Mary Lawlor tells an IAMC event she has sent ‘six communications’ to the Indian Government since May 2020 to “convey our concerns on human rights issues”. India has responded to just one.
NEW DELHI — United Nations Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor have once against appealed to the Indian government to immediately release 16 human rights defenders who have been imprisoned on charges of terrorism in the ‘Bhima-Koregaon Case’
Lawlor was speaking on Thursday at a report releasing online event organised by The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), a US-based civil rights advocacy groups of Indian expats. The report titled, “Crushing Dissent: 2021 Status Report on Human Rights in India,” details human rights abuses in India.
Lawlor, who is UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, hailed the incarcerated activists as “our modern-day heroes” who should “not be in jail”.
The appeal came days after Lawlor called for ending the “arbitrary detention” of Father Stan Swamy, the octogenarian Jesuit priest. She had slammed Indian government for not fully protecting the human rights defenders.
Lawlor read out the names of the imprisoned rights activists which include Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Fereria; Supreme Court lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj; authors Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde; poet Varvara Rao; academicians Hany Babu and Shoma Sen; and theater artistes Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe and Jyoti Jagtap.
The so-called Bhima-Koregaon case refers to violence at a public meeting called three years ago by low-caste Hindus at a village known as Bhima-Koregaon in Maharashtra state. Several civil rights investigations have established that upper caste Hindus allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, carried out the violence, IAMC said in a statement, alleging, “Police have, however, targeted human rights defenders, who deny their involvement.”
Lawlor criticised the use of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), under which the Bhima-Koregaon accused have been charged, as among the “several prominent pieces of legislation that would appear on paper and in practice to undermine rights contained in the covenant and the work of human rights defenders.”
Amendments to the UAPA made in 2019, which granted “greater powers” to designate individuals as terrorists “despite the definition of a terrorist act not being precise or concrete,” failed to “comply with the principles of legal certainty,” Lawlor said.
“This has opened up the Act, which was already being used to target human rights defenders, to greater abuse. In 2020, it continued to be applied against human rights defenders with the extremely damaging effect of conflating the defence of human rights with terrorist activities,” she said, adding, there was “a very concerning deterioration of the environment for defending human rights” in India.
Lawlor termed the situation of human rights in India as “very serious”.
She informed that she has sent “six communications” to the Indian Government since May to “convey our concerns on human rights issues”. India had responded to just one.
In June she wrote to the government raising concerns over the arrest of 11 human rights defenders for protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. “However, this communication has gone unanswered.”
She added: “Defending human rights is not terrorism. We need to get that message out over and over again.”
IAMC National General Secretary Mohammad Jawad said, “This exhaustive report’s coverage of all the aspects — from the sedition laws and hate speech, to national security legislation and the criminalization of dissent, from the questions on the independence of the judiciary to the dilution of labour laws and the universal health policies — demonstrates how the Modi government is set to undo decades of positive and progressive work in India.”
Noted human rights defender Teesta Setalvad who was also one of the speakers at the online event said “among human rights defenders who are today incarcerated, besides those mentioned by Lawlor, we have a list of almost 23 very young and dynamic human rights defenders incarcerated in post-February 2020 anti-Muslim pogrom in Delhi. Among the 23, almost 19 happened to be young Muslims activists, who actually came into the forefront of leadership to resist the draconian citizenship Amendment Act. These young activists were deliberately targeted by the state because of their clarity, courage and determination.
She also touched upon the discrimination and violence against the lower caste by the dominant caste.
Then, it is the Muslim community who is facing discrimination and marginalization for the last 40 years. And since the 1990s, Indian Christian community has also been subject to this kind of othering. added Setalvad. .
Former Australian Senator Lee Rhiannon said “the notion that India is a great secular democracy has become a cloak to conceal the extent of the injustice.” The foundation on which India’s judiciary, parliamentary and education systems are based have been “extensively eroded” as the current government was “passing discriminatory laws, neutralizing judges and cultivating a BJP controlled police force,” Rhiannon said, adding that all these activities were “at an advanced stage.”
IAMC announced it will share its current report on India’s human rights record with members of the US Congress, the White House, the Department of State, the National Security Council, think-tanks, the US academia and research community and the civil rights activists and NGOs.