India faces serious human rights problems: US

March 12th, 2008 - 11:51 am ICT by admin  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, March 12 (IANS) The US has given India an overall clean chit on its human rights record, but suggests it still faces numerous serious problems including extra-judicial killings, disappearances, and torture and rape by security forces as well as by terrorists. The Indian government “generally respected the rights of its citizens; however, numerous serious problems remained,” said the State Department’s 2007 Human Rights Practices report released here Tuesday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“In the long run, we are confident that citizens who sacrifice for their dignity and their rights will prevail, just as the Havels and the Mandelas did before them,” she said, calling it America’s duty to support the “courageous champions of human rights” around the world.

“Change may, indeed change will, take time, but change will come. As long as citizens around the world champion the universal values of human rights, there is hope,” Rice added.

The report, which makes critical references to the state of affairs in India’s neighbourhood - Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka - said in India “serious internal conflicts affected the state of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as several states in the north and east”.

“While the civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were several instances in which some elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority,” it said.

A lack of accountability permeated the government and security forces throughout the country, creating an atmosphere of impunity, it alleged.

The report noted that in West Bengal, violence in Nandigram led to accusations of state government failure to control ruling Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M) party cadres, which were accused by human rights groups of killing more than 30 villagers and intimidating them through violence and rape.

There was also, it said, continued concern about the failure of the Gujarat government to arrest and convict those responsible for the 2002 violence following the train burning in Godhra in which 59 men, women and children were killed.

Although the country has numerous laws protecting human rights, enforcement was inadequate and convictions rare, it said, and added that poor prison conditions, lengthy pre-trial detention without charge and prolonged detention while undergoing trial remained significant problems.

Endemic corruption existed at all levels within the government and police, and attempts to combat the problem were unsuccessful, the report said, and added that the government continued to apply restrictions to the travel and activities of visiting experts and scholars. Significant restrictions on the funding and activities of NGOs also continued, according to the report.

Attacks against religious minorities and the promulgation of antireligious conversion laws were concerns. Social acceptance of caste-based discrimination often validated human rights violations against persons belonging to lower castes, it said.

Domestic violence, dowry-related deaths, honour crimes, female infanticide, and foeticide were serious problems. Trafficking in persons and exploitation of indentured, bonded, and child labour were ongoing problems.

Separatist guerrillas and terrorists in Kashmir, the northeast, and the Naxalite belt committed numerous serious abuses, including killing armed forces personnel, police, government officials, judges, and civilians, the report pointed out. Insurgents also engaged in widespread torture, rape, beheadings, kidnapping, and extortion.

There was a consistently high rate of encounter killings by law enforcement and security forces in the northeast, particularly in the states of Assam and Manipur, as law enforcement authorities attempted to combat insurgent groups, many of whom financed their operations through criminal activities such as extortion, kidnapping, and trafficking in narcotics.

Countrywide, there were allegations that military and paramilitary forces engaged in abduction, torture, rape, arbitrary detention, and the extra-judicial killing of insurgents and non-combatant civilians, particularly in areas of insurgency.

Trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children was a serious problem. According to the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef), in 2004 the country supplied half of the one million children worldwide who entered the sex trade, the State Department report said.

Female foeticide was an acute problem in Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan. The states of Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, parts of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka reported particularly low female/male ratios. Nationally, there were only 933 girls per 1,000 boys.

India, it said, was a significant source, transit point and destination for trafficking victims, primarily for the purposes of prostitution and forced labour. Many girls were internally trafficked for the purpose of forced marriages, while other persons, including children, were trafficked for bonded labour.

To a lesser extent, the country was a point of origin for women and children trafficked to other countries in Asia, the Middle East, and the West for forced domestic servitude or commercial sexual exploitation.

Men were also trafficked to the Arabian Gulf for involuntary servitude in the construction sector. Women from Kerala reportedly were trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation and abusive domestic employment in the Gulf.

Gays and lesbians faced discrimination in all areas of society, including family, work, and education, the report said.

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