US commission seeks sanctions against Indian home minister over controversial citizenship bill

Updated December 10, 2019

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Indian Home Minister Amit Shah has refuted claims that the bill is anti-Muslim. — Reuters/File
Indian Home Minister Amit Shah has refuted claims that the bill is anti-Muslim. — Reuters/File

The United States Commission on International Religion Freedom (USCIRF) has sought sanctions against Indian Home Minister Amit Shah and other principal leadership if the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill is passed by the parliament, reported Scroll.in on Tuesday.

Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Citizenship Amendment Bill in India's lower house on Monday amid raucous debate. Opposition parties stood against the proposed law that would, for the first time, create a legal pathway to grant Indian nationality on the basis of religion.

The bill was originally introduced in 2016 during the Modi government's first term but lapsed after protests and an alliance partner's withdrawal.

If the bill is passed by the upper house, citizenship will be granted to select groups — including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs — who moved from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan before 2015 and who have lived in India for at least six years.

Since news of the bill has broken, hundreds have taken to the streets in India in protest.

Former president of the Indian Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, called the bill an attack on the Indian constitution. "Anyone who supports it is attacking and attempting to destroy the foundation of our nation," said Gandhi on Tuesday.

In a statement issued, the USCIRF stated that it was "deeply troubled" by the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Lok Sabha. It called the bill "a dangerous turn in the wrong direction", reported Scroll.in.

"It runs counter to India’s rich history of secular pluralism and the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law regardless of faith,” the statement added.

The statement maintained that implementing a register documenting India's citizens would "strip citizenship from millions of Muslims".

However, the Indian home minister refuted claims that the bill is anti-Muslim. “We will have to differentiate between intruders and refugees,” he was quoted as saying by Scroll.in.

'Regret inaccurate and unwarranted comments'

Responding to the USCIRF's statement, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said: "We regret the inaccurate and unwarranted comments made by USCIRF on #CAB. They have chosen to be guided by their prejudices and biases on a matter on which they have little knowledge and no locus standi."

In a tweet, Kumar attached a statement by the ministry which said USCIRF's statement was "neither accurate nor warranted".

"The Bill provides expedited consideration for Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities already in India from certain contiguous countries. It seeks to address their current difficulties and meet their basic human rights.

"Such an initiative should be welcomed, not criticised by who are genuinely committed to religious freedom," the statement read.

It added that the CAB does not affect the "existing avenues available to all communities interested in seeking citizenship from doing so".

The statement, attributed to Kumar, claimed the "recent record of granting such citizenship would bear out the Government of India's objectivity in that regard".

"Neither the CAB nor the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process seeks to strip citizenship from any Indian citizen of any faith. Suggestions to that effect are motivated and unjustified."

He said every nation, including the US, has the right to "enumerate and validate its citizenry" and to "exercise this prerogative through various policies".

Kumar added that USCIRF's position was "not surprising given its past record".

"It is, however, regrettable that the body has chosen to be guided only by its prejudices and biases on a matter on which it clearly has little knowledge and no locus standi."

Pakistan condemns bill

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan said the legislation "violates all norms of international human rights law and bilateral agreements with Pakistan".

Meanwhile, in a statement issued by the Foreign Office, Pakistan condemned the move and said it was in "complete violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants on elimination of all forms of discrimination based on religion or belief".

"The latest legislation is another major step towards the realisation of the concept of ‘Hindu Rashtra’, idealised and relentlessly pursued by the right-wing Hindu leaders for several decades. It is driven by a toxic mix of an extremist ‘Hindutva’ ideology and hegemonic ambitions in the region.

"It is also a clear manifestation of interference in the internal matters of neighboring countries based on religion, which we reject completely," added the statement.