(New York) - US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should put human rights at the heart of their discussions when they meet in New Delhi, Human Rights Watch said today. The world's largest democracies should make a commitment and encourage each other to protect human rights in their domestic and security policies and agree to engage in diplomacy that will also promote human rights globally, Human Rights Watch said.
Obama will visit India from November 6 through 9, 2010.
"As the world's biggest democracies, the US and India should promote common values that are too often ignored in the name of security or trade," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Both countries should send the world a message that respect for rights goes hand-in-hand with other national concerns."
States have a responsibility to protect their citizens from terrorist attacks, but both India and the US have compromised on their human rights obligations while combating such threats, eroding standards for others around the world, Human Rights Watch said. New Delhi's and Washington's own records of abuses, particularly those committed in the name of countering terrorism, have made it more difficult for them to press other countries effectively to uphold human rights.
Indian security forces arbitrarily detain, torture, and at times summarily execute terrorism suspects, particularly alleged Islamist militants, Maoist rebels known as Naxalites, and armed separatists. Indian security forces and Maoist rebels have been implicated in many abuses in fighting that has spread over several districts across central India.
In Jammu and Kashmir and in the northeastern states, government troops have committed torture, enforced disappearances, and targeted killings disguised as shoot-outs. These abuses are facilitated by Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives the army widespread powers to search, arrest, and use lethal force, while assuring immunity from prosecution. The possible unnecessary use of lethal force resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people, many of them children, during sometimes-violent protests in mid-2010 in Jammu and Kashmir.
Human Rights Watch urged Obama to raise these issues with the Indian government, and in particular to express concern about the lack of accountability for human rights violations, which often results in an unending cycle of violence and retribution.
"The street protests in Kashmir this summer reflected the anger and dismay over human rights violations that have occurred over two decades of conflict," Ganguly said. "President Obama should not pretend unrest in Kashmir is an internal matter and ignore the expectations of many Kashmiris who want him to call publicly for an end to abusive security operations."
In addition, the US should encourage the Indian government to carry out its laws and policies to end discrimination against the country's most vulnerable populations - in particular Dalits, tribal groups, women, children, and religious minorities.
After the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the US government violated its international human rights obligations in the treatment of terrorism suspects, including committing torture and ill-treatment, detention without trial, and enforced disappearances. Although the Obama administration has attempted to address such abuses, it is yet to investigate and punish those responsible for the torture and ill-treatment of detainees and continues to prosecute suspects through military commissions that lack the basic guarantees provided by civilian courts.
"US human rights abuses since 9/11 have had a negative impact on the treatment of terrorism suspects in countries like India," Ganguly said. "India should encourage the US to close Guantanamo, end the use of unfair military commissions, and prosecute gross violations of the rights of detainees."
Both New Delhi and Washington are far from reaching their potential in promoting respect for protection and enforcement of human rights globally, Human Rights Watch said. India in recent years has sought to protect repressive governments such as Burma and Sri Lanka from international scrutiny and censure for serious rights violations. Indian diplomats justify government policies by claiming that the United States is also selective, supporting oppressive governments with which it has strategic or economic partnerships.
"Democracies shouldn't shy away from promoting human rights abroad," Ganguly said. "It is the people, not a government, who remember who their true friends are."