Governments failing to protect minorities, says US

Washington, May 21 (IANS) US Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed concern at global problems of discrimination and violence against religious groups, including Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs besides increasing use of blasphemy and apostasy laws.

“In too many places, governments are also failing to protect minorities from social discrimination and violence,” he said Monday releasing an annual State Department survey of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries.

“This report is a clear-eyed, objective look at the state of religious freedom around the world,” Kerry said releasing the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

“And when necessary, yes, it does directly call out some of our close friends, as well as some countries with whom we seek stronger ties,” he said.

The report designates eight nations — Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan — as ‘countries of particular concern’.

Briefing reporters US Ambassador-at-large Suzan Johnson Cook said there were several countries where Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists were facing problems, but “we don’t want to highlight one particular one.”

In response to a question, she said US was “certainly” concerned “about religious minorities, Hindus as well as others” in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Fiji.”

“And so we press the governments – we urge the governments to allow religious freedom for all.”

In the case of India, report said, several educational institutions in Mangalore, Karnataka, reportedly banned Muslim girls from wearing headscarves.

Some state governments also enforced “anticonversion” laws and authorities reportedly arrested people under these laws during the year, although there were no convictions, it said.

The government at times failed to respond effectively to abuses committed by state and local authorities and private citizens, the report said.

Between January and October, there reportedly were 560 cases of communal violence in India, which led to 89 deaths and 1,846 injuries, it said.

During several incidents in Karnataka, local authorities either acted in coordination with, or failed to stop, members of a Hindu nationalist organization, Hindu Jagarana Vedike (HJV), it said.

The report cited allegations by NGOs that the state government often failed to intervene in such attacks due to sympathy for the HJV’s aims.

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