Human Rights and India: Test Case for Universal Periodic Review


World Report 2018: India | Human Rights Watch


By Muhammad Haris       10 November 2022

India’s much-hyped self-proclaimed notion of ‘secularism’ only exists on paper. It is nothing more than mere hypocrisy to have a better soft image within the international community. Whereas, in reality, Hindutva is the phenomenon that has taken over Indian society. Minorities in general and Muslims, in particular, have been marginalized by this phenomenon. Especially, when it comes to human rights violations, freedom of speech, religious extremism, and more especially the human rights situation in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK) is a clear contradiction in what India claims to be, and what India is actually practicing.

India’s compliance with the obligations under international human rights laws is a subject of utmost deliberation. There have been various international reports, assessments, and studies of international organizations that have taken into account the human rights situation in India. Likewise, India’s track record is well known for its human rights violations in Kashmir. More specifically, considering the Indian ongoing atrocities in Kashmir, it has been involved in the systematic suppression of human rights in Kashmir. This has been revealed by various international organizations and human rights agencies in some of their recent studies and reports.

With the above background, a very recent, yet significant revelation has occurred on the occasion of the ongoing Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Human Rights, a process overseen by the United Nations Human Rights Council for the UN member states after a specific period.  In this review process, the track records of the member states of the UN are reviewed to assess the various steps they have taken to fulfil international human rights obligations. In the ongoing review process till 18th November 2022, the working group of the UPR will examine the Indian record for the fourth time, while the previous three reviews were held in 2008, 2012, and 2017 respectively.

Even though the review process has just started, India, in its compliance report has claimed that it is committed to promoting and protecting human rights as per the constitution. While the so-called ‘secular democracy’ of India allows civil and political rights, justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, and individual dignity.

However, negating this notion, almost 70 human rights organizations across the world have challenged this Indian position in their joint reports submitted to the council. These primarily include; Amnesty International, Action Aid Association, Christian Solidarity World Wide, Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, Human Rights Watch, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, International Commission of Jurists, Islamic Human Rights Commission, Kashmir Institute of International Relations and National Campaign Against Torture.

A very significant statement was given by Mr. Akar Pate who is the Chair of the Board of Amnesty International India, he maintained that “UN member states must demand accountability for India’s human rights record in upcoming UPR”.

It has been further revealed how India has been involved in human rights abuses. It has taken crackdowns on independent and democratic institutions and has used draconian sedition, counter-terrorism, and security laws to prosecute and harass human rights activists and also journalists. Apart from these, there have been increased attacks, discrimination, and hatred against religious minorities, specifically Muslims. These revelations raise serious concerns about the credibility of Indian claims of being a secular democracy where basic human rights are protected and pure democratic values are allowed to flourish.

It would be equally important to highlight what the international organizations have previously deliberated upon in this regard. Quite recently, in August 2022, as Human Rights Watch has reported, over the past three years, in Kashmir, media, civil society groups, and human rights activists have been subject to a crackdown under the pretext of counterterrorism and public safety laws. Another assessment in August 2022, titled ‘India Silencing Journalism and Human Rights in Kashmir’ carried out by a UK-based investigative firm, ‘Stock White Investigations’ (SWI) has also exposed such things. It highlighted how India has been involved in systematic violations of human rights in IIOJK. The study is based on documentation of 2000 testimonies of Kashmiris during 2020-21. Similarly, in September 2022, Amnesty International in its recent report also highlighted that India has been involved in the repression of the people of IIOJK and particularly the journalists working in the region. The title of Amnesty’s report ‘We are being Punished by the Law’ itself is both symbolic and significant in this regard. The report reveals that, since 2019, 180 journalists have been called and harassed at various police stations during trumped-up accusations and charges.

Regardless of whatever the deliberations about India would be made in UPR, and regardless of whether it gives India; a clean chit, or holds it accountable for its human rights track record (very less likely), the recent events and happenings have already revealed India’s actual face as far as the ‘secular India’ and the respect for basic human rights is concerned. The UPR will only contribute to adding the hypocrisy inherent and dual standards of the international community if it accepts the Indian position.

Muhammad Haris is an Islamabad-based researcher and policy analyst. He frequently writes on issues related to regional security with a special focus on contemporary South Asia.