Tit-for-tat rights jab at US

India has questioned the US on its domestic human rights record at the United Nations, including concerns over "civil liberties" and attacks against minorities, in a tit-for-tat response after Washington in recent weeks lectured New Delhi on freedoms of religion and expression.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 13.05.15
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New Delhi, May 12: India has questioned the US on its domestic human rights record at the United Nations, including concerns over "civil liberties" and attacks against minorities, in a tit-for-tat response after Washington in recent weeks lectured New Delhi on freedoms of religion and expression.

"The deficiencies in law enforcement procedures and disproportionate use of force are areas of concern," Ajit Kumar, India's permanent representative at the UN in Geneva, said in a statement at the Human Rights Council's review of Washington's recent record last evening. "We also recommend that the US may consider establishing a national human rights institution."

The comment appeared to be aimed at highlighting India's National Human Rights Commission, which has no parallel in the US - though multiple federal bodies like a civil rights commission and an equal opportunities commission address sector-specific concerns in the US.

Keith Harper, the US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, had earlier presented Washington's own report, acknowledging concerns over racial bias in the US judicial system, and incidents of bias-motivated crimes, including "those committed against Hindus and Sikhs."

Kumar lauded the US "openness" in acknowledging these worries, but pointed out to Harper that the US remains an outlier on key global covenants India has signed and ratified.

These include the international conventions on economic, social and cultural rights (CESCR), rights of the child (CRC) and the elimination of discrimination against women (CEDAW).

"We encourage the US government to take adequate steps towards gender parity at workplace, protect women from all forms of violence and enhance opportunities in education and health for children from ethnic minorities," Kumar said.

India was one of the worst-hit victims of spying by the US National Security Agency according to revelations from documents made public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Kumar today asked the US delegation to "share more information" on what Washington was doing to ensure "respect for privacy and civil liberties."

New Delhi's response was cleared by both foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, senior officials have confirmed to The Telegraph.

The statement in Geneva comes amid growing signs of dissonance between India and the US over the freedoms of religion and expression, even as the bilateral relationship has sped ahead over the past few months.

Last week, the US ambassador in India, Richard Verma, warned that the Modi government's probes against global non-profit groups like the Ford Foundation and Greenpeace could have a "chilling effect" on India's civil society.

"I read with some concern the recent press reports on challenges faced by NGOs operating in India," Verma had said, speaking at the Ananta Aspen Centre, a New Delhi think-tank. "I do worry about the potentially chilling effects of these regulatory steps focused on NGOs."

On April 25, the US state department had also in a statement articulated "concern" over the investigation into the Ford Foundation's donations and asked India for a "clarification." US under secretary of state Wendy Sherman, on an end-April visit to India, also conveyed Washington's protest against the probes to foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

In January, US President Barack Obama had cautioned India that a deviation from the right to the freedom of religion enshrined in the Indian Constitution would backfire.

His comments, made in New Delhi during his visit as chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations, came in the backdrop of a series of attacks on churches, and attempts by Hindu nationalist groups to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism.

"India will succeed as long as it is not splintered along religious lines," Obama had said.

A week later, after returning to Washington, Obama said Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi would have been "shocked" at the religious intolerance that India has witnessed in recent years.

Modi has said he stands committed to protecting the rights of all communities, including religious minorities.