A US government panel has called for India to be put on a religious freedom blacklist over a “drastic” downturn under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, triggering a sharp rebuttal from New Delhi.
In an annual report published on Tuesday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said India should join the ranks of “countries of particular concern” that would be subject to sanctions if they do not improve their records.
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“In 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault,” the report said.
The bipartisan panel recommends but does not set policy, and there is virtually no chance the State Department will follow its lead on India, an increasingly close US ally.
But the lower ranking for the ally amounts to a stark show of disapproval of India’s divisive new citizenship law, which the United Nations has called “fundamentally discriminatory”.
Trump declined to criticise the law during his February visit to India, where his meeting with Modi was punctuated by the worst violence in decades in New Delhi, in which 53 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.
‘Allowed violence against minorities’
The commission, by contrast, is empowered as an independent arbiter to look only at nations’ religious freedom records, apart from their relationship with the US, Vice-Chair at USCIRF 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”.
It called on the US to impose punitive measures, including visa bans on Indian officials believed responsible and grant funding to civil society groups that monitor hate speech.
The commission said Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, which won a convincing election victory last year, “allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity, and also engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence.”
It pointed to comments by Home Minister Amit Shah, who notoriously referred to mostly Muslim migrants as “termites,” and to a citizenship law that has triggered nationwide protests.
It also highlighted the revocation of the autonomy of Kashmir, which was India’s only Muslim-majority state, and allegations that Delhi police turned a blind eye to mobs who attacked Muslim neighbourhoods in February this year.
The Indian government, which has long been irritated by the commission’s comments, quickly rejected the report.
“Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said.
“We regard it as an organisation of particular concern and will treat it accordingly,” he said in a statement.
The State Department designates nine “countries of particular concern” on religious freedom – China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
The commission asked that all nine countries remain on the list. In addition to India, it sought the inclusion of four more – Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam.
Pakistan, India’s historic rival, was added by the State Department in 2018 after years of appeals by the commission.
In its latest report, the commission said Pakistan “continued to trend negatively,” voicing alarm at forced conversions of Hindus and other minorities, the abuse of blasphemy prosecutions and a ban on the Ahmadi sect calling itself Muslim.
Citizenship law ‘tipping point’
India’s citizenship law fast-tracks naturalisation for minorities from neighbouring countries – but not if they are Muslim.
Modi’s government says it is not aimed at Muslims but rather providing refuge to persecuted people and should be commended.
But critics consider it a watershed move by Modi to define the world’s largest democracy as a Hindu nation and chip away at independent India’s founding principle of secularism.
Tony Perkins, the commission’s chair, called the law a “tipping point” and voiced concern about a registry in the northeastern state of Assam, under which 1.9 million people failed to produce documentation to prove that they were Indian citizens before 1971, when mostly Muslim migrants flowed in during Bangladesh’s bloody war of independence.
“The intentions of the national leaders are to bring this about throughout the entire country,” Perkins told an online news conference.
“You could potentially have 100 million people, mostly Muslims, left stateless because of their religion. That would be, obviously, an international issue,” said Perkins, a conservative Christian activist known for his opposition to gay rights who is close to President Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump has hailed Modi and himself called for a ban on all Muslim immigration to the US when he campaigned for president.
But for the first time in years, India has been facing substantial criticism in the US Congress.
Bosnians rally against mass in Sarajevo for Nazi-allied soldiers
Thousands of Bosnians, many wearing masks, demonstrated on Saturday against a mass in Sarajevo for Croatia’s Nazi-allied soldiers and civilians killed by partisan forces at the end of World War II. The mass was a replacement for a controversial annual gathering usually held in Bleiburg, Austria, which was cancelled due to restrictions imposed by the…
Thousands of Bosnians, many wearing masks, demonstrated on Saturday against a mass in Sarajevo for Croatia’s Nazi-allied soldiers and civilians killed by partisan forces at the end of World War II.
The mass was a replacement for a controversial annual gathering usually held in Bleiburg, Austria, which was cancelled due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
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Another small replacement event took place Saturday at a cemetery in Zagreb, Croatia.
The decision to hold the mass in Sarajevo provoked a strong backlash in a country where the memory of ethnic war in the 1990s is still fresh.
It was condemned by Bosnia’s Serbian Orthodox Church, the Jewish and Muslim communities and several anti-fascist organisations.
Protesters, many wearing masks, walked through the city singing anti-fascists songs and holding up photos of resistance members who were tortured and killed by Nazi-allied Croatian forces during their rule over Sarajevo during World War II.
“My two grandfathers, their brothers and my grandmother were all killed by these fascists who have been honoured today,” said retired electro-technician Cedomir Jaksic, 63.
“It is not normal that a city such as Sarajevo, which was terrorised so much in both World War II and the last war (in the 1990s), allows something like this to happen,” he added.
Zvonimir Nikolic, a 57-year-old economist, called the mass a “disaster for Sarajevo.”
“Sarajevo is among a few cities in the world where this mass should never be held because the regime it commemorates committed monstrous crimes in Sarajevo,” said Nikolic, who is Catholic.
For Croatian nationalists, the annual event symbolises their suffering under communism in the former Yugoslavia.
However, in recent years, Croatia has increasingly been criticised for historical revisionism. The annual mass in Bleiburg, as well as the one in Sarajevo on Saturday, was held with the support of Croatian parliamentarians.
Police sealed off the area around Sarajevo’s Catholic Cathedral, where Bosnian Archbishop Cardinal Vinko Puljic said mass to a congregation of few dozen Croat dignitaries and priests.
In his sermon, Puljic asked for more information on how the people had died and where they were buried, as well as for respect and forgiveness for all victims of World War II. Smaller memorials were also held in Zagreb and Bleiburg.
As we have just marked the Day of Victory over Fascism, we all must focus on the true values of democracy, reconciliation, and interreligious dialogue.
— US Embassy Sarajevo (@USEmbassySJJ) May 11, 2020
The members of the Bosnian tripartite presidency condemned the mass, as did the US and Israeli embassies in Bosnia.
The speaker of the Croatian parliament, Gordan Jandrokovic, said during a brief commemoration in Zagreb that they aimed to commemorate innocent victims and did not plan to rehabilitate the Ustasa.
Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said the mass “risks becoming a glorification of those who supported the Nazi-allied fascist Ustasa regime, complicit in the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings”.
US: Democratic legislators to probe Trump’s firing of watchdog
Democrats in Congress on Saturday launched an investigation into President Donald Trump’s firing of the State Department’s internal watchdog, accusing the president of further escalating his fight against any oversight of his administration. Trump, in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late on Friday, said he no longer had confidence in Inspector General Steve…
Democrats in Congress on Saturday launched an investigation into President Donald Trump’s firing of the State Department’s internal watchdog, accusing the president of further escalating his fight against any oversight of his administration.
Trump, in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late on Friday, said he no longer had confidence in Inspector General Steve Linick’s ability to serve. Linick is the latest in a string of government watchdogs to be removed in recent weeks under the Republican president.
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The Democratic-led House Foreign Relations Committee, along with colleagues in the Senate, in a statement on Saturday questioned the timing and motivation of what they called an “unprecedented removal”.
“We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President’s gutting of these critical positions,” wrote House panel chairman Eliot Engel and Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led Senate Foreign Relations panel.
Engel and Menendez called on the Trump administration to turnover any related documents by May 22.
The two Democrats said it was their understanding that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo personally recommended Linick’s firing because the inspector general “had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself.”
Later on Saturday, the White House said Trump fired Linick following a recommendation by Pompeo.
“Secretary Pompeo recommended the move, and President Trump agreed,” a White House official said.
Linick, appointed to the role in 2013 under the Obama administration, is the fourth inspector general fired by Trump since early April following his February acquittal by the Republican-led Senate in his impeachment trial.
Pelosi described the ousting as an acceleration of a “dangerous pattern of retaliation.” The US Department of State later said Stephen Akard, the director of the Office of Foreign Missions, would replace Linick.
In April, Trump removed a top coronavirus watchdog, Glenn Fine, who was to oversee the government’s COVID-19 financial relief response. He also notified Congress that he was firing the inspector general of the US intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, who was involved in the triggering the impeachment investigation.
Earlier in May, Trump removed Christi Grimm, who led the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) after accusing her of having produced a “fake dossier” on American hospitals suffering shortages on the front lines of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“Trump is methodically eliminating anyone who would bring wrongdoing to light,” Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, tweeted.
Rwanda genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga arrested in France
Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga was arrested on Saturday near Paris after 25 years on the run, accused of playing a leading role in one of the worst massacres of the 20th century. The 84-year-old, who is Rwanda’s most-wanted man and had a $5m bounty on his head, was living under a false identity in…
Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga was arrested on Saturday near Paris after 25 years on the run, accused of playing a leading role in one of the worst massacres of the 20th century.
The 84-year-old, who is Rwanda’s most-wanted man and had a $5m bounty on his head, was living under a false identity in a flat in Asnieres-Sur-Seine, according to the French justice ministry.
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French gendarmes arrested him at 05:30 GMT on Saturday. Kabuga had been hiding with the complicity of his children. A police statement described him as “one of the world’s most wanted fugitives”.
A Hutu businessman, Kabuga is accused of funding militias that massacred about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus over 100 days in 1994.
“Since 1994, Felicien Kabuga, known to have been the financier of Rwanda genocide, had with impunity stayed in Germany, Belgium, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, or Switzerland,” a justice ministry statement said.
The arrest paves the way for bringing the fugitive in front of the Paris appeal court and later to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Lewis Mudge from New York-based Human Rights Watch said “it is a huge day for Rwanda”.
“Felicien Kabuga is one of the big fish. He is one of the last remaining individuals still out there who is alleged to have had a planning purpose with regards to the Rwanda genocide,” Mudge told Al Jazeera.
Kabuga was indicted on genocide charges by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
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Rwandan prosecutors have said financial documents found in the capital, Kigali, after the genocide indicated that Kabuga used his companies to import vast quantities of machetes that were used to slaughter people.
The wealthy businessman also was accused of establishing the station Radio Television Mille Collines that broadcast vicious propaganda against the ethnic Tutsi, as well as training and equipping the Interahamwe militia that led the killing spree.
Kabuga was close to former President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose death when his plane was shot down over Kigali sparked the 100-day genocide. Kabuga’s daughter married Habyarimana’s son.
‘Could not have happened’
Kabuga is expected to be transferred to the custody of the UN mechanism, where he will stand trial.
Phil Clark, a professor at SOAS University of London, said the arrest was significant as Kabuga played a crucial role in the mass killings.
“The genocide could not have happened without Kabuga, he basically bankrolled the entire genocide,” Clark told Al Jazeera.
“He basically produced, created and funded the militias that carried out many of the largest massacres during the genocide. He also bankrolled the main ‘hate’ radio station that incited many of the key massacres, and he also enabled the import of about 500,000 machetes, without which the killing spree would have been impossible. Without Kabuga, the genocide couldn’t have happened.”
Olivier Olsen, head of the association of homeowners in the building where he lived, described Kabuga as “someone very discreet … who murmured when you said hello”.
Two other Rwandan genocide suspects, Augustin Bizimana and Protais Mpiranya, are still being pursued by international justice.
Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), said Kabuga’s arrest is a reminder that those responsible for genocide can be brought to account, “even 26 years after their crimes”.
He added: “Today’s arrest underlines the strength of our determination.”
France has long been known as a hiding place for wanted genocide suspects and French investigators currently have dozens of cases underway.
But so far there have been only three convictions from two trials with another trial – of a French-Rwandan former hotel driver accused of transporting Hutu militiamen – set to begin in September.
The genocide has cast a long shadow over Franco-Rwandan relations.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, accuses France of having supported the ethnic Hutu forces behind most of the slaughter and of helping some of the perpetrators to escape.
Last year, President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of a commission of experts that will delve into the French state’s archives in a bid to set the historical record straight.
HRW’s Mudge said there will be questions asked about how Kabuga was able to avoid arrest for so long.
“There should be an absolute investigation into how he was able to get this other identity and how he was able to evade justice for 26 long years,” he said.
Officials in Rwanda hailed the arrest.
“After many years, the old guards in the French government who could have been protecting Kabuga have left power and you find the young generation have no interest in protecting the ageing fugitive under the new administration,” said Gonza Muganwa, a Rwandan political analyst.
“It’s clear he was being protected and some powerful people knew his hiding place. They sold him.”
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