UN member states raise concerns about violence against minorities, hate speech, draconian laws during India’s UPR  

Even as India through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta staunchly defended these laws, several member states questioned India's track record on human rights

UN Member

Several United Nations member states, specifically the United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan and Ireland, on Thursday, November 10, recommended that India address critical human rights abuses, including violence against minorities, hate speech, shrinking civic spaces, and draconian legislations, caste-based discrimination. These interventions came during the 41st Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. 

The UPR is an annual process through which 1/5th of UN member states are reviewed by all other member states. States under review are presented with recommendations to improve their human rights record. The culmination of this process could be viewed online. 

On Thursday, November 10, the United States, Greece, Canada, South Korea, Japan, and Ireland stressed the threats faced by Indian minorities and called upon India to revise or discard discriminatory laws that target them. 

Michele Taylor, the US ambassador to UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), said that “discrimination against women and religious minorities persists” in India, and encouraged the Indian government to “strive towards democratic ideals” by revising the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA), and similar laws targeting activists, journalists, and minorities.  

The strongest comment on the freedom of religion came from Greece that called upon India to “ensure full implementation of freedom of religion”. Germany expressed concern about the rights situation in India and said, “Germany remains concerned about the rights of marginalised groups, especially religious minorities as well as women and girls.” Germany also said that the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act should not “unduly restrict” the “freedom of association” in India. The German representative called upon India to strengthen the National Human Rights Commission and said the discrimination against Dalits should end. 

Canada recommended that India “investigate all cases of religious violence, including against Muslims,” strengthen media freedom, and revise the UAPA. 

South Korea recommended that India prioritise the “protection of religious minorities and marginalised social groups” and “promote freedom of peaceful assembly.” 

Japan called on India to “end enforced disappearances,” referencing the rise in detentions of Kashmiri human rights defenders and civilians.    

Several other countries also made statements on India’s treatment of minority groups. Malaysia was the only country to specifically mention rising religious extremism among Indian Hindus, calling on India to “take concrete steps to eradicate extremist ideologies, [which] affects religious minorities.” 

Turkey specifically recommended that India “prevent persecution against Muslims,” making it one of the only countries to name India’s largest victim group. Ironically, Turkey’s own authoritarian regime under Erdogan has come in for consistent international flak.

 Czechia called on India to “repeal crimes of sedition and definition in line with international [standards] on freedom of speech, safeguard ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities, and protect journalists from arbitrary detentions, “especially in Jammu and Kashmir.” Similarly, Luxembourg also called for releasing human rights defenders in detention.  

The Holy See specifically recommended the prosecution of religious violence, referencing the rise in Hindu extremist violence against Muslims and Christians. Similarly, South Africa recommended that India hold accountable public officials who promote religious intolerance and hate speech, while Turkey and Norway called for combating hate speech in general.

Ireland and the Netherlands called for the review of anti-conversion laws, which are weaponized to promote violence against Indian Christians. Ireland also expressed concerns about the discriminatory nature of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Germany, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, the Marshall Islands, and Cameroon called India to address caste discrimination and enact protections for the marginalized Dalit community.

The United Kingdom, Germany, Brunei, Djibouti, Angola, Portugal, and Croatia also recommended that India increase protection FOR religious minorities in general.  

A number of other recommendations addressed draconian legislation and broader authoritarian trends under the Modi regime. 

The United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Greece, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Brazil, and Czechia all expressed concerns regarding freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the overall shrinking of civic spaces in India. 

Switzerland, Estonia, and Belgium joined the United States and Canada in calling for the UAPA to be revised or repealed. Belgium specifically mentioned that doing so would “ensure the right to freedom of expression.” 

South Korea, Germany, Slovakia, and Australia joined the United States in calling for the FCRA to be revised or repealed.  

India’s Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta — the head of the Indian delegation —for delivering an aggressive speech stating that while India respected human rights defenders and protected human rights for all, the Indian government, they “must follow the law.” Mehta’s official responde during the UPR process made headline news in the country on November 12. “Actions were taken against some organisations due to their illegal practices including malafide re-routing of money and wilful and continuing violations of extant legal provisions, foreign exchange management rules and tax law of India,” added Tushar Mehta in defence of India’s actions regarding the human rights defenders. Earlier, the member countries of the HRC made a number of observations touching upon Indian society and polity.


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