May 17, 2023
Tazeen Hasan sheds light on USCIRF's double standards and hypocritical attitude towards religious freedom violations in Kashmir, urging for a more consistent approach in addressing such issues.
In a recent newsletter that I received from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on April 19, 2023, the institution unreservedly condemned the tragic attack on a funeral in Nigeria, which resulted in the loss of numerous lives. This was due to ethno-religious divisions. USCIRF Commissioner Frederick A. Davie expressed deep concern, emphasizing that every Nigerian should have the freedom to practice their faith and mourn their loved ones without fear.
As an independent, bipartisan US federal government entity, USCIRF monitors and advocates for religious freedom globally. Its purpose is to make policy recommendations to the US government and raise awareness about religious freedom violations. USCIRF has various means at its disposal to assist persecuted religious minorities worldwide, including diplomatic engagement, human rights promotion, sanctions, international advocacy, refugee and asylum policies, and public diplomacy efforts.
In this article, I do not intend to delve into USCIRF's operational methods, but I cannot refrain from acknowledging the institution's commendable work in promoting religious freedom worldwide. However, it is important to note that USCIRF occasionally overlooks clear cases of religious minority persecution by categorizing them as human rights issues rather than instances of religious persecution. One such case that warrants discussion is the ongoing persecution of Kashmiri Muslims, who face collective punishment solely due to their ethno-religious background.
A couple of months back, before attending a session with Rashad Hussain, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, I engaged in a conversation with a senior human rights advocate from Washington, DC, who has been advocating against the persecution of Kashmiris. During our discussion, she told me that USCIRF had refused to accept Kashmiri prisoner cases, stating that they were human rights violations rather than religious persecution, and directed us to pursue alternative channels for redress. It is perplexing to observe that while USCIRF strongly condemns the killings of Nigerians during a funeral, it seemingly turns a blind eye to the killings of Kashmiri protesters, who have endured numerous attacks by the Indian army, often employing force against peaceful unarmed demonstrators mourning their deceased.
In addition to opening fire on peaceful unarmed protestors who were mourning their deceased during funeral processions, there are numerous instances where Indian authorities disregarded the sentiments of Kashmiri Muslims regarding funerals. This is exemplified by the ignoring Indian government's attitude at Syed Ali Geelani's death in September 2021. USCIRF failed to condemn the Indian army's confiscation of Geelani's body and denial of his family's right to bury him, which not only highlights the brutality of the Indian state towards a religious minority but also exposes USCIRF's apathy and indifference towards the plight of Kashmiris. USCIRF also turns a blind eye to cases where the Indian army refuses to return the bodies of Kashmiri freedom fighters who die in the pursuit of their right to self-determination, burying them in remote locations to prevent loved ones from visiting their graves.
USCIRF's failure to address the Indian government's treatment of Syed Ali Geelani's body and the denial of proper burials for Kashmiri freedom fighters exposes a biased stance towards the Kashmiri people. By categorizing these incidents as mere human rights violations, USCIRF overlooks the underlying religious persecution faced by Kashmiris, showcasing a troubling disregard for their religious freedom and rights. Such bias undermines the credibility of the institution and highlights the urgent need for a more comprehensive and consistent approach to effectively address religious freedom violations on a global scale.
During the meeting with Rashad Hussain, the US State Department's Ambassador-at-large of Religious Freedom at the Bahai Centre, UN Plaza, which included representatives of various minority groups, concerns were raised by members of the Sikh community regarding the Indian government's crackdown on Sikh separatist leaders in the Indian State of Punjab, and the persecution of the Sikh minority in India. Representatives advocating for Uyghurs, Rohingya, and Palestinians were also present. In the course of the conversation, David (whose last name eludes me), a representative advocating for Palestinian rights, made a pertinent point. He emphasized that genocides and apartheid invariably have deep roots in religious nationalism, suggesting that USCIRF should approach persecution issues from a religious perspective.
During my turn, in addition to highlighting the genocide and persecution endured by Kashmiris, I appreciated David's point as it resonated with my argument that the Kashmiri issue should be examined within the context of Hindutva religious nationalism. Kashmiris are suffering simply because they are Muslims; their pursuit of self-determination is thwarted because of their religious identity. The Hindutva-led BJP government disenfranchises them on religious grounds, as evidenced by the revocation of Kashmir's special status, which would not have occurred if the population were predominantly Hindu.
The case of USCIRF's selective condemnation and disregard for the persecution of Kashmiri Muslims underscores a troubling double standard in its approach to religious freedom violations. While the condemnation of the funeral attack in Nigeria is justified and commendable, the reluctance to address the plight of Kashmiris exposes a hypocritical stance.
Religious freedom should be championed without exceptions or biases, and USCIRF has a critical role to play in advocating for the rights of all persecuted religious minorities. By embracing a comprehensive understanding of religious persecution and taking a closer look at the religious dimensions of conflicts, USCIRF can contribute to a more just and inclusive global landscape.
It is imperative that USCIRF expands its scope and actively addresses the plight of Kashmiri Muslims and other marginalized communities, ensuring that no one is left behind in the pursuit of religious freedom and human rights. Let us strive for a world where religious freedom is respected and protected, and where all individuals can practice their faith and mourn their loved ones without fear of persecution or discrimination. Only by confronting the double standards and biases that persist can we truly achieve a society grounded in the principles of equality, justice, and religious freedom for all.