Interview: HRW calls on India to improve human rights | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 14.02.2012
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Interview: HRW calls on India to improve human rights

Human Rights Watch has urged India to do more to protect fundamental human rights. It has also said the EU should press India to improve protection which is central to a strategic partnership.

The EU and India met for the 12 th EU-India summit on February 10, 2012 in New Delhi. Priya Esselborn spoke to Brad Adams, who has been the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division in London since 2002, about what he expects from closer ties between the two and what both should do to help improve human rights.

DW: India is considered to be the biggest democracy in the world. The EU often emphasizes that in comparison to China, Europe shares with India fundamental values and human rights. But you have voiced serious concerns about the human rights situation in India…

Brad Adams: India is a democracy; it has a functioning court system, a free press. But that confuses people sometimes who expect the human rights situation to be good, too. People are actually very poor in India. The Army is responsible for very serious abuses in many parts of the country. For example, in Kashmir, the police use violence and sometimes pretend to have shoot-outs with people but in reality, they just execute people.

There are very serious problems with the rights of women and minorities. And the state just doesn't react. In many of these cases, no senior government official seems to be bothered about it and an environment is created where such abuses can happen and people who commit crimes are not held accountable at all. And unlike in China, there is a lot of violence in India that is caused by the state. China uses suppression very well, but in India there is a lot of army-related violence.

But the Indian government often argues that in the past years, it has passed a lot of laws to protect women and, for example, human rights defenders. But the problem lies in the implementation. Do you really think that the government is determined to act and ensure the implementation of such laws?

Well, India is a very complicated place. There are some well intentioned ministries at the federal level. India is a federal system, very much like Germany or the Unites States. But on state level, there are often bail-out actions to implement these laws. And when you go to India you even meet business people who complain about India having very nice sounding policies, but very poor implementation. And that the Indian government is just not delivering. Do I think they wake up in the morning and think how to protect the rights of women and children and other vulnerable persons? No, that is the problem. They don't make it a priority. It is not a priority for the Indian political class or the Indian bureaucracy to solve these problems.

You also argue that regarding India's growing role and influence in the world, it should press other countries to increase their commitment to protect human rights. Myanmar, for example. But India always argues that it won't interfere in the domestic politics of other countries. How long can India justify this stand?

India is a problem. They want to be on the global stage; they want to become a member of the UN Security Council; they want people to think of them as a global power that is on the right side. But they are very concerned about their own human rights record. So they adopted this position of non-interference because they don't want anyone to talk about Kashmir or the situation in the North-East or the conflict with the Maoists. So it is protecting itself against the rest of the world. It is a position that is quite ridiculous. Because India is a state democracy and you have India's poor neighbor Myanmar with pro-democracy activists begging India to support them and India turns a blind eye.

Why has the EU in the past not urged the Indian government to do more in terms of human rights? In which ways is the EU keeping in mind the financial and economic crisis, saying that trade gains are more important then human rights?

Well, I think this is part of the thinking. But actually I think it very puzzling because the EU does have a very robust human rights dialogue with China, for example. We always wish that it would be harder on China, but it does have very regular interaction. The Indians have tried to stop the EU and others from raising these Issues. They've been very aggressive in saying you have no right to talk about this, or: if you want to talk about human rights, let's talk about human rights ‘soft issues', not the ‘hard issues.' But I think the EU owes it to 1.1 billion Indians, just like it does to 1.3 billion Chinese, to raise these issues, to push the Indians.

Interview: Priya Esselborn
Editor: Sarah Berning

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