UN member states have urged India to take a tougher stance on sexual violence and religious discrimination by elevating New Delhi’s human rights record during a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council. United Nations (UNHRC).
The UPR that takes place every four years is a mechanism to examine the human rights records of member states. Any member state can ask questions and make recommendations to the state under review.
During India’s fourth UPR review on Thursday, member states also called on New Delhi to scale back the widespread enforcement of “anti-terrorism” laws.
India’s Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come under scrutiny for its use of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), particularly targeting minority groups and human rights activists, without giving them the opportunity for a fair trial.
“We recommend that India scale back the widespread enforcement of the Illegal Activities (Prevention) Act and similar laws against human rights activists, journalists and religious minorities,” said Michele Taylor, the US ambassador to the council.
“Despite legal protections, discrimination and violence based on gender and religious affiliation persist. The application of anti-terrorism legislation has led to prolonged detentions of human rights defenders and activists,” he added.
The UAPA is an “anti-terrorism” law under which authorities can designate someone a “terrorist” based on suspicion and detain them for months without bail. The law has been criticized for its use against members of minority groups and rights groups and its low conviction rate.
Several countries thanked India for implementing some of the recommendations shared during the last UPR in 2017, others were quick to raise critical issues related to the country’s deteriorating stance on minority rights, freedom of expression and violence. against women, in particular.
Canada urged India to investigate all acts of sexual violence and protect freedom of religion by investigating religious violence “including against Muslims”, while Germany said it “remains concerned about the rights of marginalized groups”.
In early April, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) accused India of “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.” The independent bipartisan panel had asked the US State Department to place India on the list of “countries of particular concern”.
India fights back
New Delhi insisted it appreciated the role played by human rights defenders and said it would only impose the death penalty in “the rarest of cases” as it heard criticism from other nations at the UNHRC.
“India condemns any form of torture and takes an inviolable position against arbitrary detention, torture, rape or sexual violence by any person,” India’s Attorney General Tushar Mehta told the council.
New Delhi has signed the UN Convention Against Torture but has not ratified it.
Aakar Patel, president of Amnesty International in India, told Al Jazeera that “the democratic world is doing exactly what it should be doing” by questioning India about its human rights record in the UPR.
“The world is telling India that the laws that are being implemented are not in accordance with its own constitution. Citizenship Amendment Act [CAA] it’s not in accordance with the Indian constitution, and we should know about it,” Patel said, referring to a controversial law passed by the Indian parliament in 2019 that makes it easier for “persecuted” minorities from neighboring countries to gain Indian citizenship, but excludes to Muslims.
Hundreds of Muslims, including students and activists, have been arrested for protesting against the CAA, which has been criticized for not conforming to international human rights standards. Many of them have been slapped with the UAPA law.
Country with the most internet outages
During the UPR process, delegates also raised the issue of India’s position on freedom of speech and expression, with Switzerland suggesting that India should “ensure open access to social media and not impose any measures that slow down or Block Internet connections.”
India leads the world in Internet shutdowns with Indian-administered Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region, accounting for more than 60 percent of Internet shutdowns.
Mehta, the Indian attorney general, said the Indian constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression.
However, “freedom of speech and expression is not absolute in nature and is subject to reasonable restrictions” in the interests of sovereignty, integrity, security, foreign relations, “public order, decency, morality, contempt of court, defamation or Indian incitement. a crime,” he said.
“Imposing reasonable restrictions allows the State to regulate freedom of expression and expression when it comes to hate speech,” he insisted.
The peer review mechanism of the UPR process was established in 2006 by the UN General Assembly. The 193 member states of the UN undergo this review every four years, where countries are put under the scrutiny and responsibility of other members and are allowed to answer their questions related to issues they consider critical.
Member states can also make recommendations to each other and discuss the progress of previous sessions.
Sanjay Verma, secretary of India’s foreign ministry, said he would bring the recommendations to New Delhi for consideration.
“The permanent commitment of the Government of India is the promotion and protection of the human rights of our people,” he said.
“As the world’s largest democracy, India is committed to the highest standards of human rights.”
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