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India: Modi Government Should Act on Rights Pledges

Tightening Space for Activists; Threats to Free Speech, Association

(New York) – India’s new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi should bring public officials, police, and military personnel who commit serious rights abuses to justice, Human Rights Watch said today in the release of its World Report 2015. The government, elected in May 2014, should act to fulfill its campaign commitments to implement laws promoting women’s rights, improve access to health and sanitation, end discrimination, and ensure development benefits for the poor and marginalized.

There was some encouraging progress on accountability for abuses in 2014, Human Rights Watch said. A military court sentenced three soldiers and two officers to life in prison for the 2010 extrajudicial executions of three villagers in Jammu and Kashmir state, according to a military announcement in November. Yet this rare success was overshadowed by the government’s failure to repeal or amend the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which provides effective immunity from prosecution to military personnel for serious human rights abuses. The court ordered release of the 2004 judicial investigation into the killing of Manorama Devi in Manipur state revealed that the soldiers who tortured and then killed her were protected from prosecution by the AFSPA.

“India’s law that protects soldiers from being prosecuted for even the most egregious abuses has no place in a democracy,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Modi government should seek to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and ensure justice for security force members who commit serious violations.”

In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.

In 2014, authorities tightened restrictions on nongovernmental organizations critical of big development projects that activists say will harm the health and livelihoods of affected populations as well as the environment.

The awarding of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize to Indian children rights activist Kailash Satyarthi put a spotlight on the millions of children in India still engaged in the worst forms of labor. Caste-based discrimination and neglect of tribal communities remained a problem. Despite legal reforms to better address violence against women and children, there is still no monitoring to ensure proper implementation. In November 2014, at least 16 women died and many others were critically ill after undergoing sterilization procedures in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, leading to an outcry against target-driven approaches to family planning programs that undermine freedom of choice and quality of care.

The Modi government intensified engagement with world leaders to promote trade and investment and revive the Indian economy but failed to speak out on human rights abuses, and continued to abstain on key UN resolutions such as on North Korea in November.

“Modi is seeking to be more engaged with finding solutions to global challenges and yet his government has shown no signs of breaking from India’s disappointing legacy on human rights concerns abroad,” Ganguly said. “As an emerging power, India should promote, not ignore, the rights of those that are suffering under repressive regimes.”

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