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Static progress: India still a hotspot for human rights violations & intolerance

Anna Verghese | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:46 IST

Timing is everything.

And Amnesty International's annual report 2015-16 couldn't have come at a better moment. Smack in the heat of the JNU row, post the torture of activist Soni Sori, the fallout of Rohith Vemula's suicide, the hangover of artists returning awards, and the start of another tumultuous parliament session- this report is nothing but a reaffirmation of the charges being levied against the Modi government.

Read: BJP goes national against JNU 'anti-nationals'. Will the fire spread?

The recent report, titled Amnesty International Report 2015-16: The state of the world's human rights, examines the situation in various countries around the world. According to the international NGO, which has a strong presence in India, India continues to fair poorly on the human rights situation and steps taken to safeguard basic rights and freedoms. But small steps of progress cannot be unrecognised.

Amnesty has examined India through 15 different spectrums and cited examples of episodes in the past year that display the extent of abuses.

Here's a glimpse of the report and a few examples:

Abuses by armed groups

  • three men tortured and killed by alleged Maoists fighters in Lohardaga, Jharkhand in March last year.
  • September saw the murder of a three-year-old boy and his father in Sopore.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

  • Amnesty observed that authorities were continuing to use anti-terror laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other specific laws which fail to adhere to international human rights standards.
  • Last April, Gujarat passed the anti-terror bill which once again violates international standards, as it has been criticised for before.
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Children's Rights

  • Private schools are required to reserve 25% of seats at the entry level for children from disadvantaged families. This is still not fully enforced.
  • In violation of India's international legal obligations, Parliament passed an amendment to the juvenile justice law. Children aged 16-18 will also be considered adults in cases of serious crimes now.

Death Penalty

  • In August , the Law Commission of India submitted a report to the government, urging the quick abolition of capital punishment. However, since then, the issues has had no real traction.

Extrajudicial Executions

  • From Andhra Pradesh to Uttar Pradesh, cases of extrajudicial killings have been hitting the news.
  • The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, in June, noted that guidelines by the courts and the National Human Rights Commission, "remained on paper with little or no implementation on the ground".

Other findings

  • Amnesty observed how the government had used and misused the FCRA to repress civil society organisations like Greenpeace and other NGOs.
  • The report also noted that authorities had failed to prevent multiple incidents of communal violence across India. It added that politicians played a role in fuelling and justifying such discrimination and violence.
  • With respect to corporate accountability, Amnesty referred to the amendment that was suggested to the Land Acquisition law, that would do away with the need to obtain consent and conduct an impact assessment for industrial projects. Thankfully, the government did not go ahead with this.
  • In April however, the UNEP had offered to assess the spread of toxic wastes at the Bhopal gas leak site. This offer was rejected by the Environment Ministry, calling into question the commitment of this government to cleaning up the fallout of the leak.
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  • Amnesty's report brings back into focus the presence of AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir and in the northeast. And the rejection of an official report that recommended repealing the law.
  • The report notes that measures are being taken to discuss and debate the possibility of decriminalising homosexuality, but Section 377 is still being used to attack people of the LGBTQ community.
  • Violence against women and girls continues at a large scale despite more stringent laws being put in place. 37,000 cases of rape were reported in 2014, but many more continue to go unreported.
  • Torture and ill-treatment in police and judicial custody continues. NGO reports show 93 deaths and 197 cases of rapes in custody in 2014 alone. The SC had directed the installation of CCTV in prisons to monitor such incidents. This is a two year plan however.

Nothing new. We know the drill.

The recent thrashing that Kanhaiya Kumar received from the police and some self-righteous lawyers and this entire JNU crackdown, pretty much epitomises the Amnesty report.

Amnesty pointed out how India is one of those countries where there is a serious disconnect between the government and the people, especially the youth. This has generated a more empowered and outspoken citizenry. In response though, the government is shielding itself by clamping down hard on the freedom of speech and expression. We're seeing that played out in the capital right now.

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The report doesn't really come as a shocker. The facts don't startle anymore. It works well, in that it is a summation of the key violations of the past year and a recall of the steps taken or not taken to tackle the same.

The real tragedy that the report highlights is this: the facts and issues are the same year after year. Evidence of human rights violations keep mounting. And they manage to cloud the little progress we achieve.

But the fight continues and that's the reassuring takeaway.

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First published: 24 February 2016, 6:55 IST