EU/India: The EU must break its silence on India’s human rights record

Original article here.

Ahead of the informal meeting of the European Union (EU) Foreign Ministers in Slovenia in September, Amnesty International, Civicus, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), wrote an open letter to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission Josep Borrell to express their grave concerns about the continued reticence from the EU and its member states in effectively engaging India on human rights. In light of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, the organizations urge the EU and its member states to fundamentally revise their strategy toward relations with India and engage with India on human rights.

The statement said:

Dear High Representative Borrell,
THE EU MUST BREAK ITS SILENCE ON INDIA’S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD

Ahead of the informal meeting of European Union (EU) Foreign Ministers in Slovenia in September,
Amnesty International, Civicus, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation for
Human Rights (FIDH), and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), are writing to express our
grave concerns about the continued reticence from the EU and its member states in effectively
engaging India on human rights. In light of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, we
urge the EU and its member states to fundamentally revise their strategy toward relations with India.
The increasing use of draconian laws and ill-intentioned use of government agencies to target
dissenting individuals and organizations have resulted in the silencing of civil society in India. The
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has highlighted how the space
for human rights defenders in India is progressively shrinking, including through use of vaguelyworded laws and arrests of activists under terrorism and sedition laws for exercising their rights to
freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.


As countries worldwide strategize to move forward from the Covid-19 crisis and respond to a shifting
geopolitical landscape, they must bear in mind the heavy cost of neglecting human rights. It is
imperative to translate the EU’s longstanding commitment to human rights and a rules-based
multilateral order – and repeated statements of shared commitment to human rights – into tangible
and actionable dialogue.

As the EU finalizes its Indo-Pacific strategy, it cannot afford to hold different standards for engaging
on human rights in Asia. Coherence will be central to a credible values-based EU foreign policy that
creates impact on the global human rights agenda and sends truly unequivocal signals of support to
those defending human rights in India and worldwide.

While focusing on strengthening trade and economic ties with India, the European Union and its
member states have been reluctant to formulate public expressions of concern on human rights in
India, with the exception of occasional statements focused solely on the death penalty. We must also
reiterate here that media and social media messages are welcome yet cannot replace the significance
and impact of an official, public statement at crucial moments as recently when the 84-year-old human
rights defender Father Stan Swamy died in custody after months of concern about his ill health, lack
of access to medical care, denial of bail and exposure to COVID-19.

The EU and its member states play a crucial role in engaging India on human rights as a key like-minded
partner in Asia. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council, India has
committed to uphold the highest standards in the protection and promotion of human rights. EU
engagement with India must fully reflect these expectations through robust human rights benchmarks
and calls for accountability.

Silence in this area of EU-India relations only risks strengthening impunity and accelerating the
backsliding of India’s record of upholding human rights. Box ticking exercises like the last local human rights dialogue with India or empty references to allegedly “shared values of human rights and
democracy” do little to course correct the EU’s long silence on critical issues.

In line with the EU’s recently renewed pledge to speak up and take action whenever and wherever
human rights abuses occur, we call on you to engage the Indian government to:


• Take immediate measures to end all forms of targeted attacks, arbitrary arrest and harassment
of civil society actors, including human rights defenders, human rights lawyers, journalists,
peaceful protesters and those who continue to be jailed without trial during the COVID-19
pandemic
• End the use of repressive laws to crack down on civil society and amend or repeal laws in line
with international human rights law, including the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA),
Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), Section 124A on Sedition in the Indian Penal Code,
National Security Act, and Jammu and Kashmir Public Security Act (PSA)
• Commit publicly to respecting and protecting the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful
assembly and association, in line with guarantees in the Indian Constitution and its obligations
under international human rights law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, including in Jammu and Kashmir.
• Immediately put an end to the harassment and unfreeze the accounts of all human rights
organisations, including Amnesty International India, so that it can resume its work and meet its
financial commitments to its staff that has been now due for almost a year. Likewise, ensure civil
society can carry out their human rights work freely and without fear of reprisal.

At this crucial moment, EU Foreign Ministers must ensure concrete human rights deliverables as an
outcome of their conversations with their Indian counterpart. They must also immediately join the
efforts of India and South Africa-led TRIPS Waiver proposal at the World Trade Organization to save
countless lives. The TRIPS waiver is critical to combating the COVID-19 pandemic with speed, scale and
an equitable distribution of vaccines as the demand has surpassed supply in many places around the
world as the lives and health of millions hang in the balance.

We look very much forward to seeing the EU and its member states find a unified voice and robustly
engage with India on human rights at the Gymnich meeting and beyond.

Yours sincerely,
Amnesty International
Civicus
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the
Protection of Human Rights Defenders
International Commission of Jurists
OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the
Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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