As India’s human rights record was reviewed, such themes as ratifying the UN’s Convention Against Torture (CAT), protection of religious and other minorities, criminalising marital rape and reviewing the Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act (FCRA) were raised by foreign governments at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Thursday.
The 18-member Indian delegation at the HRC led by the Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi said in his opening statement that "India is a secular State with no State religion", and that it does not discriminate on the basis of religion, caste or colour. "Some of India’s most famous institutions of academic excellence are minority institutions," Rohatgi said, "Safeguarding the rights of minorities forms an essential core of our polity."
In the statement, Rohatgi said that India is committed to ratifying CAT. "We believe in peace, non-violence and upholding human dignity. As such, the concept of torture is completely alien to our culture and it has no place in the governance of the nation," he said. More than 30 countries including Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Russia and Senegal called on India to ratify CAT. It may be recalled that while India signed CAT in 1997, it has yet to ratify the convention.
Germany called for the amendment of the FCRA "ensuring the freedom of association which includes the civil society’s ability to access foreign funding" and protect human rights defenders against harassment. The German delegate expressed concern over the treatment of minorities. Around a dozen countries, mostly from the western bloc — including Ireland, the US, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Czech Republic and Norway, spoke of reviewing the FCRA for its negative impact on the functioning of NGOs, which recently led to the cancellation of the licences of more than 10,000 NGOs due to alleged violations of Indian law.
The American delegate said that it noted the "lack of transparency and uneven application" in the FCRA that impedes NGOs.
Switzerland stated that it was "concerned about the increasing restrictions imposed by the Government of India on the independent actors of civil society" including those of religious minorities and against their activities.
"Any measures limiting freedom of expression and assembly and association on the internet is based on clearly defined criteria in accordance with international law including international human rights law," Sweden said.
India responded by saying that FCRA prohibits the acceptance or utilisation of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality for any activity that is detrimental to national interest and that "CSOs and individuals need to work in conformity and within the legal framework of the State".
The issue of discrimination against religious and other minorities as well as the need to repeal anti-conversion laws were raised by countries like the US, the UK, Switzerland, the Vatican, the Netherlands, Germany and South Korea among others.
The American delegate said that laws restricting religious conversion "contribute to intolerance" while the Vatican recommended strengthening freedom of religion especially by "retracting so-called anti-conversion laws", to pursue through appropriate judicial means to prevent all violent acts against religious and tribal minorities, Dalits and other lower castes. The UK said that it encourages the passing of the Communal Violence Bill in Parliament.
"On the issue of perceived discrimination of minorities and the situation of freedom of religion, it is to be stated that India is a secular country. India is one of the most diverse nations in terms of religion," said Rohatgi. India also cited various constitutional guarantees for exercising the freedom of religion.
Although some countries spoke of the need to repeal Armed Forces Special Powers Acts (Afspa) and hold security forces accountable, only Pakistan raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan said that India must stop violations of human rights against Kashmiri people and "allow them to exercise their right to self-determination through a free and fair plebiscite". It further said that it should repeal Afspa and "immediately ban" the use of pellet guns.
"The present situation in Jammu and Kashmir… was and is aggravated by sustained cross-border terrorism emanating from our neighbourhood,"India said in response, "The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and hence, any such description as 'Indian-administered' or 'Indian-occupied' Kashmir is invalid and artificial."
A number of countries raised the issue of women’s rights, like including marital rape within the ambit of rape laws (Spain, Latvia, Namibia, Portugal, Slovenia, Ireland, Sweden, Zambia, Belgium and others), the issue of honour killings and forced sterilisations (Ghana, Iceland, Sweden and others), as well as repealing Section 377 (Israel, Iceland, Norway, Canada and others) that criminalises same sex relations.
Japan said thatal though there has been progress on issues around women’s empowerment, more effective measures were needed to protect women because they continue to be subjected to "widespread discrimination".
Spain, Italy, Namibia, Portugal, Ireland and Belgium among other countries spoke of the need to have a moratorium on the death penalty in India and eventually abolish it altogether. From the Indian neighbourhood, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan backed India’s human rights record.
Attacks against Africans in India were also mentioned by some countries like Haiti, who called on India to take measures to address "Afrophobia". India called all attacks on Africans in India as "unfortunate and painful" and that the relations with Africa is "based on brotherhood". Not all acts of violence should be construed as racial attacks, India said, adding that it is the land of Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi and that "we cannot have a racial mindset".
This is India’s third universal periodic review (UPR) — a peer review by other UN member states where the human rights record of a country is examined. The UPR recommendations of India will be adopted on 9 May. It is among 14 countries to be reviewed in the current cycle.
Updated Date: May 05, 2017 13:12:00 IST