In its third ever assessment by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, India faces tough questions on child, women’s and prisoner rights, discrimination against same-sex couples and minorities, as well as the issue of religious violence.
India’s human rights record will be examined with a fine-tooth comb on May 4 at the second session of the UN Human Rights Council. It is among 14 UN member nations to be assessed in this session and it is only the third time the country comes under the human rights spotlight, following its inspection in April 2008 and May 2012. The subcontinent is unlikely to get an easy ride with several countries, including Switzerland, already submitting questions on a wide range of issues.
Switzerland is particularly concerned about India dragging its heels when it comes to ratifying the UN Convention against Torture, despite signing it in 1997. The Alpine nation wants to know if India has implemented any legal measures to ensure detainees are not tortured while the UK has raised the issue of the rights and dignity of prisoners. The Czech Republic has questioned India on whether it plans to abolish or issue a moratorium on the death penalty.
Violence and impunity
Switzerland and the UK want to know how India is tackling the issue of religion-related violence, especially steps taken to ensure the swift adoption of the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill.
"The recommendation does not refer to a specific incident but relates to various accounts and reports of violence against minorities," a spokesperson for the Swiss Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva, told swissinfo.ch.
The Netherlands has voiced its concern over the impact of laws against religious conversion being applied in seven Indian states.
Impunity for perpetrators of violence against journalists and human rights defenders was raised by the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Norway has asked if the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act - that grants immunity to security forces from prosecution in some parts of the country - will be repealed.
Belgium wants to know if India intends to allow UN Special Rapporteurs to visit the country to carry out necessary investigations.
Women and children
India can also expect criticism when it comes to child and women’s rights. Slovenia wants India to share progress on its preventing trafficking of children between countries; Sweden and Belgium want to know what is stopping India from ratifying the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) conventions on the minimum age of workers and on eliminating the worst forms of child labour. Sweden is also calling on India to demonstrate accountability when it comes to implementing sterilisation targets for women. It wants to know what steps the country is taking to prevent coercive, unsafe and abusive sterilisation procedures.
India will also face questions on violence and discrimination against women and same-sex couples. Mexico and Slovenia have raised the issue of the implementation of laws dealing with sexual violence against Indian women and children. Sweden has flagged up India’s current criminalisation of same-sex intercourse. The Scandinavian country wants to know what measures the Indian government has taken to ensure equality of all citizens before the law irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Spain has asked if India intends to update its laws to reflect the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision on equality for transgender people.
Besides questions from countries, a reportexternal link of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights raises issues of concern including discrimination against low caste Dalits, curbs on the freedom of speech, “honour killings”, and excessive use of force by security personnel in Kashmir.
India’s Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi will be leading the Indian delegation responsible for responding to questions and concerns.
UN Human Rights Council
An inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, for addressing situations of human rights violations, and for making recommendations on them. It can discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year. It meets at the UN Office at Geneva.
The Council is made up of 47 UN Member States elected by the UN General Assembly. Its Universal Periodic Reviewexternal link mechanism serves to assess the human rights situations in all UN Member States. Three sessions are held each year.