CRS asks Congress to link US aid to India to human rights

India identified as “site of numerous human rights abuses,” by US, UN and some NGOs, says CRS

Accusing India of being the “site of numerous human rights abuses,” the Congressional Research Service (CRS) has suggested linking $117 million in US aid on improvements in human rights and civil liberties in India.

Nonpartisan CRS, which helps congressional committees and members of congress, made the recommendation in an Aug 23 report citing US government agencies, the United Nations, and some nongovernmental organizations.

These agencies had identified India “as the site of numerous human rights abuses, many of them significant, some seen as perpetrated by agents of both state and federal governments,” the report said.

Read: Edison mayor lambasts use of bulldozer at India Day Parade (August 24, 2022)

“The scope and scale of such abuses reportedly has increased under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, particularly since their convincing national reelection in 2019,” it said.

The report authored by K. Alan Kronstadt, specialist in South Asian Affairs, noted the Biden Administration had requested $117 million in foreign assistance to India for FY2023.

“Congress could consider whether or not to condition some or all of such aid on improvements in human rights and civil liberties in India,” it said formulating issues for Congress which has two resolutions on the subject before it.

In March 2021, the report noted the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a public letter to the US Secretary of Defense urging him to “raise democracy and human rights concerns” during travel to New Delhi, asserting that “the Indian government has been trending away from” democratic values.

S.Res. 609 introduced in May 2022, “recognizing widening threats to press freedom and free expression around the world—and taking note of retaliatory killings of journalists and internet blackouts in India—has garnered nine co-sponsors to date,” it noted. A similar bill, H.Res. 1095, also introduced in May, has garnered 16 co-sponsors to date.

H.Res. 1196 introduced in June 2022, “condemning human rights violations and violations of international religious freedom in India,” has garnered 11 co-sponsors to date, the report noted.

Many analyses, according to the CRS report, “also warn of democratic backsliding in India. For example, since 2019, the Sweden-based Varieties of Democracies project has classified India as “an electoral autocracy.”

Read: Indians exhibit extraordinary nationalist sentiment: Stimson Center (August 19, 2022)

In 2021, US-based nonprofit Freedom House re-designated India as “Partly Free,” contending that “Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism,” with negative implications for global democratic trends, it said.

The Indian government, CRS report noted had issued a “rebuttal” of the Freedom House conclusions, calling them “misleading, incorrect, and misplaced.”

The report also detailed its human rights concerns in the areas of religious freedom, press freedom, freedom of expression, civil society, corruption, human rights in Kashmir, women’s status and a host of other issues.

“US-based tech platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp face escalating pressure from the Indian government over the companies’ reluctance to comply with data and takedown requests, and video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon have come under scrutiny for content deemed controversial by Hindu nationalists and their allies in the Indian government,” CRS noted.

The State Department’s 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (HRRs), according to CRS, “also finds significant human rights issues in India included “credible reports of” unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; politically motivated imprisonments or detentions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; refoulement of refugees; and crimes involving violence and discrimination targeting members of minority groups based on social status or sexual orientation or gender identity.”

On human rights in Kashmir, CRS report cited the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR) as saying the 2019 changes in Jammu and Kashmir’s status from a state to its bifurcation into two Union territories “risk undermining minorities’ rights.”

The 2021 HRR states, “Journalists working in Jammu and Kashmir continued to face barriers to free reporting through communications and movement restrictions,” and notes reports that human rights monitors have been “restrained or harassed” by state agents there.

The State Department’s 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF) asserts that, “Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year” in India, CRS noted.

Read: US finds ‘significant human rights issues’ in India (March 31, 2021)

Since 2020, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that the Secretary of State designate India as a Country of Particular of Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act “due to the Indian government’s promotion of Hindu nationalism, and engagement and facilitation of systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

In March 2022, the HCHR expressed concern about “recent statements and actions expressing hatred and violence against religious minority communities” in India.

On press freedom, the 2021 HRRs states that, “while the Indian government generally respected press freedom in 2021, there were instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling,” CRS repot noted.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2022 Press Freedom Index ranks India 150th of 180 countries (just below Turkey; the United States is 42nd), down from 142nd in 2021 and continuing a six-year downward trend.

According to Freedom House, “attacks on press freedom have escalated dramatically under the Modi government,” with Indian authorities using various laws “to quiet critical voices in the media.”

According to the 2021 HRR, violations of online freedoms in 2021 included restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, censorship of online content, and reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, as well as “use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech.”

Access Now, a global digital rights group that calls internet shutdowns “dangerous acts of digital authoritarianism,” named India the “world’s largest offender” for the fourth consecutive year for blacking out the internet at least 106 times in 2021. In 2022, the group declared that, “Free expression is not safe in India.”

The 2021 HRR finds “overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operations of nongovernmental [NGOs] and civil society organizations” in India, as well as “government harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations.”

Read: US Congress mulls American aid to India on improvement in human rights (August 25, 2022)

The 2021 HRR contends that India suffers from “serious government corruption,” and, “Despite government efforts to address abuses and corruption, a lack of accountability for official misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity.”

The State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report places India in the “Tier 2” category, meaning its government “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so, CRS noted.

According to the 2021 HRR cited by CRS, there was a “lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence” in India in 2021. “Rape continued to be a persistent problem” and Dowry disputes and so-called honor killings also “remain serious problems.”

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