DETERIORATING HR RECORD

The indictment of India in yet another UN report is a wake up call to set human rights record straight and not hound the defenders and activists,India’s human rights track record is becoming worryingly dismal and yet another indication of this comes from the latest list of the UN of 38 countries including India which it said had shamelessly carried out reprisals or intimidation against people cooperating with it on human rights, through killings, torture and arbitrary arrests.

While a detailed report will be released next week, on Wednesday last week, the annual report from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres included a list of 38 countries facing allegations of ill-treatment, surveillance, criminalisation and public stigmatisation campaigns targeting victims and human rights defenders. The report comes six months after the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights came out with a detailed report specific to Kashmir which is a strict indictment of both the Indian and Pakistani governments, though a major portion of the report was dedicated to the role of the Indian government and the free hand and unbridled power it gives to the official security agencies for militarily dealing with Kashmir. The report was an endorsement of what human rights defenders in Kashmir and rest of India have been maintaining for decades. It listed how government’s measures like Armed Forces Special Power’s Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA) grant widespread immunity to the security forces for rights violations.

Many cases of prohibition of prosecution without a prior sanction issued by the government which has never been issued for Kashmir, making arbitrary arrests, imposing administrative detention without a concrete cause, the use of tactics like live ammunition, chemical gas, pellets, tear gas shells, shooting by unidentified gunmen and using individuals as “human shields”. It further acknowledged the history of sexual violence and enforced disappearances. The OHCHR had mostly relied on existing documentation and reports for much of its findings in view of the limitations of Indian government denying it the permission to conduct field visits in Kashmir. The report thus reflected heavily on the documentation and work of human rights defenders working on Kashmir. The new UN report which blasts among 28 countries, the government of India, for targeting not just victims but also human rights defenders gives an indication of the likelihood of a sizeable part of the report pertaining to Kashmir, where the targeting of human rights defenders or media persons taking up the cause of human rights have been targeted for long.

The present Indian government’s enhanced policy of repression in Kashmir and its virtual contempt for human rights activists, not just those working in Kashmir, but elsewhere in the country too, now makes the Indian case exceptionally worrying. Last summer, six human rights defenders including Sudha Bhardawaj and Varvara Rao were picked up and framed for Bhima Koregaon violence without an evidence of them being connected with the organization of the event. Such arrests betray the authoritarian mindset of a democratic government as these methods have been employed as a cover-up of the atrocities the state is daily committing which the activists are trying to expose.

The brazen murders of Right to Information activists is also a case in point. It is indeed a matter of grave shame that India, which is presently one of selected members of the UN Human Rights Council, after serving two consecutive terms from 2011 to 2017, should be hauled up for acts that are shamefully not in keeping with international standards of human rights. Nor are in keeping with the democratic norms and constitutional laws of the country. In a knee-jerk reaction, the Indian government had dismissed the previous Kashmir report from UN as prejudiced and called it “tenacious and fallacious”. Such reactions do not help salvage the image of the country. The only way to restore the country’s pride with respect to human rights is to ensure a better human rights record and the ability to hear the uncomfortable truths that human rights defenders are bringing to the surface.