Monday, July 22, 2024

USCIRF: We do not endorse or release reports by outside organizations

Washington, DC – In a tweet on February 28, The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) wrote, @USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck (@stephenschneck) releases IAMC’s year-end report titled “Persecution as state policy: Human Rights & Religious Freedom in India – 2023.”

Global Strat View reached out to USCIRF, seeking comment on whether they endorsed IAMC’s report and if Commissioner Schneck attended in his official capacity to release the report as the tweet suggested. “The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom does not endorse any reports made by outside organizations,” they responded. Pressed further on Schneck’s presence at the event, they said, “USCIRF does not release or endorse other organization’s reports. Commissioner Schneck participated in this event to present USCIRF’s concerns relating to religious freedom in India, at an event commemorating the anniversary of the 2002 violence in Gujarat.”

The picture posted with the tweet shows Schneck at the podium holding up a copy of the IAMC report, apparently with a member of IAMC.

The event itself was a ‘Congressional briefing’ organized by the India Working Group (IWG) on Capitol Hill, titled: Massacre Of Muslims In Gujarat 2002: Justice Delayed, Denied. The BBC documentary “India: The Modi Question” was screened at this event. In his remarks at the event, Schneck called on the US government to condemn Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime for human rights and religious freedoms violations. USCIRF has been calling upon the government to designate India as a country of particular concern.

This is not the first time that USCIRF commissioners have released a report. In December 2022, USCIRF commissioner David Curry, and former USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza released the IAMC report “Genocide Convention & Persecution of Muslims in India” during a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill.

Former USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza and USCIRF Commissioner David Curry releasing an IAMC report in December 2022.

USCIRF is ‘an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government agency’ created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), which “monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) abroad; makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress; and tracks the implementation of these recommendations.”

Despite its stated non-partisan status, USCIRF has been seen increasingly cozying up to lobbying groups, leading to whispers within the organization and questions and scrutiny in the community about its objectivity and credibility, especially in its assessments of India. In June 2022, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) slammed the USCIRF report that enlisted India as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC) for the third straight year since 2020.

Some of the USCIRF officials were directly engaging with these anti-India lobbying groups and helped in their pursuit both actively and passively. One such official is the former USCIRF commissioner, Nadine Maenza, who has frequently been critical of India in the USCIRF assessments.

Before joining the USCIRF in 2018, Maenza was the CEO of the Virginia-based ‘Hardwired Global’ from 2016 to 2018, where she focused on promoting religious freedom in countries such as Iraq and Nigeria. Maenza worked alongside UC Berkeley Professor and Anthropologist Dr. Angana Chatterji at Hardwired Global. Angana Chatterji has worked closely with convicted ISI agent Ghulam Nabi Fai who was arrested in 2011 for receiving funds from the ISI for anti-India lobbying activities over Kashmir.

Nadine Maenza had a pivotal role when the IAMC and the US-based Pakistani Jamaat groups were lobbying against India on the pretext of religious freedom in the subcontinent.

Maenza was appointed to the USCIRF as Vice Chair in 2018 by then-US President Donald Trump. She was re-elected as the USCIRF commissioner in May 2020 by Donald Trump for her second tenure. It is important to note that USCIRF began enlisting India as CPC from 2020 onwards.

During this time, she had been very active in aiding anti-India causes of US-based Islamist Groups. In 2018, Burma Task Force (BTF), a Pakistan-backed Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) group based in Chicago, began targeting India via lobbying.

Maenza’s role in the USCIRF was relatively active in targeting India between 2018-20. She was engaging directly with the IAMC and Justice For All (BTF’s parent org), frequently appearing on their platforms to discuss ‘declining religious freedom’ in India. It is not clear why USCIRF considers Sunni dominated IAMC as representative of the Indian Muslim diaspora, ignoring other Muslim groups like Shias, Ahmadiyas, and Bohras.

It raises concerns about USCIRF’s ability to fulfill its duties in an impartial and unbiased manner. It is inappropriate for a USCIRF commissioner to engage with groups that lobby against other nations. Commissioners are expected to maintain a high degree of impartiality and objectivity in their work and to base their assessments solely on evidence and analysis. While reports and assessments produced by lobbying groups and fringe online publications find a prominent place in USCIRF considerations, the facts like the recent poll victory of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party led by Prime Minister Modi in the Christian State of Nagaland are ignored.

Even in the tweet by IAMC, which has since been deleted, USCIRF and Commissioner Schneck were tagged, so they were aware of the tweet, but only refuted the content upon being questioned by GSV.

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