HAF Concerned over Worsening Plight of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs

Washington, D.C. (December 20, 2012) - The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) voiced serious concern today over the worsening plight of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan, imploring the Afghan government to address the deteriorating religious freedom conditions in the country.
The most recent media reports from Afghanistan indicate that Hindus and Sikhs are being forcibly denied the right to cremate their dead. In one particular incident, Muslim residents in the Qalacha neighborhood of Kabul in conjunction with Afghan security personnel used force to prevent Hindus and Sikhs from performing cremation ceremonies for their deceased relatives.
"Cremation is an essential funeral rite for both Hindus and Sikhs and integral to the practice of their respective religious traditions," said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF's Director and Senior Fellow for Human Rights. "The government's failure to uphold their basic rights is in direct violation of both the Afghan Constitution and international human rights law."
Human rights groups assert that this latest episode was not isolated, but rather part of a larger pattern of discrimination against the Afghan Hindu and Sikh minority. As the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) notes, Hindus and Sikhs routinely face obstacles in cremating their dead, including the forcible occupation of crematoriums, physical interference with cremations, and the inability to obtain land for cremation sites.
The establishment of a democratic government and a new constitution in recent years has done little to protect the religious rights of the Hindu community in Afghanistan, which according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), continues to face widespread harassment, violence, and legal inequalities.
The situation for countless Afghan Hindu and Sikh refugees living outside of Afghanistan remains perilous as well, particularly in countries such as Belgium, where their legal status remains unresolved. Over the past several months, for example, the Belgian government has denied the asylum applications of many Afghan Hindus and Sikhs, with numerous claims still pending.
The European Court of Human Rights recently accused Belgian authorities of failing to adequately investigate the asylum claims of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs, leading HAF to take up the issue with the Belgian Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons.
"Considering the extent of persecution endured by religious minorities in Afghanistan and the Afghan government's inability to protect them, Afghan Hindus and Sikhs in Belgium clearly meet the criteria for refugee status under the Geneva Convention," said Jay Kansara, HAF's Associate Director. "Failing to recognize their legitimate asylum claims and deporting them back to Afghanistan would be unconscionable and result in disastrous consequences for these communities."