Rohatgi defends India’s record at UN Human Rights Council
NGOs must abide by India’s laws, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi told the UN’s Human Rights Council at Geneva, as the government faced a tough “peer review” by other countries at the Council. The Council members on Thursday recommended a revision in India’s Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act (FCRA), a repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, decriminalisation of homosexuality and the inclusion of marital rape in Indian laws on sexual violence.
“Supported by a rights-oriented constitutional framework, secular polity, independent judiciary, free and vibrant media, vocal civil society, and a range of national and State-level commissions that monitor compliance with human rights, India continues with its endeavours towards observance of human rights,” the Attorney-General replied, adding that the FCRA is a legitimate law that NGOs wishing to operate in India must follow.
The attack on the FCRA act came from nearly a dozen countries, mostly from Europe. The charge was led by the U.S. and Germany, who called the Act and the government’s actions “arbitrary”.
“India must defend the right to freedom of association, which includes the ability of civil society organisations to access foreign funding, and protect human rights defenders effectively against harassment and intimidation,” the German Ambassador to the UN mission in Geneva said, while the U.S. envoy decried the “complete lack of transparency” in the implementation of the FCRA.
Australia, Ireland, Norway, South Korea, Denmark and the Czech Republic were among other countries calling for a review of the FCRA that has led to the licences of about 14,000 of NGOs being cancelled because of alleged violations.
Attack on minorities
The government also faced criticism on violence against religious minorities from a number of countries. Pakistan’s statement was the sharpest, accusing India of failing to protect minorities “especially Muslims” from “mob violence” and “attacks by extremist groups affiliated to the government.”
Attacks on Africans in India appeared as a new subject of concern at the HRC proceedings, and the government said it accepted responsibility and had sought to prosecute all those responsible for the brutal beating of students at a mall in Noida in March 2017.
Nearly all 112 countries at the 5-yearly review of India’s record called for India to ratify the UN Additional Convention Against Torture (CAT). India is one of only nine countries which haven’t yet implemented the Torture convention, despite signing on to it in 1997. In 2012, India had also given a unilateral pledge to ratify CAT, but has yet to move forward on it, despite a Supreme Court directive in the matter. In his response on Thursday Mr. Rohatgi once again pledged to ratify it.
“It is shocking that five years after making that pledge India remains committed to not abolishing torture, and seems to admit it is an important tool in its law and order practices,” SC–appointed amicus curiae Colin Gonsalves told The Hindu calling the Attorney General’s response to the HRC members “mere time-pass”.
Responding to some of the sharpest criticism from the countries at the HRC over the Armed Forces Special Powers act, that gives forces operating in states like Jammu Kashmir and Manipur immunity from prosecution, India said the Act applies “only to disturbed areas where the law and order machinery is dealing with exigent circumstances like terrorism.” The attorney general Mr. Rohatgi added that the question on whether to repeal AFSPA “is a matter of on-going vibrant political debate” in the country. His response came days after he had told the SC that continuation of AFSPA was “an issue of national security”, defending the use of a human shield by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir in court.
Apart from all the criticism, which the government delegation comprising officials of the MEA, Women and Child Development Ministry and MHA said they would deliberate on, India won support in the room neighbours like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, who said “True to its multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-linguistic characteristics, India has been successful in upholding the ethos of respect for diversity and plurality in the country.”