EU Parliament’s Rights Body Chair Concerned Over India’s Amnesty Episode, Decline of Rule of Law

Maria Arena noted that “communities, religious minorities, particularly Muslims, a vocal and vibrant civil society and critics of government policies have been under increasing pressure for a long time.”

New Delhi: The head of European Parliament’s panel on human rights has expressed concern at the deterioration of rule of law in India and the targeting of human rights defenders, with a specific reference to the closing down of operations by Amnesty International. Amnesty International has said that they were forced to shut shop in India due to reprisals from the government.

“It is with great concern that I have been observing the rule of law deteriorate in India, which is the very corner stone of our special relationship,” said the chair of European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, Maria Arena, in a statement issued on Monday.

Last week, the European Union foreign affairs spokesperson had noted that AI had closed down its operations in India and pointed out that the regional association highly valued the work of the international human rights group worldwide. It expressed hope that the matter would be “resolved to allow it to continue its activities”.

The EU, US and UK governments have also joined the chorus of rising concern.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs had pushed back by stating that governments should not condone violation of rules by voluntary groups. “NGOs are expected to adhere to all our laws including in respect of foreign funding. Just as they would in other countries, including the US and EU. We expect other governments will not condone contravention of Indian laws by any entity,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had said on October 1.

Five days later, European Parliament’s sub-committee for human rights has again said that Amnesty International had been “very worryingly” forced to halt its work and has asked EU to bring this up in the human rights dialogue.

“As a sitting member of the Human Rights Council, India has pledged to “continue to foster the genuine participation and effective involvement of civil society in the promotion and protection of human rights.” Therefore, I call on the Indian government to meet this pledge, in a manner worthy of the global role model it aspires to be. It is high time for India to translate words into action. In this context, I also wish to call on the EU to address these concerns within the EU-India Human Rights Dialogue,” said Arena, who is am MEP from Belgium.

She noted that “communities, religious minorities, particularly Muslims, a vocal and vibrant civil society and critics of government policies have been under increasing pressure for a long time.”

Also read: When Letters From Amnesty International Gave Strength and Hope to Advani During the Emergency

“Widespread protests over the proposed citizenship verification process and the discriminatory citizenship law amendments have resulted in arbitrary detentions and an unnecessary loss of life. Journalists and other peaceful critics continue to be arrested under draconian counter-terrorism and sedition laws, while human rights defenders are unceasingly and severely targeted by the authorities,” said the statement.

Further, she pointed out that before it closed its offices, Amnesty International had brought out a detailed report on the violations committed by Delhi Police during the February 2020 riots.

She called for a “prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into all human rights violations committed by law enforcement officials”.

“There should also be a fully independent, public and transparent inquiry into the role of the police in failing to prevent the violence that broke out and even aiding it. Fighting impunity and promoting justice is the only way to stop and prevent police brutality,” said Arena.

In January this year, five major political groups in the European Parliament had drafted a joint resolution against the Citizenship Amendment Act, terming it “discriminatory in nature” and “dangerously divisive”.

However, the vote on the draft resolution was first deferred for two months till March, so that it would not impact the atmosphere ahead of the scheduled India-EU summit for which Narendra Modi was scheduled to travel to Brussels. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the visit never took place – and rising numbers led to the focus of MEPs being singularly on the pandemic