On human rights, why minister S Jaishankar is wrong

Human rights: Why External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is wrong

Indian Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar. Credit: Reuters Photo

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s statement at a session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the need to respect the principles of non-interference in internal affairs and national sovereignty while addressing human rights violations is more a message to the world to refrain from criticising India’s human rights record than an affirmation of the country’s sovereignty.

The minister’s words were obviously directed at other countries and organisations outside India at a time when India’s human rights record is increasingly coming under scrutiny. He also said that “violation of and gaps in implementation of human rights should be addressed in a fair and just manner, with objectivity, non-selectivity and transparency’’. The UNHRC has itself focussed attention on such issues, which would not have been to the government’s liking. Last week, special rapporteurs of the UNHRC had voiced concern that the constitutional changes made in Jammu and Kashmir could undermine minorities’ rights.

There is a deterioration of the human rights situation in India in the past few years. That is clear from the increasing attacks on the rights of minorities and on critics of the government, arrests and incarceration of people without following the due process, enactment and enforcement of draconian laws and other undemocratic measures. An atmosphere is even sought to be created in which words like human rights are considered bad and their advocates are mocked as human rights-wallahs and even dubbed "anti-nationals’’.

Jaishankar was making the same wrong point when he said that critics of India’s human rights violations are disrespecting the country’s sovereignty. Sovereignty cannot be used as a shield to deflect criticism. The very fact that there is a Universal Declaration of Human Rights and there are various UN conventions on them shows that countries cannot consider the human rights situation in their territory as solely their internal matter. India has itself expressed concern in the past over human rights violations in other countries. 

Jaishankar also said that terrorism is the most serious threat to humanity as it violates the right to life. While this is right, terrorism should not also be used as an excuse to deny or violate human rights. Very often, terrorism rises and grows from violation of human rights. Actions and decisions of the government and the laws of the country should conform to the best and universal standards. The claim of "sovereign prerogative’’ is a poor defence for flaws in them.

Jaishankar also said that India has “an inclusive and pluralistic society and a vibrant democracy and the Constitution has enshrined basic human rights as fundamental rights’’. But the minister’s case becomes weak when inclusiveness and pluralism come under strain and Constitutional principles are disregarded. It would then be difficult to stop the world from talking. 

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