Janet Rice, David Shoebrodge, Lee Rhiannon
A roundtable organized by Australian Greens, which is the third biggest political party in the country, held to discuss the human rights situation in India at the New South Wales Parliament in Sydney recently has insisted that parliamentarians, human rights activists, and lawyers should play a more active role “standing up for human rights not just in their own places but also in India.”
Participated, among others, by Federal Senator Janet Rice, New South Wales Member of Parliament David Shoebrodge and former Senator Lee Rhiannon, the roundtable was held in collaboration with the Humanism Project, an Australian human rights and political advocacy group. Several members of the Indian diaspora from Australia and the USA, political activists from India, including Jammu & Kashmir, and Amnesty International Australia took part in the virtual discussions.
A Humanist Project report on the meet:
In his introductory remarks, Shoebridge said that the idea of this meet began with a dialogue with some of the justice advocates his office he works with were one of the consistent themes that had arisen was the state of human rights in India. In introducing the panel of speakers, Shoebridge said that the constructive role which parliamentarians, human rights activists, and lawyers can play in standing up for human rights not just in their own places but also in India was one of the reasons why there was such a strong takeup of the panel for the roundtable.
In her opening remarks which included acknowledgment of Australia’s indigenous people, Senator Rice, who is the foreign affairs spokesperson for the Australian Greens in the Australian Federal Parliament, also acknowledged the indigenous peoples of India who she said continue to struggle for land, conflict with security forces and basic human rights to be living safely and securely, and not be subject to affronts like sexual violence, trafficking, militarization and state violence.
She noted that the struggle for justice of Australia’s ‘first nation’s people’ had a strong resonance with the struggle for human rights around the world. “The Australian Greens believe that human rights are fundamental and must be respected for all countries and for all people. We are working at state, federal, and local government levels to see greater international respect for and protection of human rights.”, she said.
Senator Rice said that the Greens were really concerned about the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 and its discrimination on citizenship status based on a person’s religion, particularly given India’s proud democratic history, and the impact on the Muslim community was particularly reflected in what was happening in Kashmir – the crackdown on free speech and movement, access to information, healthcare and hundreds of thousands of people detained at various times, including three former chief ministers and several children. She insisted:
“We are concerned about what happened to Amnesty International India. Shutting down bank accounts in response to investigations is a really unacceptable attempt to silence critics and is not the action of a government that should be fully open to scrutiny.
“We believe that the Australian Government can and must take urgent action to support human rights in India and in other countries, and through international forums such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Australian Government must be willing to strongly advocate on behalf of people in countries with poor rights records and to give honest and open statements about what the situation is on the ground, and the Australian Government should also support UN based investigations into human rights abuses.
“Wherever we provide assistance in any country, we need to ensure that foreign security, peace and military units that receive Australian support are subject to the full vetting process to make sure we are not funding units associated with human rights abuses.”
She closed by saying that the critical role of campaigners and activists to talk to politicians around the world, to media and to local communities were incredibly important steps to take because, “your voice is powerful and together we can make a real difference to amplify the voices of those whose human rights are under attack, and empower people struggling for justice around the world”. She added, MPs have the most impact in their advocacy if it is aligned with community campaigning.
Pushing to raise their voice, Rice said, Parliamentarians must get in touch with other countries to get action on human rights in India.
Dr. Colin Gonsalves, the eminent lawyer at the Supreme Court of India, said that India could claim to be a country with some of the highest levels of violence, discrimination, and state terrorism in the world. Talking about attacks on minorities, he mentioned that in the state of Assam, 500,000 Muslims had been declared foreigners and the government was planning to keep them in incarceration centers to keep them in detention.
Giving examples of the attacks on students at Jamia University and Aligarh, Dr. Gonsalves described India as a nation ‘at war with its people’. He urged the Australian Government to take an active stand on human rights in India.
Eminent activist Dr. Ram Punyani said that apart from attacks on Muslims, attacks on Christians and Dalits have seen a significant increase. He said that recent times had seen a rise in identity-related issues, which create mass hysteria and hate, because of which society was becoming increasingly polarised and any criticism of the government was being labeled as ‘anti-national’.
He stressed on the need for coordination between different social movements for them in the form of a ‘broad based platform’ of those believing in secularism, diversity, pluralism and human rights so that they can come together and also combat hate.
Dr Pooja Tripathi, National Convenor, Women’s Congress spoke about the National Register of Citizens, which rendered 1.9 million people stateless, the Hathras incident, the denial of basic rights and services to the Kashmiris, the plight of migrant workers made to walking ‘unimaginable distances’ following the COVID lockdown and the arrest of activists.
Dr. Tripathi said she saw hope in the way common citizens took inspiration from Gandhi and took to the streets to ‘reclaim the constitution’, following the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, including the Muslim women who led the Shaheen Bagh movement.
Manjula Pradeep, eminent human rights activist and lawyer, expressed concerns about the law that was amended in 2015 to prevent atrocities on Dalits and Adivasis in India, namely, the Prevention of Atrocities Act, which had been ineffective in preventing or curbing atrocities on the marginalized communities and stressed on the need to look at its poor implementation.
She also touched on the ‘hate speech pandemic’ on social media which was disproportionately affecting the weaker communities, especially women. She also urged the international community to put pressure on the Indian government on human rights issues.
Speaking from Chicago, activist Motika Anand, spoke about the need to monitor the activities of Hindu Sevak Sangh (HSS), the international branch of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Motika said that HSS had infiltrated political offices around the world in many countries by using their money power to help elect islamophobes and right wing politicians to parliaments.
In his address, Joel Clarke from Amnesty International’s work on human rights in India is grounded in the very strong belief that the Australian Government and other third nations have an important role to play in monitoring and addressing human rights violations in India.
He said that the strengthening of the relationship between Australia and India provides a good opportunity for Australia to check human rights in India and called upon PM Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and other ministers to stand up and speak out to prove that diplomacy isn’t just about trade and security but about promoting human rights and holding each other to account in the way they treat their citizens.
He talked about the Amnesty International report released in August 2020, one year after the abrogation of article 370, which talked about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and called out the blatant human rights violations in the region. He said the report called upon the Government of India to release all political leaders, journalists, and activists from detention and restore the internet, decongest prisons and launch independent investigations in the attacks on journalists in J&K.
The report also made it clear that third countries also had a responsibility to use the report’s information to better human rights by backing Amnesty International’s call to the Indian Government to act. Clarke said Amnesty had produced another report this year on the Delhi riots where they had forensically detailed examples of Delhi Police officers indulging in violence with rioters, torture in custody, using excessive force on protestors, dismantling protest sites used by peaceful protestors to being mute bystanders as rioters wreaked havoc.
On behalf of Amnesty, he called upon third nations to use the opportunity of the universal periodic review of the United Nations to record the human rights violations of the Indian government. He also spoke about how the work of Amnesty International in India had recently been shut down, shortly after the publication of its J&K report and its report on the Delhi riots. He concluded by adding that Amnesty International was committed to mobilizing millions of supporters around the world to get their governments to act on these violations.
Ruchira Talukdar, who is completing her thesis on ‘coal politics’ between India and Australia, talked about the corporate state nexus and the ‘ground clearing’ of the indigenous people in resource-rich regions, grabbing of forest land, and weakening of forest rights as some of the ways resource-rich regions are being changed. She added that it does not come out strongly internationally because India is seen as a responsible climate player.
In her closing remarks, Senator Rice said that we were all one shared humanity and assured that Greens politicians will be working strongly to address human rights and pushing to get the Government to raise its voice and to try and get the Australian Government in concert with other countries to try and get some action on human rights in India.
She added that she saw this forum that David Shoebridge and The Humanism Project had organized as being a beginning and an opportunity to go on and work out a broader forum that can be made intentionally global and could bring people together who are working on these issues from across the world.
Source- counterview.net, 25 October 2020.