The career Indian diplomat is a grandmaster in the art of obfuscation. However, the mendacity of the submissions by the Indian delegation during the examination of India’s record during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record convinced only the naïve back home – and some duplicitous governments in the United Nations.
The final conclusions of UPR on India, like all such reviews, need to be read not in cold print, but between the lines. At the outset, it must be remembered that when it comes to the implementation of universal rights and norms on human rights, the “United Nations” must in fact be read in reverse – it is “Nations United”, countries against their peoples. Most would rather ignore their populations’ clamour for accountability and rights. This, in spite of the valiant efforts of the present UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the under-resourced but intrepid UN Human Rights machinery. Most governments do the human rights tango only when it suits their expedient geo-political realities.
India’s report starts with a big fat lie. “When drafting its national report, India followed a broad-based consultative approach involving various stakeholders.” The consultations were in fact perfunctory. No draft report prepared by the Government of India was made available to the few human rights NGO representatives invited to the consultations. Some of the invitees can be charitably described as Government-organised NGOs (GONGOs). One such “consultation” even included a self-confessed NGO collaborator of the Intelligence Bureau!
India’s attempt at dissimulation regarding its abysmal record on torture was superb. Per its report, “India reiterated its commitment to ratify the Convention against Torture. In this context, the Government requested the Law Commission of India to give a comprehensive report covering all aspects of criminal law so that necessary amendments could be made in India’s Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act, prior to carrying out the ratification process.”
Not to be outdone, the National Human Rights Commission of India in its submission to UPR sought to convey that the delay in ratification was only five years. India signed the convention in 1997. It is now 2017. Forget any substantive knowledge of human rights; in the NHRC, even elementary arithmetic is a casualty.
An assortment of countries – from Botswana, Norway, Guatemala and Italy to Lebanon, South Africa, Sweden, the United States of America and Kazakhstan, made bland calls for the ratification of the Convention Against Torture. Australia and Germany were more nuanced and precise, calling on India to “ensure that domestic legislation defines torture in line with international standards, and extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on torture for an official visit to the country.”
In 2010, a badly drafted and weak Prevention of Torture Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha sent it to a select committee where it was much improved. However, there were no takers for the improved bill in the Union Home Ministry or the Law Ministry, and the bill was allowed to lapse. So much for compliance with international law.
The Government of India’s UPR submission added that the Law Commission of India is now seized of the matter. A laughing matter, one might add – we are only too aware of the fate of reports prepared by the Law Commission.
Similar attempts at obfuscation characterised India’s reporting on the death penalty, the Aadhaar card, malnutrition, minority rights, women’s rights, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and the excessive use of force, among other issues.
The UPR is a peer review process. The questions and recommendations from the European Union countries, with a few honourable exceptions, were pathetic. The process underscored the lack of any meaningful EU-wide policy or consultation on human rights. Clearly, the agenda item on human rights in the EU-India bilateral dialogue exists only in the febrile imaginations of many European chanceries.
This should come as no surprise, as not just one but all the EU member states have, as Adam Smith and Napoleon succinctly put it, become “a nation of shop keepers”. As the recession-plagued, two-legged predatory carpetbaggers from Europe eye the vast Indian market, human rights are conveniently overlooked.
This was exemplified by the final communiqué of the 13th India-EU Summit on March 30, 2016 in Brussels. Most of the discussion on Human Rights centred on the case of two Italian marines and the 14 Estonian and six UK Guards sentenced to prison by an Indian court.
The fact that last year’s summit was held after a gap of four years indicates the “warmth” that the EU now enjoys in South Block, and explains its profound silence on human rights. It remains to be seen if the grandiose formulation on human rights in the EU-India Agenda for Action-2020 is worth the paper it is written on.
The Islamic member countries grouped under the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) were at their vacuous best. The Pakistan formulation on the use of pellet guns in Kashmir was spot on. However, Pakistan being the sole country to raise the issue ensured that the question was dead on arrival.
The African group of countries was no better. With the notable exception of honest Rwanda and brave Toussaint’s Haiti from the Caribbean, African countries’ threat in April 2017 to raise the issue of pervasive racism against people of African origin in India at the UN Human Rights Council evaporated in Geneva.
India will provide further responses to the review when the Human Rights Council meets again in September 2017. Will Member States be more rigorous in their questions? Will India’s responses go beyond empty rhetoric and promises? It will, only if Indian citizens monitor their representatives’ performance at the international high table and call out their government on the yawning gap between its words and actions. We must keep the pressure on.