4th June 2012, Pioneer
India did not have many convincing replies to questions that it faced at a recently held UN human rights meet. Its representative was either evasive or simply did not respond to specific queries on caste and communal conflicts, says Suhas Chakma
On May 24, the United Nations Human Rights Council reviewed India’s human rights record during the 13th session of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. In his introductory remarks, head of the Indian delegation, Attorney General GE Vahanvati discarded the role of the UN by stating that India has self-correcting mechanisms in place. India by and large stuck to its 22-page National Report which was lettered mostly with constitutional provisions and success stories but failed to highlight human rights problems.
While Sudan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines had only praise for India, a large number of other countries raised questions including the status of the Prevention of Torture Bill, the ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture; ratification of the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances; ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; abolition or moratorium on death penalty; ratifications of the ILO Conventions number 138, 155, 169, 173 and 182; withdrawal of India’s reservation to Article 16 of the UN Convenation Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and ratification of the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention; protection/rehabilitation to victims of trafficking; comprehensive anti-discriminatory legislation and adequate means of redress; prevention of caste violence and implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act; repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
Queries were also raised over the prosecution of security forces responsible for human rights violations; reform of the law enforcement bodies; strengthening control over the police forces and sensitisation of Armed forces towards human rights; human rights in school curriculum; access to justice and improvement of the judicial system; National Human Rights Action Plan; restriction on internet freedom; poverty alleviation, food security, health, sanitation, nutrition and drinking water, maternal and child mortality; protection of religious minorities, repeal of the anti-conversion laws and the status of the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill; status of the measures to address corruption; protection of the Human Rights Defenders and enactment of a law for protection of the HRDs; strengthening independence of National Human Rights Institutions; ratification of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; status of the NREGA; ratification of the Third Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to communication procedures; allocation of more resources for enjoyment of economic and social rights especially in favour of vulnerable groups like women, children, poor people and minorities, etc.
It is not only the Western states but Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq and Maldives from Asia, and Botswana and Ghana from Africa also asked India to ratify the UNCAT. Argentina and Chile from Latin America recommended a moratorium on the death penalty.
Among the issues raised, the Indian delegation replied only to those relating to the status of the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, prosecution of the security forces, refugees, human rights education, the Right to Information Act, torture, restrictions on internet, MNREGA, children with disabilities, HIV, human rights defenders, the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, the AFSPA, National Human Rights Action Plan, child labour, domestic violence, marriage and women’s equal right to property, socio economic caste census, sanitation and safe drinking water and India’s reservation to the CEDAW.
The responses of the Indian delegation were evasive and misleading. India was not only evasive on the question of prosecution of the security forces but also on combating caste violence. Mr Vahanvati did not directly answer questions relating to caste discrimination, but in his final remarks he stated, “India is an ancient country with strong social traditions. Some of these traditions may now be out of tune with modern values. They have to change. But in a democracy, these can only be done in an inclusive manner involving all through persuasion, education, and development. We are conscious of the need for change and promoting it through legislation and social awareness.”
The statement did not reflect the fact that the Union Government had to convene the State Home Ministers’ Conference on Effective Implementation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in New Delhi on April 17 to discuss non-implementation of the Power of Attorney reflected from high pendency and low conviction rate of the cases.
India justified many of its questionable measures on the grounds of “terrorism and armed insurgency”. Regrettably, there was no specific question relating to violence in India manifested in armed conflicts in 21 out of 28 States. Throughout the examination, India appeared to be a land of peace and not ‘India: Million Mutinies Now’ as described by VS Naipaul much before the Maoists multiplied the armed conflicts in the heart of Indian. In all these conflicts, women have been victims of multiple violations but not a single question was raised on violence against women in conflict situations.
Just the way coalition political compulsion has become the excuse at national level, at the UN the Union Government sought to hide itself on its inability to speculate on parliamentary process and federalism with respect to pro-human rights bills. While that is true of the Women’s Reservation Bill and the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, with respect to the Prevention of Torture Bill, it is the Union Ministry of Home Affairs which simply failed to introduce the Bill despite an all- party Parliamentary Select Committee submitting the draft in December 2010.
The Indian delegation also misled the UN on internet freedom. India’s delegation responded that the current restrictions imposed by the Information Technology Act deals with normally accepted restrictions on “cyber security and removal of illegal contents like child pornography” but did not respond to the pointed questions on the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 which permit private censorship through the service providers.
During the UPR examination of India in 2008, 18 recommendations were made but India implemented only one recommendation — extending standing invitation to the Special Procedures mandate holders. On May 24, India made no commitment to enhance human rights legal framework in the country but has received over 80 recommendations to act upon in four years.
As the same recommendations pile up due to lack of action, India will increasingly face credibility crisis at the UN despite assertion that it is committed to protect and promote human rights of its citizens.
- India “reluctant” to speak out on rights issues, says Amnesty (thehindu.com)
- UN Special Rapporteur expresses concern over extrajudicial executions in India (kashmirsolidaritymumbai.wordpress.com)