NEW DELHI: India and UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet clashed on Friday as the latter rapped the government over farmers’ protests and its recent action against journalists and activists. In its response, the government said Bachelet’s observations lacked both “objectivity and impartiality”, reports Sachin Parashar.
Charges of sedition against journalists and activists for reporting or commenting on the protests by farmers, and attempts to curb freedom of expression on social media, were disturbing departures from essential human rights principles, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in her global update speech on Friday. Bachelet also expressed concern over restrictions on communications in J&K.
India responded with a statement by permanent representative Indra Mani Pandey in which he said Bachelet appeared oblivious of the “enormous efforts” made by the government to address the challenges, as indeed of many of the factors driving these challenges.
“The unprovoked violence on our Republic Day in the name of farmers’ rights, apparently, left her unmoved. Her indifference to terrorism is, of course, not new. Objectivity and impartiality have to be the hallmarks of any human rights assessment. We are sorry to see that the high commissioner’s oral update is lacking in both,” Pandey said.
The UN official also said in her speech that continued protests by hundreds of thousands of farmers highlighted the importance of ensuring laws and policies were based on “meaningful consultations with those concerned”.
“I trust that ongoing dialogue efforts by both sides will lead to an equitable solution to this crisis that respects the rights of all,” said Bachelet, whose office had earlier this month said the rights to peaceful assembly and expression should be protected both offline and online.
In his response, Pandey said India had set a goal of doubling the income of farmers by 2024 and the purpose of enacting the three farm laws was to enable farmers to realise better price for their produce and enhance their income. On J&K, he said the decision to revoke the special status of the erstwhile state had provided an impetus to socio-economic development and to efforts to combat cross-border terrorism, which had been the “key hindrance” in full enjoyment of human rights by the people.
Bachelet, who has been involved in repeated run-ins with India in the past, also said despite recent restoration of 4G access for mobile phones, the communication blockade had seriously hampered civic participation, as well as business, livelihoods, education, and access to healthcare and medical information. She said restrictions on communications, and clampdown on civil society activists, remained of concern.
“Raids against human rights defenders in October and November exemplify the continued restrictions on civil society, and resulting impact on the rights of the people of Kashmir to impart and receive information, and to engage in free, open debate on government policies affecting them,” Bachelet said.
With regard to inclusion and participation, the official said she was encouraged by the recent experience of her office in a pilot programme in Kerala, where officials, civil society organisations and community leaders had used innovative technology to ensure that the voices of marginalised and poor people were heard, and their needs addressed, in the pandemic response.