Is India Serious About Human Rights

Nearly two years ago I had the good fortune and the honour to go to spend a few days at the United nations Council of Human Rights in Geneva, including being Chief Guest in a workshop on ‘Education, values and Human Rights’. The whole trip was a fascinating learning experience – a first hand opportunity to see one of the most critical bodies within the United Nations at work. One of its most useful processes is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Every member country undergoes such a ‘peer review’ process. The idea is that a group of member countries present a detailed analysis of all aspects of the country’s human rights position – current strengths, weaknesses and progress made since the previous UPR.

When I was there, the UPR for the USA was presented. This was lively and controversial as many countries sought to put America on the spot and hold them accountable for such things as the failure to close the ‘prison’ at Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners who are suspected to be terrorists are held without trial. There were also many other issues on which America came in for frank and open criticism. It was encouraging to see the degree of frank and open discussion and that this process at least achieves some degree of accountability. This is vitally important if the countries of the world are to get along, build trust and be accountable both for their actions towards other countries and towards their own citizens.

Having seen the process at work, first hand, I was troubled a few days ago to see the following editorial column in The Hindu newspaper: The Hindu – Travesty of Justice

What this seems to amount to is india thumbing its nose at the international community, even on issues where it has signed up to international conventions or made certain commitments to the world to comply with world standards and positions on key issues of human rights. It becomes difficult to see how India can take such a belligerent line and yet consider that it has the right to be at the table to impose its views on other countries. It also brings in to question India’s avowed wish to be respected and treated as a ‘First World country’. It also concerns me that this wasn’t reported on more in the country or considered a significant issue for debate or discourse. I can’t help thinking that, over time, this is going to have a negative impact on the country’s relationship with other countries, even potentially on trade and international relations. There is also a bitter irony, keeping in mind the furore in the country in recent weeks about the Delhi rape case, that gender inequality issues were one of the identified weak areas where other countries were asking India to take a more careful look, but India’s response was to suggest that these issues were all under control!

For those who might wish to explore the issue in more depth, here are some more useful links;

Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN

India’s UPR

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