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India urged to end impunity for armed forces
Publication Date : 04-09-2012
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged India to accept the recommendations made by member states at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to address its most serious human rights problems.
The wide-ranging recommendations call upon India to ratify multinational treaties against torture and enforced disappearances, repeal the much-abused Armed Forces Special Powers Act, impose a moratorium on the death penalty, introduce an anti-discrimination law and protect the rights of women, children, Dalits, tribal groups, religious minorities and other groups at risk.
“The Indian government should make a serious effort to carry out these recommendations instead of simply pointing to existing legislation or policies,” HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement issued yesterday.
The UPR provides an opportunity for each state, every four years, to explain what actions it has taken to improve respect for human rights.
India’s first review was in 2008, but only a few of the recommendations were properly implemented.
During this year’s review the Indian government set out the fundamental rights provided by the country’s constitution, judicial pronouncements, the Right to Information Act, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Right to Education Act of 2009 and the National Food Security Bill to demonstrate its commitment to protecting human rights.
It said child labour in the country had declined by 45 per cent over the past five years, although many children work undetected in homes and shops. India made a commitment to strengthen enforcement of laws to prevent domestic violence.
The country’s government supported the 2009 Delhi High Court judgment decriminalising consensual sex between adults of the same sex and explained that transgender people now had the right to be listed as "other" rather than "male" or "female" on electoral rolls and voter identity cards.
However, on other crucial human rights issues the Indian government’s response was misleading, the HRW said.
Responding to concerns that an anti-torture bill was still awaiting parliamentary approval, it suggested that existing laws had sufficient prohibitions against torture.
“The Indian government is well aware of the rampant beatings, sexual assault and other torture in Indian police stations and should be working hard to pass the anti-torture law,” Ganguly said. “The urgent need for police reform and accountability simply isn’t being addressed under existing laws.”
The Indian government downplayed abuses by the security forces and the role of the special powers act in facilitating these abuses.
It asserted that most complaints of army and paramilitary abuses were found to be false and said the act had been upheld by the supreme court.
But it failed to note that it had ignored measures to prevent abuses outlined in the court ruling.
The AFSPA grants the armed forces the power to shoot to kill in law-enforcement situations, to arrest people without warrants and detain them without time limits, and forbids prosecution of soldiers without approval from the central government, which is rarely granted. Abuses by the security forces may not be independently investigated, even by the National Human Rights Commission, providing members of the armed forces effective immunity for torture and other crimes, the HRW said.
“The army and paramilitary forces will be free to commit abuses as long as there is no independent and transparent mechanism to investigate serious allegations against them,” Ganguly said.
“India should repeal the AFSPA to end the scourge of impunity that has existed over many decades.”
The Human Rights Watch called upon India to engage substantially on issues relating to women and to announce comprehensive steps to address concerns about child labour, child sexual abuse and trafficking.