Double standards

Published December 5, 2022

IN a globalised world, if states fail to protect the human rights of their citizens, or worse, participate in abuses, the international community takes notice. However, problems arise when accountability for rights abuses is politicised, where allies are given a free pass, and geopolitical adversaries are raked over the coals. The US State Department’s annual Religious Freedom Designations listing very much appears to be a politicised project, where the above-mentioned dichotomy is clearly visible. This year, just as last year, Pakistan has been retained on the list of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ where religious rights’ violations are concerned. Other states on this dubious list include China, Cuba, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia. With the exception of the Saudis, all of the states listed are geopolitical adversaries of the US, while it is not apparent whether Washington considers Pakistan a friend or a foe. But there is one glaring exception: India. In the press release announcing the listing, the US secretary of state has castigated governments and non-state actors that “harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs” and “exploit opportunities for political gain”. India under the BJP’s watch very much fits the bill.

According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom — a bipartisan body of the American federal government — the Indian government’s policies “negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits” while the outfit clearly recommends that the American administration should designate India as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’, and impose sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for religious persecution. Has Secretary of State Antony Blinken not read the USCIRF report? This paper has always argued that the state in Pakistan needs to do much more to protect the rights of religious minorities in this country. Yet the US State Department’s listing of Pakistan and exclusion of India as violators of religious freedom smacks of hypocrisy. Instead of individual states sermonising to others, bodies such as the UN should be used to discuss rights’ violations, so that states can explain their positions.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

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