Foreign Desk Report
NEW YORK: An Indian-American academician on Sunday has brushed aside India’s reasons for its recent tough action against Amnesty International, saying “ample evidence” existed that the government was in fact irritated by the international human rights body’s unfavourable reports on the situation in Indian occupied Kashmir, the recent New Delhi riots and the legislation adversely affecting Muslims.
On Sept. 29, Amnesty said it was forced to shut down its operations in India and lay off all staff after the Indian government froze its bank accounts.
The watchdog body said that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had targeted it for years in response to its work exposing human rights violations in India.
“Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government appear intent on squelching any independent scrutiny of India’s human rights problems,” Sumit Ganguly, a political science professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, wrote in an opinion piece in ‘Foreign Policy’, a prestigious US magazine.
“Images of Amnesty International closing its Indian offices may be shocking, but this is hardly the first time an Indian administration, faced with similar criticisms, reacted with hostility,” Prof. Ganguly wrote under the headline: The Death of Human Rights in India?
“For example,” he said, “at the height of the Kashmir insurgency in 1990, Narasimha Rao, then prime minister, was surely irritated by criticism of the Indian security forces’ harsh counterinsurgency tactics. Still, his actual efforts to limit the work of foreign human rights organizations in India was minimal.
“On the contrary, stung with repeated allegations of rampant human rights violations in Kashmir, his (Rao’s) government created the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to examine the charges. Initially dismissed as a public relations move, over time, the NHRC became more autonomous and powerful. “As he is faced with criticisms of his own, it is hard to imagine Modi setting up such a watchdog. Instead, he’s decided to bully Amnesty International.”
Prof. Ganguly wrote, “After New Delhi froze all its bank assets, the organization chose to suspend its activities in India. This was the fifth time it felt compelled to discontinue its operations in the country. The last time, before now, was in 2009, when its applications to be allowed to accept funds from abroad were repeatedly denied and it faced budget shortfalls.
“The global human rights organization has again come under pressure from the current government. In October 2018, one of India’s national anti-corruption organizations, the Enforcement Directorate, accused Amnesty of violating the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act and seized some of its bank accounts. “For now,” Prof. Ganguly wrote, “the Modi government’s intolerance of foreign institutions that question it is growing. “Unless a groundswell of opposition emerges from India’s increasingly beleaguered civil society, there’s little hope that Modi’s human rights record will improve.
“That’s especially true given that the Indian judiciary, long known for its independence, is increasingly submissive to Modi, too. If there is one small sign of hope, it is that the NHRC has issued a formal note to the home ministry asking it to clarify its grounds for freezing the financial assets of Amnesty International. Whether its elicits a meaningful response is doubtful.”
“At best,” he added, “if it (NHRC) persists with its inquiries it could put the government on notice that even a quasi-governmental body finds its actions questionable. And so, the Modi government may still continue to use its expansive and largely unfettered executive powers to shoot any messenger who dares bring it unwelcome news.”
Meanwhile, the escalating violence along the Line-of-Control in the disputed Kashmir region was highlighted in a detailed report in Newsweek, a leading American magazine.
“India and Pakistan’s deadly border fight has continued to rage on, threatening to destabilize South Asia as U.N. peacekeepers struggle to keep up with mounting casualties along the disputed boundary, while only able to operate on one side,” the widely-circulated weekly said. In a statement that Newsweek said was sent to it, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry charged India with some 2,387 ceasefire violations this year.
Islamabad also charged New Delhi with “the deplorable targeting of innocent civilians” linking them to the humanitarian situation in India-occupied Kashmir, which has been in an effective state of lockdown since last August, when a constitutional change removed its autonomy.”
The statement also urged India to allow the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) to operate on its side of the Line of Control. New Delhi has refused UNMOGIP’s mandate. But UNMOGIP, Newsweek said, presses on despite a challenging political and security environment. “The Mission investigates alleged ceasefire violations complaints in a timely fashion within the constraints of a difficult operating terrain,” a U.N. Peacekeeping spokesperson told Newsweek.”Only Pakistan has continued to lodge alleged ceasefire violation complaints with the Mission over the past years,” the spokesperson said.
India’s cooperation with UNMOGIP was further urged in a letter sent earlier this month by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to the U.N. Security Council, the report pointed out. The letter noted that the U.N. peacekeeping force’s mandate to monitor and enforce ceasefires along the Line of Control “is being severely constrained by the limited number of UN observers and India’s non-cooperation with UNMOGIP.”