India should repeal armed forces’ special powers: UN official

March 23rd, 2009 - 9:41 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 23 (IANS) The controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) should be repealed, visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay said here Monday.
Speaking at a conference organised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in the national capital, Pillay said that India should repeal its dated and colonial-era laws and added that the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report, which highlights the socio economic status of the Muslim community, should be followed up.

“India should repeal those dated and colonial-era laws that breach contemporary international human rights standards. These range from laws which provide the security forces with excessive emergency powers, including the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, to laws that criminalise homosexuality,” Pillay said.

“Such legal vestiges of a bygone era are at odds with the vibrant dynamics and forward thrust of large sectors of the Indian polity,” she added.

Briefly mentioning the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack, Pillay, who arrived here Sunday on a three-day visit, said that the consequences of the attack was polarisation of society.

“The horrific terrorist attack in Mumbai has also polarised society and risks stoking suspicions against the Muslim community. It is imperative to counter violent religious extremism of any kind by insisting on peaceful coexistence, tolerance and acceptance of diversity,” she said.

Pillay also urged the Indian government to follow up the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report on the socio-economic status of Muslims in India.

“I am aware of the landmark report by the Sachar Committee on the socio-economic status of the Muslim minority, and I encourage the (Indian) government to follow up on its important recommendations,” she said.

“An important step (for the Indian government) would be the adoption of a new Equal Opportunities Bill. The legislation would establish an ombudsman system to deal with grievances of ‘deprived groups’ in line with the Sachar Committee recommendations.

“This would be the first step towards establishing a broader system to uphold equality of opportunity for women and other groups,” Pillay added.

Pillay, 68, was an attorney in South Africa, and the first woman to start a law practice in South Africa’s Natal Province, providing legal defence to opponents of apartheid, according to the UN website.

While in South Africa, she co-founded the Advice Desk for the Abused and ran a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

As a member of the Women’s National Coalition, she contributed to the inclusion in South Africa’s constitution of an equality clause prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of race, religion and sexual orientation.

At the conference organised by the NHRC, Pillay also said that India can do a lot more to combat caste based discrimination, since policies have been unable to alleviate suffering and discrimination of the Dalit community.

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