US finds ‘significant human rights issues’ in India

Antony Blinken
Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken; photo credit: U.S. Department of State

Despite New Delhi’s efforts to address abuses, lack of accountability persists, says 2020 Human Rights Report.

Citing a litany of “significant human rights issues” in India, US State Department says despite government efforts to address abuses, a lack of accountability for official misconduct persisted at all levels, contributing to widespread impunity.

Though civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, members of the security forces committed some abuses, says the Department’s 2020 Human Rights Report rolled out by Secretary of State Antony Blinken Tuesday.

Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and under-resourced court system contributed to a low number of convictions, it said.

“Some governments used the Covid-19 crisis as a pretext to restrict rights and consolidate authoritarian rule,” said Blinken in his preface to the report covering nearly 200 countries.

READ: US State Department report slams India over human rights violations (April 3, 2017)

“Other governments relied on democratic values and processes, including a free press, transparency, and accountability, to inform and protect their citizens,” he sad.

In the case of India, during the Covid-19 national lockdown from March 25 to April 30, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) compiled a list of 15 fatalities that included deaths from excessive police action such as canings and beatings.

Significant human rights issues in India cited by the report included unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings perpetrated by police, torture or degrading treatment or punishment by some police and prison officials.

There were also arbitrary arrests and detention by government authorities, harsh and life- threatening prison conditions and political prisoners or detainees in certain states, it says.

The report also cited restrictions on freedom of expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech, censorship, and site blocking.

Overly restrictive rules on nongovernmental organizations; restrictions on political participation; widespread corruption at all levels in the government; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women were among other issues listed.

The report also spoke of tolerance of violations of religious freedom; crimes involving violence and discrimination targeting members of minority groups including women based on religious affiliation or social status ; and forced and compulsory child labor, as well as bonded labor.

Separatist insurgents and terrorists in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeast, and Maoist-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians, and recruitment and use of child soldiers, the report noted.

The Indian government continued taking steps to restore normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir by gradually lifting some security and communications restrictions, it said.

The government released most political activists from detention and in January the government partially restored internet access, the report noted. However, high-speed 4G mobile internet remained restricted in most parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

The government also began a process to redraw electoral constituencies but did not announce a timeline for local assembly elections, the report noted.

Local district development council elections took place in December in which a coalition of Kashmiri opposition parties won the majority of seats.

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and insurgents.

Reports of custodial death cases, in which prisoners or detainees were killed or died in police and judicial custody, continued, it said. In June the National Campaign against Torture reported the deaths of 125 persons in police custody in 2019.

The report stated 74 percent of the deaths were due to alleged torture or foul play, while 19 percent occurred under suspicious circumstances.

Of the 125 deaths in police custody, Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number at 14, followed by Tamil Nadu and Punjab with 11 deaths each, the State Department said.

The 125 deaths in police custody documented by the National Campaign against Torture in 2019 included 13 victims from Dalit and tribal communities and 15 Muslims.

In August the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) released the Prison Statistics of India (PSI) 2019 report, which documented 1,775 inmate deaths under judicial custody in 2019.

Killings by government and nongovernment forces, including insurgents and terrorists, were reported in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist- affected areas of the country.

The South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) reported the deaths of 63 civilians, 89 security force members, and 284 insurgents countrywide as a result of terrorism or insurgency attacks.

The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) reported 229 killings in 107 incidents in the first six months of the year. JKCCS also reported 32 extrajudicial killings in the first half of the year in Jammu and Kashmir.

The SATP reported terrorist attacks resulted in the death of 99 civilians, 106 security force members, and 383 terrorists or insurgents during the year; this was the lowest numbers of civilians killed since the SATP began reporting this data in 2000.

As of July terrorists killed six political party leaders in Jammu and Kashmir. There were allegations of enforced disappearance by the Jammu and Kashmir police, the State Department said.

Although authorities denied these charges and claimed no enforced disappearances had occurred since 2015, the International Federation for Human Rights reported that cases of enforced disappearances continued through 2019.

The Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission ordered an investigation of enforced disappearances in 2018.

There were reports of security forces acting with impunity although members were also held accountable for illegal actions. In December the Indian Army indicted an officer and two others of extrajudicial killings in Jammu and Kashmir.

Prisons in Uttar Pradesh reported the highest overcrowding in the country with an occupancy rate of 168 percent, followed by Uttarakhand at 159 percent, and Meghalaya at 157 percent.

India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) along with a plan to implement a nationwide counting of residents (the National Population Register) triggered widespread protests in several parts of the country in December 2019 and January 2020, the report noted.

This was so “especially because of rumors of the government’s interest to subsequently conduct a National Register of Citizens nationwide to count citizens, similar to the process in Assam,” it said.

According to media reports cited by the State Department, student-led protests occurred in at least 29 major universities and colleges.

The government undertook a large security response, including at three major universities: Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, it said.

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