as well as putting in place and enforcing an order which explicitly discriminates against the Muslims.
Editorial Note: The blatantly hypocritical nature of the USCIRF report is a very good illustration of the deep supremacist thinking, that goes with being the USA .The default policy position (bipartisan) of the USA is primarily that of the white christian supremacist. Beneath the veneer of democracy and modernity , the default mode of thinking in today’s USA is not very different from those who perpetrated the genocide of the Native American peoples , or those who ran the Slave trade for centuries.
Shame on you, USA.
Girish Balasubramanian is an budding academic associated with the Xavier University Bhubaneswar. He is an Electrical Engineer an holds a PhD in Management. He is an avid traveller and likes to experience varied cultures. He also likes Carnatic music, Ghazals and Kabir’s dohas. Read More…