Overview of the 2022 United Nations Universal Periodic Review for India’s Human Rights Record
Irene Asia Scomparin – South Asian Countries Researcher, Global Human Rights Defence
The Human Rights Watch has recently posted a comprehensive overview of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process for India that was held in Geneva on November 10, 2022. All member states of the United Nations participate in a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, which examines their human rights record and proposes action to improve the human rights situations in their countries. During the fourth cycle of UPR, the Indian government was assessed on the development made from the previous revision of 2017, as well as on the current situation regarding key human rights matters within the country. On November 9, 2022, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs published a press release recognising the importance of the UPR mechanism, due to its constructive and consultative character, and stated that the UPR outcome report will be adopted during the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council that will take place in March 2023 (Indian Ministry of External Affairs, 2022).
As a result of this year’s UPR, the government of India has been asked to take prompt action according to several recommendations made by a group of United Nations member states. During the UPR session held in November 2022, India received a total of 339 recommendations from 130 member states, highlighting some of the most urgent human rights concerns in the country. In particular, six international human rights groups – the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), CSW, International Dalit Solidarity Network, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch – have underlined the necessity for Indiato grant a reliable follow-up on these issues.This is because in the past UPR cycles, the Indian government has ignored several important recommendations (Human Rights Watch, November 2022).
These recommendations cover a range of major concerns, such as the protection of rights of minority communities and vulnerable groups, the impunity for security forces, the safeguarding of civil society freedoms, and much more (Human Rights Watch, November 2022). Here below are presented some of the key issues that have been raised in the most recent UPR session for India, and the suggested measures to be implemented, as proposed by the Human Rights Watch group in the overviews of March and November 2022.
Rights of Minority Groups
In the 2022 UPR process, at least twenty-one countries urged India to improve its protection of freedom of religion and the rights of religious minorities (Human Rights Watch, November 2022). In the 2017 Universal Periodic Review, India committed itself to intensify the efforts necessary to guarantee freedom of religion to all the subjects present in the Indian territory, as well as prevent all cases of religious intolerance, violence, and discrimination. Nonetheless, during the last years, the government has continuously adopted a series of laws and policies that caused the discrimination of minority groups – specifically Muslims and Christians – and put at risk people involved in interfaith (e.g., Hindu-Muslim) relationships. For instance, in December 2019, the Indian government passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act which amended the law to fast-track citizenship for specific religious groups (Hindus, Christians, Buddhists…) but excluded the Muslim minorities (Winchester, 2020). Coupled with other provisions, such as the proposal of a nationwide citizenship verification process through a National Population Register and a proposed National Register of Citizens, these actions have resulted in increasing fear for millions of Indian Muslims (Human Rights Watch, March 2022). In addition, since October 2018, Indian authorities have deported more than 10 Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar, and at least 240 Rohingya are currently detained in India on charges of illegal entry (Human Rights Watch, March 2022). The Indian government should halt the deportation of all Rohingya to Myanmar as it represents a violation of the international provisions that safeguard refugees and their return to places where their lives would be put at risk.
To comply with the issues raised in the recent UPR session, and with international human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch suggests that India should tackle the amendment of the Citizenship Amendment Act and any law that, directly or indirectly, targets religious minorities and groups (as the anti-conversion laws and laws banning cow slaughtering). Moreover, it is essential to prosecute those responsible for the discrimination and attack of said groups, including government supporters and party leaders (Human Rights Watch, March 2022).
Safety of Civil Society
In the fourth cycle of UN review for India, twenty member states stated that the Indian government should seek enhanced controls and provisions for the safeguard of the rights of freedom of expression and assembly, along with the creation of a safe environment that enables civil society groups, human rights defenders, and media to carry out their work and mission (Human Rights Watch, November 2022).
During the third Universal Periodic Review in 2017, India spoke of “a rights-oriented constitutional framework, a secular polity, and independent judiciary, a range of national and state level commissions that monitor compliance with human rights, a free press, and a vibrant and vocal civil society” (Indian National Report, 2017). However, since 2017, India has undergone a serious regression in human rights, and the government has intensified the repression of independent and democratic institutions (human rights activists, journalists, and protesters) with violent counterterrorism and stringent national security laws (Human Rights Watch, March 2022). Individuals or groups criticising the government or protesting against specific human rights violations are often defined as ‘anti-national’ and targeted with counterterrorism laws, such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which fail to conform with international standards (Human Rights Watch, 2022). Over the years, numerous subjects at the international level have raised concerns over the use of these procedures in India to detain activists and others for exercising their basic rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Thus, the amendment of the UAPA and correlated laws should be implemented by the Indian government in light of the UN Periodic Review, and the government and the authorities need to find a way to deal with the constructive criticism proposed by the civil society and NGOs without resorting to criminalisation or violent practices (as also recalled by the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in her press release of October 2020).
More generally, then, during the UPR session of November 10, 2022, nineteen countries urged India toward the ratification of the UN Convention against Torture. The Convention was signed in 1997 but never ratified, and in the previous 2012 and 2017 UPR cycles India declared that it remained committed to ratifying the treaty, but no practical steps have been taken in the last 10 years. Countries also recommended the Indian government to work toward the elimination of caste-based discrimination; strengthen the efforts for the alleviation of poverty, the access to health care, safe drinking water, sanitation, and education; and increase the protection of groups more likely to face discrimination such as children, women, LGBT+ groups, and persons with disabilities (Human Rights Watch, November 2022).
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Winchester, N. (February 12, 2020). India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019. UK Parliament – House of Lords Library. Retrieved on December 1, 2022, from https://lordslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/lln-2020-0058/#:~:text=In%20December%202019%2C%20the%20Indian,entered%20India%20prior%20to%202015.