World HR bodies call upon EU to reinforce rights agenda with Indian leaders
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ISLAMABAD, May 4 (APP): Eight human rights bodies in their unanimous statement has demanded of the European Union leaders to raise the fast-deteriorating human rights situation in India during their scheduled summit with the Indian leaders on May 8 in Portugal.

“The European leaders should press the Indian government to reverse its abusive and discriminatory policies and immediately release all human rights defenders and other critics who have been jailed for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” an umbrella of six human rights bodies said unanimously in a press statement released by Human Rights Watch.

These organizations included Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Front Line Defenders (FLD), Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).

“Despite the considerable deterioration in the country’s human rights record under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian government had effectively shielded itself from the international scrutiny and reactions that the seriousness of the situation should have warranted,” the statement said.

These organizations said that the Indian government also ignored calls from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to release “every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views” to prevent the growing rates of infection everywhere, including in closed facilities such as prisons and detention centers.

Instead, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government had increasingly harassed, intimidated, and arbitrarily arrested human rights defenders, journalists, peaceful protesters, and other critics, under draconian sedition and counterterrorism laws, it said.

The groups noted with concerns that the Indian authorities had also enacted discriminatory laws and policies against minorities.

“Muslim and Dalit communities face growing attacks, while authorities fail to take action against BJP leaders who vilify minority communities and BJP supporters who engage in violence. The Indian government has imposed harsh and discriminatory restrictions on Muslim-majority areas in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir since revoking the state’s constitutional status in August 2019 and splitting it into two federally governed territories.”

The authorities carried out so-called counterterrorism raids in October on multiple nongovernmental organizations in IIOJK and Delhi, and a newspaper office in Srinagar to silence them, causing a chilling effect on human rights defenders who feared for their safety, the statement said.

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In April 2021, the European Parliament members on Foreign Affairs Committee adopted a set of recommendations on EU-India relations raising serious concerns over human rights violations in India, urging the European leaders to use the upcoming summit as a platform to relay those messages at the highest level.

The Human Rights said the EU’s long silence on these issues stood in stark contrast with its much more vocal and robust reactions to serious human rights violations worldwide, ‘is incompatible with the EU’s recently renewed pledge to speak up and take action whenever and wherever human rights abuses occur’.

The statement said the EU recently resumed its local human rights dialogue with India, which had been suspended for seven years.

While the EU insisted on holding the dialogue as a prerequisite for the leaders’ meeting, the non-governmental organizations cautioned against holding the dialogue as a box-ticking exercise, only aimed at getting rights off the summit’s agenda.

“The weak joint press release published as the outcome did not assuage these fears,” rights bodies further said.

The members of EU Parliament in their recommendations expressed serious concerns over the deteriorating human rights situation in India, echoing comments by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and several UN Special Rapporteurs. The members’ report also incorporated views of the defenders and journalists in India which lacked a safe working environment.

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Thousands march on roads in India to fight for their rights. (Reuters)

The difficult situation faced by Indian women and minority groups, caste-based discrimination, as well as the closure of Amnesty International’s India offices, India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was fundamentally discriminatory in nature against Muslims and dangerously divisive, were also underlined by the EU parliament members.

The report also stated that the EU was closely following the situation in IIOJK.

Expressing its concerns over the Coronavirus pandemic in India, the statement of the rights body further said the Covid-19 crisis had also highlighted growing human rights concerns in India.

“Faced with widespread criticism of its handling of the pandemic, the Indian government has tried to censor free speech, including by ordering social media content taken down and criminalizing calls for help,” it added.

The HRW pointed out that the Indian authorities had jailed a number of human rights defenders, student activists, academics, opposition leaders, and critics, blaming them for the communal violence in February 2020 in Delhi as well as caste-based violence in Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra state in January 2018.

In both cases, BJP supporters were implicated in the violence. Police investigations in these cases were biased and aimed at silencing dissent and deterring future protests against government policies, the groups said.

The Indian government, the rights groups said, used foreign funding laws and other regulations to crack down on civil society.

Indian troops launch CASO in IIOJK

“Recent amendments to the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act (FCRA) added onerous governmental oversight, additional regulations and certification processes, and operational requirements, which adversely affect civil society groups, and effectively restrict access to foreign funding for small nongovernmental organizations,” the statement added.

In September 2020, Amnesty International India was forced to halt its work in the country after the Indian government froze its bank accounts in reprisal for the organization’s human rights work, and many other local rights groups struggle to continue doing their work.