In yet another damning report, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet expressed `concern over restrictions on Non-governmental Organisations, arrests of activists and implications of Citizenship Amendment Act.
She `appealed to the Government of India to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs, and their ability to carry out their crucial work on behalf of the many groups they represent’. She `expressed regret at the tightening of space for human rights NGOs in particular, including by the application of vaguely worded laws that constrain NGOs’ activities and restrict foreign funding’. Besides, she `cited as worrying the use of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which a number of UN human rights bodies have also expressed concern is vaguely worded and overbroad in its objective’. The Act prohibits `receipt of foreign funds “for any activities prejudicial to the public interest’. But, it leaves vague definition of the `public interest’ ad `prejudicial’ to wild imagination of police officers.
The Act, which was adopted in 2010 and was amended last month, has had a detrimental impact on the right to freedom of association and expression of human rights. Amnesty International was compelled to close its offices in India after its bank accounts were frozen over alleged violation of the FCRA. Bachelet noted, `The FCRA has been invoked over the years to justify an array of highly intrusive measures, ranging from official raids on NGO offices and freezing of bank accounts, to suspension or cancellation of registration, including of civil society organizations that have engaged with UN human rights bodies. ..Constructive criticism is the lifeblood of democracy. Even if the authorities find it uncomfortable, it should never be criminalized or outlawed in this way.’
India keeps the UN in dark: The UN Human Rights Committee oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which India is a party. The Committee found that India did not `show the specific nature of the threat or risks posed, and limit its responses to those necessary and proportionate to address such threat or risks’ . India was bound to explain to the Committee that it was invoking `national security and protection of public order as a reason to restrict the right to freedom of association’.
The Committee noted that `more than 1,500 people have reportedly been arrested in relation to the [CAA] protests, with many charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act – a law which has also been widely criticized for its lack of conformity with international human rights standards’.
Bachelet drew attention to arrest and continued detention of the 83-year-old Catholic priest Stan Swamy, a long-standing activist engaged in defending the rights of marginalized groups, despite his poor health. She urged India `to ensure that no one else is detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to do its utmost, in law and policy, to protect India’s robust civil society’.
A bird’s eye view of India’s anti-human laws: India claims to be the “world’s greatest democracy”. But, the shiny face of democracy has been disfigured by repressive Indian laws like: (1) Indian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, (2) Terrorist-Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act, (3) Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA), and (2) Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA).
The aforementioned laws clothed police and security/armed forces with emergency powers without explicitly abrogating people’s fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution (a fundamental right cannot be usurped or altered).
POTA is successor to TADA. The TADA remained in force between 1985 and 1995 (modified in 1987) under the background of the Punjab insurgency and was applied to whole of India. The Act had a sunset provision for lapsing after two years post-commencement, which it did on 24 May 1987. The POTA is just old wine in new bottle. It does not repeal fake cases under TADA. Indian media termed POTA as “draconian’. Verily so as penalties under this law are akin to those stipulated in Draco’s code of 610 BC to forestall future revolts by common men. The code provided death penalty for even trivial offences like stealing an apple, or an earthenware utensil.
The POTA attaches evidentiary value to the telephonic, telegraphic and internet conversations. The brutality of the law was brought into limelight when S. A. R Geelani, a Kashmir lecturer in Delhi University was implicated for attack on the Indian parliament (December 13).
POTA was employed to frame cases against several other Kashmiri leaders _ Yaseen Malik, Syed Ali Geelani et al. Despite his frail health (ailing kidney, heart with right ear subjected to micro-surgery), Malik was arrested on March 25 under POTA for receiving ISI’s money when he was addressing a press conference at the Hurriyat office. The court acquitted him with observation that there is not an iota of believable evidence against him.
Syed Geelani and his journalist son-in-law, Iftikhar Gilani also were detained under POTA. Funny charges on senior Geelani included: (1) “Being a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, he criticised US war against Afghanistan, and described himself as Pakistani”.
Iftekhar Geelani was detained for violation of Official Secrecy Act for possessing information about Indian troops’ movement of pre-1996 period. The alleged information was available on the internet. Having failed to make a case against him, police charged him under the Pornographic Act!
POTA features: In what follows, we would review significant features of POTA. It usurps Constitution-of- India safeguards for fundamental rights (part 3, articles 13-35). The rights include “life and liberty of the person” (article 21) and “freedom of expression” (article 19). The POTA also violates article 21 which provides that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”.
TADA was meant to suppress the Sikhs’ freedom movement. POTA is intended to stifle Kashmiris’ freedom movement. Due to heavy opposition from the NHRC, human rights organisations and political parties POTA was not introduced as a bill in parliament. Instead, it was promulgated as POTO, Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.
POTO became POTA on March 26, 2002. POTA as a modified version of TADA, with similar inconsistencies in protection of human rights.
The POTA violates international-human-rights standards, which provide the framework for international protection and promotion of human rights. It is also incompatible with international human rights standards and treaties, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a party.
India has signed but not yet ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) to validate torture under POTA. However, notwithstanding non-ratification, adherence to international human rights standards has been upheld by the Supreme Court of India in a number of decisions (for example, Vishaka & Others vs. State of Rajasthan & Others: 1997(6) SCC24).
The Telegraph Act makes intercepts inadmissible as evidence. But POTA allows it. Other rights-suffocative features of POTA include: (1) vague definitions, (2) insufficient pre-trial and trial safeguards, (3) threats to freedom of association and freedom of expression. Ensuing paragraphs highlight the features.
VAGUE DEFINITIONS: Section 3(5) of the POTA, while criminalizing membership of a “terrorist gang” or a “terrorist organisation,” does not clearly define what these terms mean. The crime is considered complete upon proof of membership.
Thus POTA provides for criminal liability for mere association or communication with suspected terrorists or expressing political opinions without the possession of criminal intent. Obviously, the section is repugnant to ` the right to freedom of association’ enshrined in Article 22 of the ICCPR.
Section 3(8), purports to punish those in possession of information of material assistance in preventing a “terrorist acts”. Failure to provide such information is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.
Section 4 of POTA allows legal presumption that if a person is found in unauthorized possession of arms in a “notified area,” he/she is automatically linked with terrorist activity. This along with other provisions undermines the basic right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
ARREST: Section 48(2) provides for pre-trial police detention for up to 180 days. This provision contradicts Articles 9(2) and 9(3) of the ICCPR which require that all arrested people be promptly informed of the charges against them and that they are entitled to trial within a “reasonable time”, or release.
TORTURE: Torture in police custody is a well-known fact. Section 32 provides that confessions, even those under duress or torture, made to police officers are admissible in trial. This violates Indian Evidence Act, article 14(3) (f) of the ICCPR and article 20(3) of the Constitution of India.
Section 56 of the Ordinance provides for protection from punishment and blanket immunity to police officers who use torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during interrogations. POTA obviously contradicts India’s repeated promises that she is dedicated to eradicating torture”.
Efforts on the anvil to refine POTA are nothing but palliatives to cure police brutality. Hence, they are not worth discussing. When asked about the POTA, in an interview to The Hindu, Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers said: “Past experience had shown that draconian legislations did not provide much safety to the state against terrorists or militants but were used only to protect the safety of the government in power”. He added, “My concern is that extensive powers given to the executive can always be abused without there being any independent judicial review”.
Conclusion: India uses its draconian laws to gag dissent. The Hindu-monk chief minister of India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh regards a cow as a citizen. He directed the police to register cases under National Security Act for offences concerning a cow. One hundred and forty cases were soon registered to terrify the Muslim.
The inescapable conclusion from the above analysis is that the POTA is meant to gag political dissent and crush freedom movements. It baffles one’s imagination that POTA has the same goal as Draco’s code had 2, 613 years back that is “crush common men’s revolt by use of brutal force”. POTA is unnecessary in view of India’s other equally draconian laws like Indian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and Terrorist-affected Areas (Special Courts) Act. These laws allow pre-trial detention of “suspected militants” without disclosing reasons and house searches without warrants. An arrestee is considered guilty until he is proved innocent. An appeal against POTA lies to the inaccessible Supreme Court.
As Sri Lanka struggles with Chinese debt-trap, Maldives moves closer to the Quad
The Indian Ocean’s geopolitical currents have witnessed drastic transformation this year, particularly in the past three months, with India shedding the exclusive right of its sphere of influence over the Indian Ocean, by allowing the United States in its own backyard. Washington and New Delhi seems to have entered into what few analysts call a ‘soft alliance’.
Sri Lanka and Maldives are strategically located in the northern section of the Indian Ocean, and have long been historically, culturally, and geopolitically under India’s sphere of influence. But, things are beginning to change as Chinese debt-trap looms over these islands.
The Quad grouping, consisting of India, Japan, the United States and Australia, has demonstrated its collective military might in the maritime sphere of India with the recently concluded annual Malabar naval exercise. It also led to the emergence of new dynamics of cooperation in previously reticent areas, built upon confidence in each other’s abilities and consciousness of where it stands in the newly unravelling geopolitical equation.
India’s new strategic comfort with bringing in partners from the Quad partners lying external to the Indian Ocean Region, namely the US and Japan into its long-held exclusive sphere of influence signals a tilt in strategic imperatives for New Delhi in favour of the US that too in an evolving cold war-like situation involving Washington and Beijing with different set of countries rallying behind each side.
India has recently welcomed the US-Maldives Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in September, this year. The following month saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Male where he announced Washington’s intent to open an embassy soon.
Less than three months after the defence pact with Washington, Male signed a new agreement with Tokyo this month, for availing a Japanese grant of $7.6 million to strengthen the archipelago’s Coast Guard capacities, in a second major pact with a Quad member.
New Delhi’s newfound willingness to work with external actors in the Indian Ocean is a sign of strategic comfort stemming out from realist foreign policy considerations to expand its circle of friends and coalition partners in its own backyard against a common and more powerful adversary, Beijing, with which it also have decades-long tensions in the Himalayan frontiers.
Even though both these two countries succumbed to disproportionately superior Chinese economic might since the past one decade, it seems Maldives has somehow managed to come out of its dangerous level of dependency on China since Ibrahim Mohammed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party assumed presidency of the island nation two years back in November 2018.
The Sri Lankan economy went into a tailspin since the civil war ended in 2009. The country’s exchequer was badly in need of financial support to sustain itself. It was also the time when Beijing just began to project its military and economic power in its neighbourhood and beyond as the flamboyant 2008 Beijing Olympics concluded.
The island of Sri Lanka soon acquired new geoeconomic significance when President Xi Jinping launched the most ambitious infrastructure project of this century in 2013, the Belt and Road Infrastructure, connecting three continents with the Indian Ocean as its epicenter of vitality.
With BRI, a tangled web of debt-trap rapidly began to loom over Sri Lanka as Beijing pumped-in investments into the war-battered island with malicious intentions.
The story of handover of Hambantota port, strategically located in the southern tip of Sri Lankan coast, to China for a 99-year lease in 2017, and the Colombo Port City project being built with Chinese assistance are just examples of how economic leverage gained geopolitically advantageous positions for Beijing overlooking the Indian Ocean. These assets are going to play a significant role in the connectivity of BRI’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ aspect.
Chinese-led projects are built and managed by Chinese workers themselves as they do in any other part of the world, naturally bringing presence of Chinese personnel to the areas where it operates.
The BRI, however, enhances Sri Lanka’s significance in what theorists call the String of Pearls, wherein Beijing attempts to encircle India by a series of ports and maritime installations under its control in the Indian Ocean such as the overseas military base in Djibouti, Gwadar in Pakistan, and the ports in Bay of Bengal under Chinese influence hosted by either Bangladesh or Myanmar. Chinese submarine presence is also a new reality, particularly in areas surrounding the Malacca Straits.
All these factors naturally brought New Delhi closer to Washington to formulate a ‘collective strategy’ against the expansionist tendencies manifested by Chinese behaviour. At the same time, India has been taking proactive steps in its individual capacity to boost ties with other island and littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), like Mauritius and Seychelles where India’s listening posts to monitor sea-lanes also operate.
The Indian Navy has always been the first responder to any HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) situations in the IOR which earned significant soft power and respect for India in the countries of the region. This vision has been immortalized in India’s maritime doctrine for regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean, SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region), that was unveiled in 2015.
With the entry of the US, which already has its presence in the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia lying mid-way of the ocean, that too with India’s approval, and France in Reunion in the western Indian Ocean, the geostrategic picture of IOR is beginning to change.
Maldives stands as a good example of how to overcome Chinese dominating agenda by boosting cooperation among democracies. But, the Abdullah Yameen-era nightmare of Chinese debt burden is still far from over. In fact, Sri Lanka too is well aware of the Chinese trap from which it yearns to decouple itself. But, Colombo is left with limited options or alternatives to do so.
The renewed Indo-US strategic cooperation, if not translated into offering a viable solution to the debt-trap conundrum, Sri Lanka might irreversibly evolve into another extension of Beijing’s legs in the Indian Ocean threatening the sovereignty of democracies in the region.
Recent steps in the strategic realm are welcome, but the Indo-Pacific democracies, particularly India and the US, should cooperate with these two key island states more in the economic realm as well, if possible near to the extent of Beijing as a collective move.
The Dysfunctional Pakistan’s Legislature
The legislature of Pakistan has several problems and because of this very reason governments are unable to make any landmark laws for the state that can prove to be effective in resulting some socio-political or economic changes in the society. The noncooperation among the parties in the house is the major problem that leads no healthy debate. People have never seen the political parties having a healthy debate among the political parties on some key matters that need to address. Political parties prefer crosstalk on each other that mostly ends up on the dismal of legislature. Mostly in the house the opposition and the party in power never each on consensus on anything that shows their no seriousness towards the legislation.
In my opinion the opposition of Pakistan perceives its role to be negative always. The opposition perceives as their duty to walk out from the house, make fun of their fellow colleagues, bringing our historical facts to propagate negativity about the agenda. This attitude results in no fruitful law-making.
The scenario of national assembly of Pakistan is that if the ruling party does not has two-third majority in the house they will be paralyzed as the opposition has imagines role of not supporting the government to pass laws and bills that can benefit their reputation among the public. In this game of interest the parties forget the importance of legislation and national interest rather they are more focused on protecting their own interests and interests of their political parties.
The tussle between the government and the opposition is endless that is negatively impacting the legislative system of Pakistan.
Another factor that weakens the legislative process of Pakistan is the issues within the upper house. This plays a vital role in enacting the laws without senate’s cooperation legislation cannot improve and strength.
The sustained bitterness and confrontation with the government and opposition leads to no progress in the making of legislation and strengthening the rule of law. For example the PTI coalition passed the bills and introduced 8 ordinances in its first year of government.
The ten bills passed by national assembly faced a new challenge which was the Senate of Pakistan where PTI also does not hold the majority. Ten out of 4 bills sailed through Senate whereas 3 remained pending in Senate. Only 7 bills turned into acts in the first year of PTI government.
The lack of coordination and seriousness in the parliament is affecting the progress of Pakistan. Without rules and making of new legislation how can the country progress? In a democratic system the rule of law is one of the pillars for true democratic practices but unfortunately in Pakistan we only see leg-pulling and blame game between the institutions. The lack of political consensus among the parties is another problem. On the other hand the formation of Standing Committees of national assembly is important for the functioning of the system. According to the Rules of Procedure of national assembly the members of Standing Committees has to be elected within 30 days after the elections of the leader of house but according to the data of PILDAT previous assembly managed to form these in 3 months instead of 30 days. This indicated lack of seriousness of the members.
The current government has only got the executive authority and not the legislative competence that makes them dysfunctional as they are dependent on the opposition and then Senate for passing of the legislation and making it a law.
Another factor that weakens the legislative system of Pakistan is the overactive judiciary and the intervention of the military in law making. Through this intervention the legacy of the military rule is still being kept alive. Most of the time the Supreme Court and the judiciary intervene in the legislation to serve their interest and weaken their opponents sitting in the government. The overactive judiciary encroaches the governance agenda, legislative advice etc. the legislative procedure in Pakistan is still developing its institutional identity.
The duty of the legislature is to respond to its public needs and also exercise oversight of the executive, but there is not engagement in the civil society and no research is being conducted on the public policy for better and effective policy making.
In the end it can be concluded that the system is also faulty but the attitude of the parliamentarians is more disappointing and discouraging. The whole system is unsuitable for a less educated population of Pakistan as most of the parliamentarians are unaware of policy-making and its importance for the state. The process is also complex and complicated as it has to go through several steps for making a bill a law.
Through this process, law-making on controversial issues is nearly impossible because in Pakistan people protect their interest instead of their state. Even if the government is serious for law-making the judiciary, military and bureaucracy will not allow the government to do its job. This is high time to adopt a new system in this country and draw lines for every institutions particularly judiciary that is the most rigid institutions and creates hurdles for every government by interrupting them.
Reinforcing the Role of the International Community in Resolving the Rohingya Crisis
Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees since August 2017. The United Nations defined Myanmar’s August 2017 atrocities to the Rohingyas as “Textbook case of ethnic cleansing”. On July 02, 2018, during his visit to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General noted that “I have no doubt that the Rohingya people have always been one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world, without any recognition of the most basic rights starting by the recognition of the right of citizenship by their own country – Myanmar”. Thus, the severity of the Rohingya crisis is well-recognized by the international community. This article focuses on the necessity of the international community’s role in facilitating a safe and sustainable Rohingya crisis solution.
The ironic story is that though it is already three years passed, no concrete action is manifested to facilitate the Rohingya refugee repatriation. In the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China applied veto power in the case of Rohingya refugee resolution, which made strong impediments to the repatriation process. Russia and China did this calculating their narrowly defined interest rather than humanity which is in fact, ironic for the world. Thus, the United Nations could not play a crucial role in facilitating the Rohingya refugee repatriation.
Bangladesh is one of the densely populated countries in the world. Though Bangladesh is a rising economic power, feeding more than 170 million people is not an easy task. Also, more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees have added extra socio-economic pressures in the country. For Bangladesh’s continued growth, prosperity, and stability, there is no alternative to repatriate the Rohingya refugees in Myanmar as early as possible. Since Myanmar committed ethnic cleansing to the Rohingyas, and the country is not interested in taking back the Rohingyas, only the international community including the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) can pressurize Myanmar to ensure a safe and sustainable repatriation.
Bangladesh strongly believes that the international community can play an essential role in resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis permanently. For instance, at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, offered five points proposal including the full implementation of recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission, and the establishment of civilian monitored safe zone in the Rakhine State to the international community to resolve the issue. Similarly, at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina offered a four points-proposal to resolve the Rohingya crisis highlighting the role of the international community. Sheikh Hasina emphasized that the international community must ensure that the root causes of the Rohingya problem area addressed and the violation of human rights and other atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingyas are accounted for.
The good news is that the on November 19, 2020, the United Nations has adopted a resolution on “The Situation of Human Rights of the Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar” while Bangladesh seeks a peaceful solution to the Rohingya crisis. The Resolution called for taking concrete actions by Myanmar to address the root causes of the Rohingya crisis, i.e. granting them citizenship, ensuring the safe and sustainable return of the Rohingyas to their homes by creating a conducive environment. Bangladesh Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Rabab Fatima notes that “As a country that hosts over 1.1 million forcibly displaced Rohingyas, Bangladesh continues to seek a peaceful solution to this crisis, which lies in their safe and dignified return to Myanmar”.
Notably, Germany on behalf of the European Union and Saudi Arabia on behalf of the OIC co-tabled the Resolution which was sponsored by the 104 member states including the USA, Canada, and Australia. It is also a positive development that a total of 132 countries voted in favour of the Resolution while nine countries voted against and 31 countries abstained. It demonstrates that most of the countries in the world want a permanent, sustainable and peaceful solution to the Rohingya crisis. It also signifies that these countries care for the humanity while the nine countries who voted against the Resolution only care for their narrowly defined interest. The future generations will undoubtedly read and know the actions of those nine countries who do not care for humanity. Those nine countries need to know that despite several domestic challenges, Sheikh Hasina has shown kindness, humanitarian gesture and thus protected and sheltered those Rohingyas from killing by the Myanmar armies.
Notably, Bangladesh is one of the top ten countries in the world in terms of hosting refugees. This will remain as a humanitarian example in the world. One also needs to keep in mind that the socio-economic realities of Turkey (who is the top in hosting refugees), and Bangladesh is not the same. While the GDP (per capita) of Turkey is US$ 9043, Bangladesh’s GDP (per capita) is US$ 1856, the population density of Turkey is 108 per square kilometres, and Bangladesh’s population density is 1116 per square kilometres. Thus, considering the contexts, and socio-economic realities of Bangladesh, the international community needs to reinforce the Rohingya refugee repatriation process. Most importantly, the international community needs to execute the adopted Resolution as early as possible for the sake of humanity, for the sake of a just cause. The future world will certainly note the noble actions taken by the international community for such a just, and reasonable cause.
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