To the European Union:
We urge the European Union to use the occasion of the EU-India summit on November 8, 2004, in The Hague to increase its engagement with the Government of India on human rights issues. We believe that a dialogue built on mutual respect should involve not just economic concerns but also improvement of India's human rights record. This is important for the people of India, for India's neighbors, and for the developing world, given India's significance as a role model, and as a military and aid donor.
The new government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken some important positive steps with regard to respect for human rights. These include repeal of the oft-abused Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and a re-evaluation of federal government educational policies that fostered communitarian resentments. Nevertheless, there is room for improvement, particularly in the protection of minority and marginalized groups such as Dalits and other lower-caste populations, religious minorities and tribal groups. The EU's increasing economic interactions with India should include calls for better equal opportunity policies. We also urge the EU to call for better justice mechanisms to curb impunity and prevent police abuse. Indian security forces continue to operate without adequate accountability, engaging in serious human rights abuses not just in conflict-zones such as Kashmir, but also when dealing with criminal suspects and detainees.
In order to help the EU-India dialogue, Human Rights Watch highlights the following areas of particular concern:
Persistent discrimination against marginalized groups: The European Union should call upon India to implement legislation or enact new laws to end discrimination based on caste and religious grounds, and to vigorously enforce laws against discrimination in the private sector. Despite legislative measures to protect marginalized groups, caste, religious, or gender-based discrimination continues in practice. Local police often do not implement the special laws set up to protect Dalits and members of tribal groups. Women remain highly vulnerable to abuse, both inside and outside the household. Trafficking for sex slavery continues. While Indian law calls for affirmative action in government jobs, with increasing privatization, it is crucial for the European Union to encourage European companies operating in India to adopt equal opportunity policies that benefit Dalits, members of tribal groups, women and religious minorities.
The European Union should extend all cooperation to the Indian government in its campaign against violence by extremist organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In a recent report, Discouraging Dissent, Human Rights Watch documented the attacks and intimidation of witnesses, lawyers and activists campaigning for the prosecution of those responsible for the Gujarat violence that resulted in the death and forced displacement of thousands of Muslims in 2002. Christians, particularly priests and nuns, continue to be attacked throughout the country. It is important to help the Indian government to bring to account those responsible for orchestrating violence against religious and ethnic minorities.
Impunity of security forces: Indian security forces, including the military, paramilitary forces, and the police, routinely abuse human rights with impunity. The Indian federal government too often fails to prosecute army and paramilitary troops in a credible and transparent manner. The result has been an increase in serious violations throughout the country. In July, Manipur state witnessed unprecedented civilian protests against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act after army troops sexually assaulted and killed a woman in custody. In Kashmir, military, paramilitary, and police forces continue their practice of torturing detainees, leading to custodial killings. There has also been a nationwide rise in allegations of extrajudicial executions by security forces, who typically justify their actions by claiming to have killed suspects in an exchange of gunfire. The EU should offer the Indian government assistance for improving human rights training for its police forces and to implement judicial reforms. The EU should also urge the Indian government to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Continued misuse of counter-terrorism laws: Repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) did not end the legal mechanisms that give security agencies unchecked powers of detention that often foster torture during interrogation. The European Union should recommend a comprehensive review of legislation that allows overbroad authority for law enforcement to infringe on civil liberties. Laws such as the National Security Act, the Disturbed Areas Act, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act have spawned abuses in various parts of the country, including many deaths in custody and widespread allegations of torture. For instance in Kashmir and Manipur, people are held in army camps and barracks and routinely tortured before being released or sent to police custody in violation of local laws that require the armed forces to immediately hand over the detainees to the civilian police.
Monitoring mechanisms: The National Human Rights Commission has emerged as one of the best such institutions and is a powerful means of protecting human rights. However, its capacity is limited because it is only allowed funding through government and is severely short-staffed. In addition, the Commission is not allowed to investigate abuses committed by the armed forces. The European Union should encourage India to further empower its NHRC and to create enforceable, transparent monitoring mechanisms that serve as a model for other countries where such institutions remain ineffective.
Failure to protect those affected by HIV/AIDS: Legislation is currently being drafted to end discrimination against those affected by HIV/AIDS, but unless properly implemented, people affected with HIV/AIDS will continue to be denied jobs, shelter, medical attention and access to education. In a recent report, Future Forsaken, Human Rights Watch documented discrimination faced by HIV+ children as well as children from families affected by AIDS. The European Union should support the Indian government’s efforts to end the stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS in India through age-appropriate awareness and education campaigns. The European Union should also urge India to repeal section 377 of the Indian Penal code, which effectively criminalizes sex between men and is frequently used as justification for harassment of HIV/AIDS educators.
Failure to protect the rights of children: Millions of children are going to work instead of learning at school. The European Union should ask the Indian government to protect children from engaging in the worst forms of child labor. Hundreds of thousands of children are bonded laborers who toil as virtual slaves, particularly in the silk industry. It is also important to encourage parents to send their children to school, but they can only do so when education is affordable and accessible. Currently almost half the children in India are out of school. Discrimination on the basis of caste and religion has to end in schools. India should be urged to ratify the 1960 Convention Against Discrimination in Education.
India’s Role in the Region: As India increases its political and economic prominence in South Asia, the EU should encourage India to adopt policies that link human rights standards to aid. Increasingly, India has been providing significant amounts of financial and military aid to its smaller neighbors. For instance, India is the largest provider of military assistance to Nepal and should be encouraged call upon the Nepali government to comply with human rights obligations in its brutal civil war with Maoist insurgents. India should also be encouraged to use its evolving partnership with Burma to push for human rights and rule of law. India should also provide greater protection to Burmese refugees and economic migrants from Bangladesh.
We believe that India’s potential as a leading global power would be enhanced and strengthened by an explicit commitment to human rights. We request the EU to highlight these issues at the upcoming summit.
Executive Director, Asia Division