Human Rights must be on the agenda!
November 5, 2004: The EU-India Summit to be held on November 8 in The Hague is supposed to be the starting point of an unprecedented strategic partnership between the EU and India. They will cooperate on trade, research, development, counter-terrorism, shipping, regional concerns, conflict resolution, the environment and space exploration. But will they mention human rights, or will that prove too sensitive a topic for these new best-of-friends?
In recent years, the EU's engagement with India has burgeoned in economic terms and failed in human rights terms. Human rights are supposed to be a cornerstone of the EU Foreign policy; however, the EU has reneged its responsibility to address human rights issues with India. "When the EU fails to raise human rights concerns with a vibrant Constitutional democracy it begs the question: what is India so sensitive about?" said Rikke Nöhrlind, IDSN Coordinator.
Despite India's high rate of economic growth, there is also a dark side to the subcontinent. The persistence of the caste system, which condemns an estimated 170 million Dalits (formerly called 'Untouchables') to a life of misery, deprivation and discrimination1; the rampant and unchecked use of torture by police; the impunity of those responsible for inter-religious massacres and crimes against humanity; the extensive definitions of anti-terrorism laws ; the restrictions imposed on human rights defenders and their lack of protection; bonded labour; violence against women; the re-application of the death penalty and massive levels of grinding poverty are some of the major human rights problems persisting in India. India has also failed to meet its requirements in the UN by failing to submit eight years worth of reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and thirteen years of reports to the Committee on economic, social and cultural rights; India is also neglecting to ratify the Convention against Torture.
These issues are very serious and demand urgent attention. Under the previous Hindu-nationalist government, discussion of such problems was a virtual taboo. Now there is a new government who have promised their own people they will work to address many of these issues. "The EU must now more than ever stand by its principle of human rights for all, and use every means in its power - including diplomacy, trade and aid - to encourage and assist India to meet these challenges", said Sidiki Kaba, President of the FIDH. The EU is not free of human rights concerns, and a frank and open dialogue on these matters between these two mega-democracies would be a welcome step towards meeting the promises of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"We call upon the Dutch Presidency of the EU to bring these issues into the open at the upcoming EU-India Summit and in subsequent meetings" concluded Eric Sottas, Director of the OMCT.
For further comment, contact:
Tim Gill, International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) - +32 472 354 059
Laetitia Sedou, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) - +32 496 158391
Antoine Madelin, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) - +32 485 222287
1 IDSN wishes to draw attention of the EU and the government of India to a recent report from the National Human Rights Commission in India. The "Report on Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes" documents the deeply entrenched patterns of discrimination and the growing number of atrocities. The report concludes that without political will the situation for Dalits will deteriorate even further. The report is available http://www.nhrc.nic.in/publication.htm.