By filing a brief as an amicus curiae, or third-party “friend of the court”, over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the Supreme Court of India, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHRC), has impinged on India’s sovereignty, which deserved to be condemned at all costs.
By such a thoughtless act, Michelle Bachelet has exposed her ignorance about the meaning and implication of “sovereignty” in international law, that is, sovereignty is the exercise of power by a state. It implies non-interference from outside sources or bodies. Ipso facto, UNHCR has no moral right to file a case in Supreme Court against Indian State.
So also, Ms Bachelet has shown rank partisanship in decision making. Why is she shielding human rights violations in Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and other Muslim Countries? Why her special attention on the CAA and not on stone-pelting mobs on police against CAA?
Ms Bachelet said she was concerned about reports of “police inaction in the face of attacks against Muslims by other groups”. And last month, during her regular update to the UN Human Rights Council, she said the CAA was “of great concern”, adding that “Indians in huge numbers, and from all communities, have expressed – in a mostly peaceful manner – their opposition to the Act, and support for the country’s long tradition of secularism”.
How myopic or stupid is Ms Bachelet to overlook human rights violations in Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia among many other Muslim countries? 24x365 human rights to include: Record number of executions; Discrimination of religious minorities, both Muslim and non-Muslim like attacks on Shiite mosques and Ahmadiyya’s, churches and Hindu Temples and killing of worshippers; violent abuse of women and forced conversions and marriages of girls to Muslim men and so on.
Quite obviously, Ms Bachelet is dancing to the tune of the members of the die-hard and rabid Muslim nations like Pakistan. Otherwise, why is she not filing similar cases in other Muslim nations where large scale gruesome atrocities and human rights violations are reported on a daily basis? Why her single-minded focus on India, where the human rights violations pale into insignificance compared to nations like Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and other Muslim nations? Amnesty International recorded at least 690 executions in 20 countries in 2018, with most executions in China (690), Iran (253) - in that order.
Rightly so, Raveesh Kumar, the Indian foreign ministry’s spokesperson, has unequivocally given the right response that the CAA was “an internal matter of India and concerns the sovereign right of the Indian Parliament to make laws”. “We strongly believe that no foreign party has any locus standi on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty,” he said.
On expected lines, Imran Khan of Pakistan attempted to use the “Delhi Riots” for diplomatic leverage, urging the world community to intervene to protect Indian Muslims. In a series of tweets, Imran Khan said the ideology of the RSS was “racist” and “based on hatred.”
Add to it, the tweet of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini: “The hearts of Muslims all over the world are grieving over the massacre of Muslims in India. The Government of India should confront extremist Hindus and their parties to stop the massacre of Muslims in order to prevent India’s isolation from the world of Islam”. His foreign minister Javed Zarif had called on the Indian government to “not let senseless thuggery prevail” after deploring “organised violence against Indian Muslims”.
Even the Turkish president stated “India had become a country where massacres of Muslims are widespread and perpetrated by Hindus.” Even the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation had condemned the Delhi riots and mentioned that the destruction of property had chiefly targeted Muslims.
Meanwhile, the Islamic world is divided. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates value India’s energy market; Pakistan hasn’t received much support from the Islamic world.
Not surprisingly in UK, the Labor Party accused India of behaving “like a state with no regard for human rights and the rule of law or the freedom of religion”. Its shadow foreign office minister Khalid Mahmood described the CAA as “enabling documented migrants from neighboring countries to seek Indian citizenship provided they meet one condition – they’re not Muslim”.
Absurdly, even the UK foreign office minister Nigel Adams said “monitoring closely developments in India, saying that the events in Delhi were very concerning and the situation is still tense”. He later told a press conference that handling the riots was “up to India”.
Asked by reporters, President Donald Trump said “the protests were India’s internal issue.” In a cautious statement, the top US diplomat for South Asia urged India to respect the right to peaceful assembly and called on all sides to refrain from violence after sectarian riots in Delhi killed at least 33 people. “We echo (Modi’s) call for calm and normalcy and urge all parties to maintain peace, refrain from violence and respect the right of peaceful assembly,” Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells wrote on Twitter.
Naturally, the Ministry of External Affairs summoned the Ambassadors of Turkey and Iran and strongly objected to the statements made by their respective leaders. India also hit out at the UKs foreign minister Nigel Adams for making similar comments that it deemed “irresponsible”.
The MEA spokesperson responses included: “selective and tendentious characterisation of recent events in Delhi are not acceptable”. “We do not expect such comments from a country like Iran”; “comments by the Turkish President Erdogan are factually inaccurate and are driven by his political agenda. We do not expect such irresponsible statements from a Head of State”; and UK’s junior foreign minister Nigel Adams for their “irresponsible” comments over violence in Delhi when it is going through a “sensitive time”.
Harish Salve, eminent Constitutional expert, has emphatically justified the CAA that “Classification on the basis of religion is not per se unconstitutional – our Constitution confers special rights upon members of minority religious communities in India….. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held the court cannot interfere simply because other methods are also possible, even if the court thinks that they are better for India and the government must be left to determine which of many possible schemes the best are. Do we really need proof that minorities are persecuted in these Islamic countries? How can Parliament be faulted for coming to a conclusion that such minorities in the three named neighbours need to be protected?”
Also Harish Salve clarified “The principle of equality does not mean that every law must have universal application. The principle of equality does not take away from the state the power of making classifications. …….The loudest criticism relates to the supposed intention of the government to throw all Muslims out of India. There is no law, rule or notification published – or even a draft circulated – that would suggest that the government has any such intent. The Prime Minister has denied it.”
Let me review the continuing fraud of human rights perpetrated by Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, and Malaysia among many other Muslim countries, who have criticised India over human rights violations, to introspect about violations in their own domestic backyards – recorded in Human Rights Watch.
For example, Human Rights Watch has recorded a number of human rights violation in Pakistan to include: more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, one of the world’s largest populations facing execution and large number of executions on annual basis on the basis Islamic Sharia. Discrimination of religious minorities, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and persecution. Attacks on Shiite mosques, churches and Hindu temples and killing of worshippers are quite frequently reported. The members of the Ahmadiyya’s faith cannot propagate, profess or practise their religion openly. Forced conversions and marriages of Hindu girls to Muslim men continue, particularly in Sindh.
Furthermore, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the NGO, has documented killings of suspects in Sindh to include Karachi, Baluchistan, and KPK. Enforced disappearances continue with impunity. Bodies are found bearing apparent bullet wounds and torture marks. More than one million people remained displaced as a result of the current and past armed conflict in the northwest.
Iran too discriminates against other religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims, and restricts cultural and political activities among Azeri, Kurdish, Arab, and Baloch ethnic minorities, besides Dervish, Baha, Christians, and others. Iin May 2018, revolutionary courts sentenced at least 208 members of Dervish religious minority to prison and other punishments in trials that violate their basic rights. At least 79 Baha’is were held in Iran’s prisons as of November 2018. As of September 30, Iran has sentenced 37 Christians who converted from Muslim backgrounds to imprisonment for “missionary work.”
Also, Iran has systematically violated the rights of citizens to peaceful assembly and free expression, arbitrarily arresting thousands of protesters. According to rights groups, Iran executed at least 225 as of November 9, compared to 507 in 2017. Between 15 and 19 Nov 2019, Iran’s security forces unlawfully resorted to lethal force to crush nationwide protests, killing 300 protestors and bystanders. According to Alireza Rahimi, a parliamentarian, authorities arrested 4,900 people, including 150 university students, during the December and January protests.
Add to it, freedom of expression is the worst fraud in Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill allows the government to censor online content and access internet users’ data. Out of fear of reprisals by the Army and armed groups, Journalists and media channels exercise self-censorship. Quite a few media workers have been killed and many injured in connection with their work.
In Iran, the Tehran’s Culture and Media Court ordered all internet service providers to block access to the popular messaging application of Telegram, which has more than 40 million Iranians users in 2018. Face book and Twitter remain blocked.
Turkey continues to block websites and order the removal of online content while thousands of people in Turkey face criminal investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for their social media posts. An estimated 119 journalists and media workers are in pretrial detention or serving sentences for offences such as “spreading terrorist propaganda” and “membership of a terrorist organisation.” Most media, including television, conforms to the Erdogan political line. Journalists working for Kurdish media continue to be disproportionately targeted. Wikipedia remains blocked in Turkey since April 2017.
The targeting of human rights defenders, academics and lawyers focused on human rights is quite a regular feature. Civic leader Osman Kavala. has been held in pre-trial detention since November 2017. The trial of nine prominent rights defenders from Turkey and two foreign nationals continued. The Constitutional Court ruling has led to the acquittal of 822 academics. There has been no effective investigation to date into the fatal shooting on November 28, 2015 of human rights lawyer Tahir Elçi.
In Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, all international NGOs must register and obtain permission for carrying out activities. Their governments monitor their funds and operations and close them down on the basis of activities considered to be against their interests. Their government continues to muzzle dissenting voices in NGOs and media on the pretext of national security. Militants and interest groups also threaten freedom of expression through threats and violence.
So also, violence against women and girls—including rape, so-called honour killings, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriages—remains a serious problem in Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. Pakistani activists estimate that there are about 1,000 “honour” killings every year. Violence against transgender and intersex women in Pakistan continues. Iranian women face discrimination in personal status matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. A married woman may not obtain a passport or travel outside the country without the written permission of her husband.
In June, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released the first-ever report by the United Nations on human rights in Kashmir. The report noted that human rights abuses in Pakistani Kashmir were of a “different caliber or magnitude” to those in Indian Kashmir and included misuse of anti-terrorism laws to target dissent, and restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, peaceful assembly, and association.
The Pakistani government rejected a large number of key recommendations of UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted the outcome of Pakistan’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which was conducted in November 2017.
The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey for thousands of human rights abuses. As of July 2019, Turkey’s Ministry of Justice figures stated that 69,259 people were on trial and 155,560 people still under criminal investigation on terrorism charges in cases linked to the Gülen movement, which Turkey’s government terms the Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ) and deems a terrorist organisation. An estimated 8,500 people—including elected politicians and journalists—are held in prison on remand or following conviction for alleged links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
A rise in allegations of torture, ill-treatment and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment in police custody and prison over the past four years has set back Turkey’s earlier progress in this area. Those targeted include Kurds, leftists, and alleged followers of Fethullah Gülen. Prosecutors do not conduct meaningful investigations into such allegations and there is a pervasive culture of impunity for members of the security forces and public officials implicated.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has conducted two visits to detention places in Turkey since the coup attempt, one in May 2019, though the Turkish government has not given permission for reports from either visit to be published.
Turkey failed to comply with a 2018 ECtHR ruling ordering the release of former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş and appealed to the Court’s Grand Chamber. Three days after the September Grand Chamber hearing, President Erdoğan stated that he would not let Demirtaş or his co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ out of prison. The ECtHR is expected to give its ruling in the first half of 2020.
Viewed in the above background of gruesome violations of human rights committed in Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and other Muslim nations, their criticism concerning India’s CAA and Delhi riots must be dismissed outright. .
Not only their governments have been committing gruesome cruelties on their political rivals but they have been quelling protests, banning NGOs, muzzling media voices and treating women as second class citizens denying legal rights as per international law commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights “to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being,” and which are “inherent in all human beings” regardless of their nation, location, language, religion, ethnic origin or any other status.
In sum, the Supreme Court of India must dismiss Ms Bachelet and the UNHCRs brief as an amicus curiae, or third-party “friend of the court” by passing a scathing indictment and verdict of interference in the sovereign affairs of Indian State and to set its house in order by initiating appropriate actions against those Muslim nations where human rights violations occur with impunity particularly against women and media.
(The writer is a security and strategic analyst)