Saturday, 26 June 2010

Press: India’s relations with Myanmar fail to address human rights concerns

Amnesty International calls on the Government of India as a regional leader, to use its influence to improve the human rights situation in Myanmar in advance of the upcoming elections.

With Myanmar’s first elections in two decades approaching, the three freedoms - of expression, association and peaceful assembly - essential for people to freely participate in the political process, are increasingly being denied. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is one of some 2,200 political prisoners in Myanmar. None of them will be able to participate in this year’s elections under new election laws - laws that the Indian government has failed to condemn.

The Government of India claims to follow a ‘constructive’ approach in promoting human rights improvements in Myanmar. However, its response to the dire state of human rights in the country has been increasingly inadequate.

By disassociating itself from the recent critical resolution on Myanmar’s terrible human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council, while issuing the anodyne call for elections to be ‘inclusive and broad based’, the Government of India has ignored the reality on the ground the resolution looked to address.

Political repression is also occurring against a backdrop of widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Myanmar army in its campaign against ethnic minorities.

While India suspended most shipments of military hardware to Myanmar in late 2006, it has reportedly considering a resumption of its arms sales. Its opposition to a global arms embargo on Myanmar makes its reluctance to support wider sanctions, supposedly based on the harm they would do to the wider population, disingenuous. Amnesty International calls on the Government of India to maintain its current suspension of military transfers to Myanmar.

Myanmar’s other neighbours have in some crucial instances taken a stronger stance than India. Singaporean Foreign Minister, George Yeo, in a statement after the ASEAN Summit on 9 April 2010, complained of the obstacles ASEAN faces in acting on Myanmar due to the stances of both India and China. In October 2007 during the popular protests against the Myanmar government, ASEAN - chaired then by Singapore - expressed “revulsion” at the brutal crackdown. India expressed only “concern”.

In May 2008 after the devastating Cyclone Nargis, many in the international community, including China and ASEAN, raised the Myanmar government’s failure to assist the 2.5 million survivors. India instead ‘saluted’ the people and government for their resilience and called for the aid process to be ‘apolitical’, ignoring the fact that Myanmar’s leaders had already politicised aid by blocking much-needed assistance.

India’s role in the “Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar” at the UN is a small step in the right direction but much more is needed. To participate in the group but to be silent unilaterally at best weakens India’s ability to help effect positive change in Myanmar, and at worst sends a mixed message that could be interpreted as tacit endorsement of the human rights violations taking place.

The numerous human rights violations documented by Amnesty International and many others during periods of heightened political dissent in Myanmar indicate the need to focus on upholding human rights during the upcoming election period.

As the Myanmar elections approach Amnesty International urges the Government of India to publicly call for the three freedoms - of expression, association and peaceful assembly - to be guaranteed throughout the election period. This is the time to show true human rights leadership as befits a key regional player – and not the time for silence.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The Indian List

Amnesty International India prepared a list of top 10 things to know about India's human rights record over the past year. While not everything on this list unpleasant, it's shocking how little we've moved forward and how eager we are to fall back. I have highlighted the negative ones in red and the positive ones in blue and I have linked my notes where ever applicable. Take a look at our performance for yourself, and don't be afraid to raise your voice!

Top 10 Things about India's human rights record in the past year,

1. Atleast 50 ppl were sentenced to death but for the 5th successive year there were no executions.

2. Around 40,000 adivasis remain internally displaced by the ongoing conflict between the Maoists and the state in Chhattisgarh. [The Red Witch Hunt]

3. The International Peoples Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian administered Kashmir published a report documenting unmarked graves of more than 2,900 people who allegedly disappeared during the Kashmir conflict.

4. Authorities refused to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958. UN says it allows security forces to shoot to kill even when they are not at imminent risk. [Irom Sharmila - The Unsung Hero]

5. 25 yrs after the Bhopal gas tragedy, authorities repeatedly failed to deliver on promises to survivors and families. [An Air Of Arrogance]

6. Perpetrators of human rights violations in Punjab between 1984 and '94 and Assam between 1998 and 2001 continue to evade justice.

7. Most of those responsible for the attacks on Muslim minorities in 2002 in Gujarat were not brought to justice. [Racial Prejudice v/s Racism]

8. In some cases adivasis were threatened with eviction from lands defined as exclusively theirs by the Indian constitution.

9. Nearly 15,000 people, mostly Christians, were displaced in 2008 in Orissa following violence by hundreds of Hindu nationalist organisations.
. [How Many Rams?]

10. In a historic decision the Delhi High Court deemed Section 377, criminalizing homosexuality, discriminatory and "against constitutional morality."


Thursday, 3 June 2010

Losing Dignity

Amnesty has been running a campaign against poverty called 'Demand Dignity'.

Their supporting rationale being, Human Rights = Less Poverty.

The 3 major areas of focus in this campaign are,
1. Slums: Right to adequate housing, security, access to basic services & protection from forced eviction.
2. Maternal Mortality: Right to safe motherhood, indiscriminating access to obstetric services, political/legal/practical/local accountability & addressing the problems of poor women.
3. Corporate Accountability: CSR guidelines, human right safeguards and transparency & listening to local communities.

While the above list is very comprehensive and socially directed, I would like to first bring to your attention the evils of poverty in my country, India. Starvation.

Poverty has plagued India in form of starvation, with India as the 24th malnourished country in the world*. 24th isn't so bad you may say; Well, tell that to 50 million Indians going to bed hungry, not that they have a bed to sleep in or adequate housing or any kind of security. This is, of course, contrary to the food production statistics and the over flowing granaries which tell a different story.

The government's public distribution system (PDS) is a network of about 460,000 ration shops across the country through which grains, sugar, cooking oil and so on are sold at subsidized rates. However, most of India's poor cannot afford to even buy these subsidized (substandard?!) grains. There have been reported cases of tribal eating mud and grass to survive. The ones better off than them; manage to secure one meal day consisting of one chapatti (bread) and chillies. But, it is probably the urban poor who are the luckiest of the lot; they get to salvage classy leftovers through the waste bins outside the many city restaurant. Oh, goody!

With such falling standards of humanity, I see starvation as the worst afflicted human right violation, a brutal outcome of poverty.

You are fortunate if you're reading this, possibly looking forward to your next meal. And when you've eaten to your heart's content, come back here and add your voice against poverty, supporting those who couldn't.

We lose 'our' dignity, they day we decide that these people don't matter!

*The Global Hunger Index released by the International Food Policy Research Institute