Government officers distribute postal ballot papers to an election presiding officer ahead of the country's general elections in Guwahati, India, Tuesday, March 19, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Anupam Nath
(New York) – Candidates and political parties contesting India’s parliamentary elections, slated for April and May 2019, should commit to strengthening human rights protections, Human Rights Watch said today in an open letter. Human Rights Watch called on candidates to commit to human rights reforms on several key issues.

“India is the world’s largest democracy, but there is more to a democracy than simply participating in elections,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Candidates should commit to respecting and strengthening the fundamental rights of all Indians, and reject efforts to foment communal divisions and hatred.”

Human Rights Watch said that candidates should pledge to ensure accountability of the security forces for killings and torture; to protect freedom of expression and assembly by ending the abuse of sedition, criminal defamation, and  counterterrorism laws; to enforce laws that protect the rights of women and children including against sexual violence; to end discrimination and violent attacks against Dalits, Adivasis, and minority communities; to safeguard disability and refugee rights; to uphold Supreme Court rulings on privacy; and to promote a human rights foreign policy.

“It is important for voters in India to have the choice to elect leaders who will genuinely uphold human rights protections,” Ganguly said. “That means every candidate should promote the principles of equality, freedom and justice.”