India must improve human rights, say MEPs | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 13.07.2012
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India must improve human rights, say MEPs

Members of European Parliament demand that the improvement of India's human rights record be a prerequisite for a free trade deal with the European Union.

For liberal British Member of the European Parliament Phil Bennion there is no doubt. The planned trade agreement with India must not be signed "too hastily." Instead, the Europeans should use the agreement more to achieve an improvement of the human rights situation in India.

Phil Bennion

Phil Bennion says the EU should exert more pressure

India and the EU have been negotiating a trade agreement for quite a while now. A total of 1.8 billion people in India and the EU would benefit from a free trade zone. But despite an EU-India summit in February, no agreement was reached.

According to the European Commission, an agreement is expected in autumn. Yet there are still stumbling blocks.

Human rights before free trade

One of the obstacles that remain is the rights of small business owners and small farmers in India. They fear European corporations, with their cheaper products, will push them out of the market and pose a threat to local producers. Human rights organizations even say the EU would be infringing on the right to food if it signed an agreement with the South Asian country.

A small group of EMPs in Brussels has demanded that India improve its rights situation before the trade agreement is signed. Among them is Bennion. He and his colleagues refer to the newest country report for the Human Rights Council's Universial Periodic Review (UPR).

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (C) shakes hands with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (R) as European Council President Herman Van Rompuy watches

India and the EU have been discussing a trade agreement for some time

The UPR is a system countries can use to review their human rights situation every four years. In 2008, India underwent the test. The European politicians argue that not much has changed since then.

Mass graves in Kashmir

India promised in 2008 to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture. India, however, still uses capital punishment. Kidnappings, arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violence are still widespread in India, according to rights organizations.

The situation is worse in the Kashmir conflict region located between India and Pakistan. A large number of mass graves have been found there since 2008. Professor Nazir Ahmad Shawl, head of the "Kashmir Centre" in London, told DW about the recent discovery of 2,000 such graves. That put the overall number at around 6,000.

Shawl is thus calling out to the EU to get more involved in human rights issues in India and Kashmir. He said there was no other solution. "If we want to see real atonement on the Indian Subcontinent, the abuse of human rights must stop."

Indian army soldiers return after a training session at the Siachen base camp, in Indian Kashmir

Kashmir has been hotly contested since the partition of British India in 1947

The institute denied accusations that the "Kashmir Centre" was controlled by Pakistan and was thus biased. The "Kashmir Centre," which has had an office in Brussels for a decade now, worked independently and fought for the right of self-determination of Kashmiris, Shawl explained.

Military the main culprits

According to Shawl and Bennion, the Indian military has most responsibility for the violence in Kashmir and existing security laws make it easier for them.

According to Bennion, soldiers get bonuses for shooting terrorists. In the year 2010, approximately 120 people were killed in Kashmir alone for protesting against the Indian occupation.

Frank Schwalba-Hoth,

Frank Schwalba-Hoth wants to see India's human rights record improve

The demands made by Bennion and other MEPs include the abolishment of the security laws and the death penalty, the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture, and the recognition of the right of self-determination.

Frank Schwalba-Hoth, a former MEP, has been fighting for the improvement of human rights for people in India and Kashmir for a long time. He believes that there could be another important reason for India to improve rights: "India does, after all, want to get a spot on the international stage next to Russia, China and Brazil." And news of human rights violations only made it more difficult for India, Schwalba-Hoth said.

Author: Monika Hoegen / sb
Editor: Shamil Shams

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