Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, and the European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso attend a EU-India Summit in Brussels in December 2010.

© 2010 Reuters

(Brussels) – The presidents of the European Counciland the European Commission should make human rights a central part of their discussions with Indian officials at the EU-India summit on strategic partnership on February 10, 2012, in New Delhi, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch made a series of recommendations on human rights concerns in a February 3 letter to the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, and the European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso.

“A strategic partnership between the European Union and India should be based on shared respect for human rights,” said Lotte Leicht, EU advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.  “India will say that it is a democracy, but that is not enough. The EU should make known its concerns about rights abuses in India, just as it does elsewhere around the world.”

The human rights situation in much of India is poor, Human Rights Watch said. Successive governments have yet to enact adequate laws or implement policies to protect marginalized communities, particularly Dalits, tribal groups, religious minorities, women, and children.

The government routinely fails to take action in cases of serious human rights violations, particularly all forms of sexual assault against women, communal violence, enforced disappearances in conflict areas, extrajudicial killings, torture, and increasing attacks on human rights defenders. What links many of these issues is the widespread impunity for abuses and the corresponding problems of access to justice and adequate compensation, Human Rights Watch said.

The EU should call for repeal of Indian laws that protect public officials from prosecution for violating human rights, effective implementation of policies to ensure social justice, and a commitment to ensure freedom of expression, including on the internet, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch also called upon the EU to encourage India to use its increasing global influence to address human rights problems in other countries. In the past, India has often opposed strong international action to address serious human rights problems in specific countries.

“India's growing regional and global influence should be matched by an increasing commitment to protect human rights abroad,” Leicht said.