India’s anti-conversion laws violate international human rights law: USCIRF

Washington, March 15 (KMS): Anti-conversion laws promulgated by various state governments in India violate international human rights treaties signed by the county, a new report from the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) observed.

An issue update released by USCIRF examined the anti-conversion laws promulgated in 12 states in India. It suggests that their features violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Funded by the US State Department, USCIRF is a US federal government entity that monitors and recommends freedom of religion policies. However, the US State Department is not bound to follow its recommendations. For example, the US government has not designated India as a “country of particular concern” for international religious freedom despite USCIRF’s recommendation for at least two consecutive years.

As per the latest USCIRF report, the anti-conversion legislation promulgated in 12 states “violate international human rights law’s protections for the right to freedom of religion or belief”.

It asserted that such laws enabled and emboldened “existing government harassment, vigilante violence, and discrimination against religious minorities, as well as crackdowns on civil society organizations”.

Reminding readers that USCIRF had recommended that India should be designated as a “country of particular concern”, the report said that repealing the legislation would be necessary to comply with international human rights law and to prevent deterioration in the condition of religious freedom in the South Asian country.

The paper observed that the state-level legislations have three common features – prohibitions on conversions, notice requirements and burden-shifting provisions.

Citing the UP anti-conversion Act, it noted that the “broad and vague” language could also target voluntary religious conversions. Further, as in Haryana’s Act, there is a provision looking specifically at “preventing so-called “Love Jihads,” a derogatory term for conversions occurring in the context of interfaith marriages”.

The report also observed that “enforcement of state-level anti-conversion laws suggests the legislations’ intent is to prevent conversions to disfavored religions – such as Christianity and Islam – and not to protect against coerced conversions”.

Referring to the provision of prior notification for conversion and permission from the local authority, USCIRF’s issue update noted that “a District Magistrate’s public call for objections to a conversion constitutes coercively impairing an individual’s freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief”.

As per the report, anti-conversion acts of Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh have included provisions that “individuals accused of violating an anti-conversion law must prove their innocence”.

This violates both UDHR and ICCPR, which state that anyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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