NEW YORK — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is urging that the State Department add India to its list of nations with uniquely poor records on protecting freedom to worship — while proposing to remove Sudan and Uzbekistan from that list.
The bipartisan commission, created in 1998 by Congress to make policy recommendations about global religious freedom, proposed designating India as a “country of particular concern” in the annual report it released Tuesday. That lower ranking for a long-running U.S. ally amounts to a stark show of disapproval of India’s divisive new citizenship law, which has sparked broad worries about disenfranchisement of Muslims.
President Donald Trump declined to criticize the citizenship measure during his February visit to India, where his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was punctuated by skirmishes between Hindus and Muslims.
The commission, by contrast, is empowered as an independent arbiter to look only at nations’ religious freedom records, apart from their relationship with the United States, vice chair Nadine Maenza said.
Beyond the citizenship law, Maenza said in an interview, India has a broader “move toward clamping down on religious minorities that’s really troublesome.”
In the cases of Sudan and Uzbekistan, the Trump administration got out ahead of the commission in raising its ranking of religious freedom protections. The State Department decided in December to no longer rank Sudan as a nation “of particular concern” after having taken Uzbekistan off the list earlier.
Following last year’s military ouster of authoritarian leader, Omar al-Bashir, new Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok met with the commission and committed to improve religious freedom, Maenza said.
The commission proposed four other nations join India in the ranks of most egregious religious freedom offenders; Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam. The State Department’s current list of “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom includes China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran.
Inclusion among the nations with the poorest religious freedom records can lead to new sanctions, although the executive branch is also empowered to rely on already-imposed sanctions or issue a waiver.
Sudan and Uzbekistan are currently on a State Department watch list for nations where religious freedom infringement is not as widespread, constant and significant as those in the lowest-ranked tier.
The commission’s latest annual report recommends the addition of 11 more nations that the State Department has not yet put on that watch list: Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Turkey.