US state Department Report on Human Rights
- March 20, 2019, 12:58 pm
News:The US Department of State released its annual human rights country reports for 2018 Wednesday.
In an attempt to hold other countries accountable for their human rights records, the State Department publishes annual reports on countries around the world. The goal is to guarantee basic human rights including “freedoms of religion or belief, expression, peaceful assembly, and association” while avoiding gross violations like “extrajudicial killing, torture, and extended arbitrary detention.” The US along with the UN Commission of Human Rights recognize these basic global rights as set out in the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights for which india is a sihnatory member and has created institutions such as NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) to enforce protection of human rights in the country as per global standards.
In it’s India section of 'Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018', US State Department’s country report on human rights has drawn attention to human rights violations in J&K. The report says no prosecution of accused soldiers has been allowed for 28 years as armed forces special powers Act (AFSPA) has been in vogue in J&K. It also notes that around 145 civilians have been killed by government forces between July 2016 and April 2018. The report also blames militants for killing 20 civilians during the same period. Similarly, the report also highlights the havoc wrought by the use of pellet guns in the state. It cites the official figures, according to which 17 individuals have died from pellet gun injuries. It also quotes Mehbooba Mufti informing the state legislative assembly that pellet guns have injured 6,221 people in Kashmir between July 2016 and February 2017.
The report follows the one earlier released by the United Nations Human Rights Commission which documented human rights excesses in Kashmir based on the media and the other reports including those from the government agencies. The UN report spans the entire J&K including the part under Pakistan's administration. The UNHRC also proposed a Commission of Inquiry on the state.
New Delhi prefers to look at the situation in Kashmir through terror lens, as if it exists in a vacuum. There is no acknowledgement of the local factors underpinning it.
Now that the US State Department report has also highlighted the depressing state of human rights in the state, it is time that New Delhi pays heed. The situation in Kashmir has progressively worsened over the past five years. The period has witnessed a massive spike in killings.
The 2018 India report covers a range of issues including press and media freedoms, forced disappearances, custodial deaths and the NGO clampdown — which became an issue between the U.S. and India, after the NDA government cancelled licenses of some 15,000 NGOs under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act.
In terms of custodial deaths, the Report cites official (Indian) figures of 1,674 cases of such death between August 2017 and February 2018, with 1,530 occurring in judicial custody and 144 in police custody.
The report, in a separate section, Role of the Police and Security Apparatus , says, “Police continue to be underpaid, overworked, and subject to political pressure, in some cases contributing to corruption.with zero accountability”
The report however also adds that, “Non-governmental forces, including organized insurgents and terrorists, committed numerous killings and bombings in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the northeastern States, and Maoist-affected areas.” Maoists in Jharkhand and Bihar continued to attack security forces and key infrastructure facilities such as roads, railways, and communication towers,” it said.
Taking note of undertrials, the report, based on National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data, says just over 2,93,000 individuals were awaiting trial at the end of 2016. It also cites a 2017 Amnesty International report saying that Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis comprised a disproportionate number (53%) of pre-trial detainees,
Regarding press freedom and the safety of journalists, the report says , “There were numerous instances of journalists and members of media being threatened or killed in response to their reporting. Police rarely identified suspects involved in the killing of journalists.” It cites a 2017 Press Council of India report saying at least 80 journalists were killed since 1990 but only one conviction had occurred thus far.
In terms of editorial freedoms, the report says, “The Editors Guild of India claimed the government limited press freedom by exerting political pressure and blocking television transmissions.” It cited the firing of The Tribune’s Editor-in-Chief Harish Khare after reported government pressure on the newspaper following its report on privacy and security flaws in the Aadhaar program.
The report quotes the 2018 World Press Freedom Index as saying online trolling and attacks on journalists was a major issue. “With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify and even threaten physical reprisals,” the report said.
The report draws particular attention to the trolling of women, saying, “Online and mobile harassment was especially prevalent…journalists were threatened with violence and, in the case of female journalists, rape.”The government also made an increasing number of requests for data from internet companies as per the report. 22,024 requests were made in 2017, according to Facebook data, a 61.7% rise from 2016.
The Central Monitoring System (CMS) of the government, could, without informing the subject or a judge, monitor electronic communication in real time, the report says.
The catalogue of human rights abuse in India also included use of child soldiers by insurgent groups who used the to attack government entities. States like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Jammu Kashmir were listed as places where children are being recruited through “lottery system” by insurgent and militant outfits. The document stated that the Maoists were known to have employed children as young as 12 as soldiers.
The report said that Indian police has continued to arrest citizens arbitrarily violating the law of the land. prosecute social media speech and site blocking continued during 2018.
"Human rights issues (in India) included reports of arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; rape in police custody; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; and reports of political prisoners in certain states," the report stated.
The other major issues of human rights violations included widespread corruption, lack of criminal investigations or accountability for cases related to rape, domestic violence, dowry-related deaths and honour killings, it said.The report also noted that violence and discrimination based on religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity and caste or tribe, including indigenous persons, also occurred.Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, shortage of trained police officers and an overburdened and under-resourced court system contributed to a small number of convictions, it ruled."There were also reports of extremists perpetrating acts of killing, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government," the report said.
Far from helping in enforcing the calm, this militaristic approach to Kashmir has only fanned the trouble. It is thus important that New Delhi takes a constructive view of the US and the earlier UN report and takes visible steps to improve the human rights situation in the state. Simultaneously, New Delhi also needs to work to engage with the root cause and resolve it rather than blaming the report or being a critic of it