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US, UN express concern about India's religion-based Citizenship Law

March 13, 2024 at 7:28 pm

Indian Muslims participate in a protest against the Indian government’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NRP), in Mumbai, India on February 15, 2020 [Imtiyaz Shaikh/Anadolu Agency]

The US government and the United Nations, on Tuesday, expressed concerns about a contentious religion-based citizenship law in India, with the UN calling the legislation “fundamentally discriminatory in nature”, Reuters reports.

Rights advocates have criticised the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act, which the Indian government moved to implement on Monday. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say it discriminates against Muslims.

Just weeks before Indian elections, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government has been pushing to implement the law, which makes it easier to get Indian citizenship for non-Muslim refugees from three Muslim-majority South Asian nations: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Rights groups note the law leaves out Muslim minority groups like Shia Muslims from those countries, while also excluding neighbouring countries where Muslims are a minority, like the Rohingyas in Myanmar.

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“As we said in 2019, we are concerned that India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) is fundamentally discriminatory in nature and in breach of India’s international human rights obligations,” a spokesperson of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

He added the office was studying whether the law’s implementation rules comply with international human rights law.

The US has also signalled reservations.

“We are concerned about the notification of the Citizenship Amendment Act on 11 March. We are closely monitoring how this Act will be implemented,” a US State Department spokesperson said separately.

“Respect for religious freedom and equal treatment under the law for all communities are fundamental democratic principles,” the State Department spokesperson added in an email.

Activists and rights advocates say the law, combined with a proposed national register of citizens, could discriminate against India’s 200 million Muslims – the world’s third-largest Muslim population. Some fear the government might remove the citizenship of Muslims without documents in some border states.

Modi’s government did not implement the law following its 2019 passage, as protests and sectarian violence broke out in New Delhi and elsewhere. Scores were killed and hundreds injured during days of clashes.

The Indian government denies the law is anti-Muslim and says it was needed to help minorities who suffered persecution in neighbouring Muslim-majority nations. It has called the earlier protests politically motivated.

The Indian embassy in Washington said, on Wednesday, the normal process of application for Indian citizenship remains available to everyone, regardless of nationality, community or faith, and that the CAA was meant specifically for “stateless persons from these persecuted communities who are already in India.”

Rights groups allege mistreatment of Muslims under Modi, who became Prime Minister in 2014. Besides this law, they also point to the 2019 revoking of Muslim-majority Kashmir’s special status, the demolition of Muslim properties in 2022 and a ban on wearing the hijab in classrooms in Karnataka, when the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power in that state.

Modi’s government denies the presence of minority abuse and says its policies aim to benefit all Indians.

READ: India moves before election on citizenship law opposed by Muslims