Indo-Asian News ServiceWashington, March 7, 2007
The United States says the Indian government generally respected the rights of its citizens but still faced “numerous serious problems” like extra-judicial killings of persons in custody, disappearances, torture and rape by police and security forces. It also acknowledged lapses in its own handling of terror suspects.
“While the civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were frequent instances in which some elements acted independently of government authority,” said the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices released here on Tuesday.
Unusually, the Congressionally mandated annual report card of 196 countries acknowledged that the United States, too, had fallen short of international standards in its handling of terrorist suspects. “Our democratic system of government is not infallible, but it is accountable,” it said.
Barry Lowenkron, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour matters, admitted “that we are issuing this report at a time when our own record, and actions we have taken to respond to the terrorist attacks against us, have been questioned. We will continue to respond to the concerns of others.”
Amnesty International welcomed Washington’s new candour, but its executive director for US, Larry Cox, said that, “until the United States changes its own policies of holding detainees indefinitely, in secret prisons and without basic rights, it cannot credibly be viewed as a world human rights leader.”
Suggesting that US Foreign policy hinders human rights work around the world, he said that if the Bush administration persists in allowing other considerations to trump human rights concerns, the real-world impact of these reports will be greatly diminished.”
“There are many countries listed in these reports that have questionable human rights records, including Turkey, India, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia,” said Cox.
With the release of this year’s reports, Americans are “recommitting ourselves to stand with those courageous men and women who struggle for their freedom and their rights,” Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said.
“And we are recommitting ourselves to call every government to account that still treats the basic rights of its citizens as options rather than, in President Bush’s words, the non-negotiable demands of human dignity,” she said.
In the case of India, the State Department report noted that it is a longstanding and stable multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament and a population of approximately 1.1 billion. Manmohan Singh, it noted was named prime minister following his Congress Party-led coalition’s victory in the 2004 general elections, which were considered free and fair, despite scattered episodes of violence.
But, the report said serious internal conflicts affected the state of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as several states in the northeast. The Naxalite conflict affected Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and eastern Maharashtra.
The lack of accountability permeated the government and security forces, creating an atmosphere in which human rights violations often went unpunished. Although the country has numerous laws protecting human rights, enforcement was lax and convictions were rare, it said.
Poor prison conditions, lengthy pre-trial detention without charge, and prolonged detentions while undergoing trial remained significant problems.
Government officials used special antiterrorism legislation to justify the excessive use of force while combating terrorism and active, violent insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and several northeastern states, the report said.
Security force officials who committed human rights abuses generally enjoyed de facto impunity, although there were investigations into individual abuse cases as well as punishment of some perpetrators by the court system.
Corruption was endemic in the government and police forces, and the government made little attempt to combat the problem, except for a few instances highlighted by the media, it said.
The government continued to apply restrictions to the travel and activities of visiting experts and scholars, the report said.
Attacks against religious minorities and the promulgation of antireligious conversion laws were concerns. Social acceptance of caste-based discrimination remained a problem, and for many, validated human rights violations against persons belonging to lower castes.
Domestic violence and abuses against women such as dowry-related deaths, honour crimes, female infanticide and feticide, and trafficking in persons remained significant problems. Exploitation of indentured, bonded, and child labour were ongoing problems.
Separatist guerrillas and terrorists in Kashmir, the northeast, and the Naxalite belt committed numerous serious abuses, including killing armed forces personnel, police, government officials, judges, and civilians.
Insurgents also engaged in widespread torture, rape, and other forms of violence, including beheadings, kidnapping, and extortion.
In June 2005 the government passed the Right to Information Act (RTI), mandating stringent penalties for failure to provide information or affecting its flow, and requiring agencies to self-reveal sensitive information. The implementation of the act marked a departure from the culture of secrecy that traditionally surrounded the government’s rule making, the report said.