Coalition Against Genocide (CAG - http://coalitionagainstgenocide.org/ ), a broad alliance dedicated to justice and accountability for the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, hailed the bipartisan letter signed by twenty-five Congresspersons, calling on the State Department to maintain the ban on a US visa for Mr. Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of the Indian State of Gujarat.
During a press conference at Capitol Hill, Washington DC, Congressmen Joe Pitts, Frank Wolf, Keith Ellison and Trent Franks urged that the ban on Mr. Modi's US visa be maintained until justice was served in Gujarat. The press conference was attended by representatives from the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), The Advocates for Human Rights (AHR), as well as family members of victims of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. This comes on the heels of continuing efforts by human rights activists in India to secure convictions for the masterminds of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002.
Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) recalled his visit to Gujarat and the site of the massacre at Gulbarg Society, in the immediate aftermath of the Gujarat pogrom. "We saw the remains of the blood on the walls, the remains of the carnage. ...We met victims of the massacres, and the officials in Gujarat province, we asked them, why did not the police respond to what was happening and the police said, 'We had no orders to respond'," recalled Congressman Pitts.
In 2005, Mr. Modi's US visa was revoked and his entry to the US was banned by the State Department, under the provisions of the International Religious Freedom Act, which makes any foreign government official who "was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom" ineligible for a visa.
In the last ten years, Mr. Modi's administration has engaged in systematic persecution of religious minorities in Gujarat. In 2003, Mr. Modi's administration enacted the "Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act," which curtails the freedom of individuals to convert to the religion of their choice. The law is targeted and primarily applied against religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims.
Although Mr. Modi has not applied for a visa recently, he has intensified his efforts to have the ban revoked by hiring several lobbying firms to give himself an image makeover. The Congressmen at the press conference however, were emphatic that justice and accountability were higher priorities than Mr. Modi's ambitions. Rep. Trent Franks said, "Mr. Modi, who failed his responsibility and his test of leadership in India, should not be afforded the opportunity to gain a higher station of leadership in that country until this issue is dealt with." Rep. Keith Ellison echoed this sentiment by calling on people of all backgrounds and all faiths to stand together for the sanctity of human life, for human rights and for accountability.
The letter, signed by eight Republican and seventeen Democratic Congresspersons, urges the State Department to "deny Mr. Modi entry due to numerous reports of his involvement in horrific human rights violations in India." The letter also quotes the Human Rights Watch report on the 2002 violence, that states that the "attacks against Muslims (and other religious minorities) in Gujarat have been actively supported by state BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government officials and by the police." The Gujarat pogrom resulted in the killing of over 2,000 people, brutal sexual violence against hundreds of women and the displacement of over 150,000 people.
Among the 25 Congresspersons who have co-signed the letter to the State Department, some notable designations are as follows:
Both co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission - Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA)
Both co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus - Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)
Chair of the Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus - Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ)
Dean of the Congressional Black Caucus - Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)
Chair of the Republican Study Committee - Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)
House Democratic Senior Whip - Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN)
House Democratic Senior Whip - Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA)
"This bipartisan initiative is a grim reminder of the fact that Mr. Modi's administration has obstructed justice and curtailed freedom of religion across the state of Gujarat over the last ten years," noted CAG representative Ms. Anu Mandavilli. "It is also a warning to violators of human rights and freedom of religion across the world, that the international community holds justice and human dignity far above the social and political status of any individual," added Ms. Mandavilli.
"Given India's rich tradition of tolerance and pluralism, it is inconceivable that a man with a tainted reputation like Mr. Modi's could ever be considered for the post of India's Prime Minister," said Mr. Alex Koshy, another veteran member of the CAG. "The conviction of Maya Kodnani, a sitting BJP member of the legislative assembly is a damning indictment of the state administration headed by Mr. Modi. Mr. Modi's continuation in any public office is a liability for India," added Mr. Koshy.
Congressman Frank Wolf captured the consensus across the political spectrum when he urged the administration "...never to grant a visa to allow Chief Minister Modi to visit the United States under any circumstances."
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