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(New York) – The Indian government’s inability to protect women and children from rape and sexual violence undermines its commitment to uphold the rights of all Indians, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2014. During 2013 the authorities also failed to enforce laws that protect vulnerable communities including Dalits, religious minorities, and tribal groups. Government efforts to increase mass surveillance raised concerns over rights to privacy and free speech.

“International attention to sexual attacks in India led to a new law, but should have spurred the government towards systemic changes to make real progress on this issue,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government has also failed to keep its promises of reforms to create a responsive police force, and to repeal laws that protect the armed forces from prosecution.”

In the 667-page World Report 2014, its 24th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. Syria’s widespread killings of civilians elicited horror but few steps by world leaders to stop it, Human Rights Watch said. A reinvigorated doctrine of “responsibility to protect” seems to have prevented some mass atrocities in Africa.  Majorities in power in Egypt and other countries have suppressed dissent and minority rights. And Edward Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs reverberated around the globe.

India has strong legislation to protect rights, Human Rights Watch said, but entrenched corruption and lack of accountability foster human rights violations. The numerous civil society groups, which play a crucial advocacy role in addressing these problems through protests and free expression, are increasingly at risk due to misused sedition laws and financial regulations.

In April, India rolled out a Central Monitoring System for all phone and Internet communications, which rights groups fear could lead to abuse in the absence of adequate oversight or safeguards for the right to privacy.

The courage and persistence of victims’ families and human rights activists did result in court interventions and investigations in several cases of extrajudicial killings in which the security forces had falsely claimed that the deaths occurred during armed exchanges or in self-defense.

In the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections, there was an increase in communal clashes between Hindus and Muslims. There is risk of additional violence as political interest groups seek to exploit tensions between the two communities, Human Rights Watch said.

Maoist insurgents in central and eastern India continued to attack civilians and security forces, while villagers remained at risk of arbitrary arrests and torture by state forces. Maoists continued to attack schools and government security forces occupied school buildings for operations in violation of court orders.
Internationally, India engaged in efforts to promote human rights in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Burma but did little to address the crises outside of South Asia, such as in Syria.

“India’s aspirations to play a more powerful role in world affairs won’t be taken seriously so long as it shuns efforts to promote human rights abroad and at home,” Ganguly said. 

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