In its annual global assessment of human rights, Amnesty International has strongly criticized the Indian government for violence against Christians in the states of Orissa and Karnataka.
The leading human rights organization noted that for two months Christians were attacked in Orissa – one of India's poorest states – following the murder of a local Hindu fundamentalist leader.
"The attacks, which resulted in at least 25 deaths, were led by supporters of Hindu nationalist organizations reportedly allied to the Bharatiya Janata Party – part of Orissa's ruling coalition – and included arson, looting and sexual assault of women," the 2009 report pointed out.
"Police were either inactive or responded with excessive force in the face of sectarian violence against religious and linguistic minorities and ethnic clashes," it also stated.
Last August, Hindu extremists attacked Christians in Orissa, killing at least 60 Christians and destroying more than 5,000 homes along with a string of churches. Thousands more were displaced by the violence. Indian church leaders criticized the government for doing little to stop the attacks.
Christians had no assurance of safety as they fled to relief camps and were attacked even there, Amnesty International also pointed out.
"In at least two camps for the displaced, Christians continued to be subjected to violent attacks by supporters of Hindu nationalist organizations."
During the anti-Christian violence in the south Indian state of Karnataka last September, Amnesty estimated that about 30 Christian places of worship were attacked by supporters of Hindu nationalist organizations.
"The suspected perpetrators were arrested only after opposition party protests," the report said.
Amnesty's 400-page report comes just weeks after the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom announced its plans to visit India in June.
The report, released on Thursday, covers human rights developments in 157 countries from January to December 2008.
Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, said during a press conference in London that the global economic crisis has aggravated human rights abuses, created new human rights problems and diverted attention away from the issue as world leaders focus on fixing the economy.
"We say to them: it's not just the economy. It's injustice, insecurity, inequality and indignity," she said.
"The world needs a new global deal on human rights – not paper promises but commitment and concrete action from governments to defuse the human rights time bomb," Khan stressed. "World leaders must invest in human rights as purposefully as they are investing in the economy."
Amnesty International, with 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries, is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. The organization was founded in London in July 1961.