An independent United Nations human rights expert today called on Indian authorities to do much more to ensure a safe and conducive environment for human rights defenders working in the country.
“I am particularly concerned at the plight of human rights defenders working for the rights of marginalized people, i.e. Dalits, Adavasis (tribals), religious minorities and sexual minorities, who face particular risks and ostracism because of their activities,” Margaret Sekaggya said at the end of her fact-finding mission to the country.
The visit by Ms. Sekaggya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, began on 10 January and included discussions with State officials, a broad segment of civil society and the press, representatives of UN agencies and the diplomatic corps, as well as visits to five states.
She underscored the testimonies she received about human rights defenders and their families, who have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, falsely charged and under surveillance because of their legitimate work in upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“I am deeply concerned about the branding and stigmatization of human rights defenders, labelled as naxalites (Maoists), terrorists, militants, insurgents or anti-nationalists,” Ms. Sekaggya said.
Defenders, including journalists, who report on violations by State and non-State actors in areas affected by insurgency are being targeted by both sides, she noted.
“I urge the authorities to clearly instruct security forces to respect the work of human rights defenders, conduct prompt and impartial investigations on violations committed against human rights defenders and prosecute perpetrators.”
Among her other recommendations, Ms. Sekaggya said the Government should enact a law on the protection of human rights defenders “in full and meaningful consultation with civil society,” and review the functioning of the National Human Rights Commission with a view to strengthening it.
Noting the “arbitrary application of security laws at the national and state levels,” she urged the Government to repeal the Public Safety Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and to review the application of other security laws which negatively impact on the situation of human rights defenders.
Ms. Sekaggya, who works in an independent and unpaid capacity, will present her report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council at a future session in 2012.