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Afghanistan: Humanitarian crisis threatens basic human rights

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Two-year-old Fatima has her nutritional status screened at Bab-e-Bargh health centre which is supported by UNICEF in Herat city's largest health clinic. © UNICEF/Sayed Bidel

Respect for fundamental rights and freedoms by the de facto authorities in Afghanistan is critical to ensuring stability in the country, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday in Geneva. 

Briefing the UN Human Rights Council, Nada Al-Nashif detailed how the profound humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is threatening basic rights, with women, girls, and civil society among those most affected. 

Dignity or deprivation 

“How the de facto authorities – indeed, and the international community – address the drastic economic and humanitarian crises in the country will determine Afghans’ enjoyment of human rights, now and into the future,” she said

They will mark the difference between potential lives of dignity and well-being – or accelerating deprivation, injustice and tragic loss of life.” 

Staff from the UN human rights office, OHCHR, remain on the ground in Afghanistan, where the economy is largely paralysed and poverty and hunger are rising.   

Ms. Al-Nashif said that as Afghans struggle to meet basic needs, they are being pushed to take desperate measures, including child labour and child marriage. News reports have also surfaced of children being sold. 

A matter of life and death 

The situation is further compounded by the impact of sanctions and the freezing of State assets.   

The difficult policy choices that Member States make at this critical juncture, to avert economic collapse, are literally life and death. They will define Afghanistan’s pathway into the future,” she said. 

Ms. Al-Nashif reported that although fighting has receded since August, when the Taliban took over, Afghan civilians remain at risk of conflict as the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) and other armed groups are still carrying out lethal attacks. 

Extrajudicial killings 

Despite a general amnesty by the Taliban, announced in August, her office has received “credible allegations” of more than 100 killings of former Afghan national security forces and others associated with the former Government.   

At least 72 killings were attributed to the Taliban, and in several cases the bodies were publicly displayed. 

“In Nangarhar province alone, there also appears to be a pattern of at least 50 extra-judicial killings of individuals suspected to be members of the ISIL-KP. Brutal methods of killings, including hanging, beheadings, and public display of corpses have been reported,” she added. 

Concern for women and children 

Ms. Al-Nashif was also deeply concerned about the continued risk of child recruitment, particularly boys, by both ISIL-KP and the de facto authorities.  Children also continue to comprise the majority of civilians killed and injured by unexploded ordnance. 

Meanwhile, women and girls face great uncertainty when it comes to respecting their rights to education, livelihoods and participation. Some 4.2 million young Afghans are already out of school, 60 per cent of them girls.   

There has also been a decline in girls’ secondary school attendance, even in provinces where the de facto authorities have permitted them to attend school.  This is largely due to the absence of women teachers, since in some locations girls are only allowed to be taught by women. 

Unanswered questions 

Although a 3 December decree on women’s rights was “an important signal”, Ms. Nashif said it leaves many questions unanswered.  

“For example, it does not make clear a minimum age for marriage, nor refer to any wider women and girls’ rights to education, to work, to freedom of movement, or to participate in public life,” she said. 

Furthermore, women are largely prohibited from working, except for some teachers, health workers and NGO staff.  They also cannot take products to market since local de facto authorities have closed women-operated bazaars.  

“Many Afghan women and girls now have to be accompanied by a male relative whenever they leave their residence. These are strictly enforced in some places, but not all,” Ms. Al-Nashif told the Council. 

She warned that UN partners estimate that restricting women from working will contribute to an immediate economic loss of up to $1 billion

Civil society under attack 

Afghan civil society has also come under attack in recent months.  Since August, at least eight activists and two journalists have been killed, and others injured, by unidentified armed men. 

The UN mission in the country, UNAMA, has documented nearly 60 apparently arbitrary detentions, beatings, and threats of activists, journalists, and staff of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, attributed to the de facto authorities.   

Several women’s rights defenders have also been threatened, and there is widespread fear of reprisals since a violent crackdown on women’s peaceful protests in September. Many media outlets have shuttered, as have numerous civil society groups.  

Justice on lockdown 

Furthermore, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has been unable to operate since August, while the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association faces a loss of independence as the de facto authorities now administer its activities under the de facto Ministry of Justice.   

“The safety of Afghan judges, prosecutors, and lawyers – particularly women legal professionals – is a matter for particular alarm,” Ms. Al-Nashif added. “Many are currently in hiding for fear of retribution, including from convicted prisoners who were freed by the de facto authorities, notably men convicted of gender-based violence.” 

Ms. Al-Nashif stressed that upholding human rights is critical for Afghanistan to move forward. 

“The de facto authorities’ respect for and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons in Afghanistan, without discrimination, is integral to ensuring stability. Failure to uphold human rights will inevitably lead to further turmoil and unrest, and will hold back Afghanistan’s development,” she said. 

“Moreover, as a member of the international community, Afghanistan is bound by the existing international obligations of the treaties it has ratified. Obligations under these treaties remain in place, regardless of the particular authorities exercising effective power.” 

“Avalanche of hunger and destitution”: WFP 

The disintegrating Afghan economy is making it difficult for people to get enough to eat, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday. 

The UN agency urgently needs $220 million a month in 2022 as it ramps up operations to provide food and cash assistance to more than 23 million Afghans facing severe hunger. 

WFP has assisted 15 million people across all 34 provinces in the country so far this year, reaching some seven million in November alone, up from four million in September. 

Afghanistan is facing an avalanche of hunger and destitution the likes of which I have never seen in my twenty plus years with the World Food Programme,” said Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the agency’s Country Director there. 

Desperate measures 

WFP’s latest phone survey found an estimated 98 per cent of Afghans are not consuming enough food, a worrisome 17 per cent increase since August. 

Families are barely coping, the agency said, and are resorting to desperate measures with the onset of winter, with eight in 10 eating less, and seven in 10 borrowing food just to get by. 

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Indian Republic Day: A Black Day for Kashmiris

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India celebrates ‘Republic Day’ on January 26th every year to commemorate the day when the Constitution of India came into effect, replacing the Government of India Act 1935, and making India a republic. However, it is observed as a ‘black day’ in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK) because it marks the day when the Indian government stripped the region of its autonomous status and imposed direct rule from New Delhi. Kashmir has been a contentious issue between India and Pakistan since the two countries gained independence in 1947. The people of Jammu and Kashmir were promised a high degree of autonomy under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which was in effect until August 2019, when the Indian government revoked it. This autonomy included the right to a separate constitution, a separate flag, and laws that were distinct from the rest of India. However, in practice, the Indian government has been involved in suppressing the political and basic rights of the people of Jammu & Kashmir and denying them their right to self-determination.

The special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which was revoked by the Indian government in 2019, had given the region a high degree of autonomy and protected its distinct identity. The revocation of this special status has led to widespread protests and resentment among the people of the region, who see it as an infringement on their rights and an attempt by the Indian government to suppress their political and cultural identity and right of self-determination.

The Indian government’s handling of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has also been criticized by international human rights organizations, who in their recent reports have highlighted how the Indian government has been involved in human rights violations of the people of Kashmir, through the use of excessive force, arbitrary arrests, and censorship of the media. International Human Rights Law forbids the unjustified deprivation of life. The right to life is embodied in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is being flagrantly violated in Kashmiri. India has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well (ICCPR). Which hasn’t prevented it from abusing the law, though.

When the Indian government removed Indian Occupied Kashmir’s special status and sent thousands more troops to the area, the situation for the locals of Kashmir became much tougher. Additionally, India reverted to age-old slavery techniques by enforcing a curfew on the helpless population, cutting off the internet and telecommunications, and detaining political figures, leaving 1.47 billion people cut off from the outside world, devoid of fundamental human rights, and living in dread. Since the repeal of Article 370 and the ensuing curfew, there have been reports of nighttime raids in which youngsters have been kidnapped and tortured, as well as of women being harassed. Intentionally violating both international humanitarian law and human rights law, the Indian military has intentionally dismembered, injured, and several times murdered people during this forceful conquest. The Kashmiri diaspora in the UK and Europe observe “Black Day” on January 26th each year to protest the Indian government’s illegal actions in Jammu& Kashmir. This day marks the anniversary of the Indian Constitution coming into effect in 1950, which provides a pretext for the formalization of Indian control over Kashmir, a region that has been the subject of ongoing conflict and human rights abuses. The diaspora uses this day to raise awareness about human rights abuses and the ongoing conflict in the region, and to call for self-determination for the people of Kashmir. They also call on the international community to break the status quo imposed by the fascist Indian government. For instance, the president of Tehreek-e-Kashmir UK president claimed that “the people of Kashmir have challenged India to take out the forces (one million) from the valley and then celebrate the republic day”. Jammu & Kashmir salvation movement president Altaf Ahmed also call the UN for intervention to protect the rights of Kashmiris.

India has long claimed to be the world’s largest democracy and a champion of human rights. However, it has a long history of human rights abuses and political suppression in the region of Kashmir. Despite India’s claims of being the world’s largest democratic state, it has been involved use of excessive force against peaceful protesters, the imposition of strict curfews and internet shutdowns, and the detention of political leaders and activists in the Kashmir region. The Indian government has also been criticized for its heavy-handed tactics in dealing with the insurgency in the region, which has resulted in widespread human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. The Indian government has also failed to provide the people of Kashmir with basic democratic rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to self-determination.

It is certainly true that the Indian government’s actions in the region of Kashmir have been widely criticized for human rights abuses and the suppression of political dissent. The deployment of a large number of security forces in the region, along with heavy-handed tactics, have resulted in widespread human rights abuses and a lack of protection for the people of Kashmir. This is in contrast to the protection of basic human and democratic rights, which are supposed to be guaranteed to all citizens of India by the Constitution. How a democratic state can be the largest human rights violator? A self-proclaimed secular state which does not give the rights of minorities cannot be a democratic republic state.

The situation in Kashmir raises questions about the Indian government’s commitment to protecting the rights of all of its citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion. A democratic state should ensure that all citizens are protected and treated fairly under the law, but the actions of the Indian government in Kashmir suggest that this is not always the case. Similarly, a self-proclaimed secular state like India should ensure that all religious groups are treated fairly, but the Indian government has been criticized for its treatment of minority groups in the country, particularly the Muslim population of Kashmir.

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A Brief History of British Imperialism in India

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Map, "The Indian Empire and surrounding countries" (1909), Imperial Gazetteer of India. Via Wikipedia

The British Empire

The British Empire or Kingdom was an imperial entity that changed the global order in every way imaginable. The Kingdom of Great Britain was conceived in 1707 when Scotland and Wales joined England under the sovereignty of the Crown. Having ruled for three centuries, its imperialist tendencies had started to show quite early in the 17th century when Britain lay claim to its very first colony in Jamestown, Virginia. Imperial tendencies refer to the aggressive and expansionist ideology that had been donned by the Empire. British imperialism refers to the attempts and following successes of Britain in expanding its power territorially. It did this by infiltrating various regions of the world and forming colonies; though the colonies were self-managed for the most part, they were answerable to the monarchy and were exploited thoroughly without any compensation. Their foreign policy was to self-portray as traders and travelers and then obtain regional control over time. It was a global phenomenon, and it was majorly aided by England’s foray into maritime expansion. Shipping routes were new and undiscovered which led to new lands ripe for exploration and exploitation. There was also a certain rush within the Empire to expand due to the competitive nature of the international system at that time. It was a challenging race for control between England, Spain, France, and Holland.

The colonized regions of the world include North America, Australia, West Indies, New Zealand, Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong), Africa (Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya), and more. Around sixty-five current nation-states gained independence from the Empire. However, Britain left behind deep scars within the system that are detrimental to progress to this day.

Geopolitical

The British monarchy played a dominant role in one of the world’s greatest tragedies – The Transatlantic Slave Trade which lasted from about the 16th century to the 19th century. It altered the geopolitical dimensions of the world through massive population displacements. Even though later on it called for the Abolition (1833) and Emancipation of slavery and slaves – it had been a decisive enough move to alter world history.

Economic

The formation of colonies was for both political and economic power. They were sources of power with a combined manpower of over 450 million people. The colonies presented as pure profit as the natives and slates weren’t given adequate fiscal compensation. Working for pennies on the dollar, the indigenous populations were forced to work in less than favorable working conditions for long taxing hours. The major trade from colonies consisted of sugar, spices, silk, cotton, salt, silver, gold, ivory, tobacco, tea, and more. Many of these such as mining metals and extracting sugar are incredibly labor-intensive works.

The empire used various tactics to carve out strongholds in their regions of choice. The establishment of trading companies – Hudson Bay Company and East India Company, and Strait Settlements.

Socio-cultural

The Britishers have been responsible for most of the socio-cultural divide in the Subcontinent. Before their arrival in 1600s, the region was flourishing under the Mughal Rule with various castes and religions coexisting peacefully. Once the Empire came into control, they sowed seeds of discord amongst the masses along racial and religious lines. The promotion of white supremacy and the English language enveloped the people in a sense of inferiority that still rears its head to this day. The Muslim-Hindu divide became more pronounced after the War of Independence in 1857.

Indian Subcontinent

Formation of the East India Company

In the last months of the year 1600, a group of London-based traders asked for a royal charter – a document that essentially brings legal recognition to organizations and declarations and is granted by the monarch of the time, in order to expand their trade to the East Indies via new naval routes. They wanted to set up a new organization called The East India Company in the Indian subcontinent due to its massive potential. The request was granted by Queen Elizabeth I and the merchants set out, headed by James Lancaster. Once they reached it, they had to first request permission to establish their company. Sir Thomas Roe was sent forward to conduct negotiations with Mughal Emperor Jahangir who was eventually won over by the British charm. Finally, the company set up shop in Surat in the first decade of the 17th century.

Entrance into Politics

The initial interest of the Britishers was indeed purely economic and the company was working independently of the Kingdom. However, soon it became a full-blown empire of sorts with its own armed forces and land. They became responsible for almost half the goods being exported out of India. Their trade included spices, silk, cotton, dye, ammunition, glass, clay-made goods, opium, and tea. Their control over the remaining pillars of the state – Military and Politics, was initiated by General Robert Clive. Clive was a member of the EIC who joined the company army and led it to victory against Siraj-ud-Daulah – The Nawab of Bengal, in the Battle of Plassey in 1757. As he replaced the Nawab as the new governor of Bengal, it marked the start of British incursion into Indian politics. As another century passed and as India became more valuable to England, the Crown took over ruling in 1857 after the War of Independence, eventually dissolving East India Company in 1874.

British Raj

The British rule, as known in India – British Raj, was significantly more parasitic than the East India Company was with its ventures. It managed to destroy systems that had been thriving for centuries.

Disregarding Traditional Ways

British economy brought with it a complete disregard for cultural sentimentality and practices. They were in a global race for capital and territory, something which was not compatible with the traditional practices of the Indian people. They were made to abandon their ancestral teachings and ways of craftsmanship to fall in line with the mechanized ways of the British economy. Cheaper machine-made products replaced handmade goods. Those who could not work for hours in factories or toil away on the fields were suddenly out of jobs. There was a massive decline in employment in the vulnerable sectors of society – women, the elderly, and disabled communities.

Economic Policies

Forced labor and poor pay weren’t the only means through which British imperialism was ripping Indian society into shreds. There was a hefty price to pay because of their economic policies introduced in 1813, the repercussions of which can still be felt in modern times. The infamous policy of ‘One Way Free Trade’ which was introduced in 1813 set forth a precedent for British trade. According to it, British exports into India were not taxed, nor were they met with any tariffs, while Indian exports were taxed heavily. India was drained. It meant that Britain was working with a pure profit off of Indian resources and labor while actively suppressing any nationalized economy of the subcontinent.

Class Divide

England was front and center in creating and cementing a class divide within India. White supremacy was prevalent and with it came a heavy dose of linguistic racism. English was the primary mode of trade and communication in the upper echelons. The English Education Act was passed in 1835 which got funds reallocated for restructuring educational institutions for the sole purpose of making English the language of instruction and discussion.

Famines

Once World War II was initiated in 1939, Britain was up against Axis Powers – Germany, Italy, and Japan. Although it had the support of other Allied powers, still the cost was too high for Britain to bear due to its resources being spread out amongst the colonies all over the world. It directed the cash flows to the war efforts leading to massive famines in India. Overall, during its imperial rule, the Crown contributed to no less than 12 famines in India spanning from the years 1769-1944. The most atrocious one was The Bengal Famine. Lasting for little over a year, this famine set India back decades as it slaughtered millions and led to an internal economic collapse as well, sending many tumbling below the poverty line. The money that could have preserved the masses was instead used to fund arms and ammunition.

The Disintegration of Hindu-Muslim Relations

The British and their colonial legacy are responsible for the religious disharmony that is seen in modern-day India. The Britishers borrowed the divide-and-rule philosophy from Julius Caesar and used it to segregate the communities of India. The Sepoy Mutiny saw a religious fracture in the social fabric of the subcontinent which isolated both Hindus and Muslims – a previously co-habiting community into separate metaphorical corners. It eventually led to the Muslims forming an in-group mentality due to the common suffering. This ‘Us vs Them’ approach led to the 1947 partition and is still visible in modern-day India keeping the socio-religious conflict alive.

Conclusion

Much of the western world and most of Britain especially is built upon the backs of colonial labor. Their infrastructure, factories, and entire social standing are built because of the free and forced labor of the former colonies. Excess taxation and plunder are the only reasons why Britain survived the industrialization of the world and managed to maintain its position at the top.

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Hindutva has overshadowed Indian Republic Ideology

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India Modi

India observes Republic Day on January 26 each year to honor the 1950 Constitution of India, which succeeded the Government of India Act (1935) as the country’s governing law. Following decolonization, India’s new constitution was secular, emphasizing a reasonable separation of religion and state matters rather than strict demarcation as in many Western democracies. However, the political victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the late 1990s and past six years of Moodi’s victory, deduced an obvious Hindu interpretation of democracy that differs from the existential western form of democracy.  Religious content has increased in India’s electoral environment (BJP). The post-colonial era has conveyed an alternative nationalism, one that is founded not on secular ideas but rather on the idea that Hindu culture and Indian culture are inseparable. Moodi is ready to transform India into a contemporary Hindu version of controlled democracy through his widespread advocacy of Hindutva ideology.

The secularism of the Indian Republic has always been opposed by the Hindutva movement. A significant portion of Muslims were persuaded to remain in India instead of migrating to the newly founded Islamic state of Pakistan because, at the time, independent India proclaimed itself a secular state, offering freedom to all minority groups as well as citizens’ fundamental rights. All those who supported secularism were perished tragically due to the brutality of the rising Hindu extremism. Even Mahatma Gandhi, the most influential Hindu leader, was assassinated by the RSS because of his secular vision. Since then, Hindutva has become the core of every right-wing political group in India, including the RSS, Shiv Sena, Hindu Mahasbha, and BJP, led by Narendra Modi.

Since many years, termite fascism—which rejects equality—has been encroaching on India in the form of Hindutva. Apparently, in present day India, the Hindu Rashtra is theoretically opposed to caste discrimination against political Hindus. Modi’s ordinary beginning and ascension to authority offer conclusive proof of a free and fair modernity. However, in practice, Hindutva is ready to accept the daily coercions that characterize contemporary Indian society. Instead of assuring the due rights of minorities residing in India, the parliament validated the communal, majoritarian, and intolerable Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)  – 2019 (CAA) followed by Indian High Court’s suspicious decision on the Babri Masjid.  By fabricating a “Muslim threat” to support the BJP’s anti-Muslim actions, Hindutva has exacerbated social divisions in India. Undoubtedly, right-wing Hindu nationalism threatens India’s constitutional foundations by establishing a Hindu Rashtra. This includes the 2019 Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the removal of Kashmir’s autonomous status, and the Kerala hijab ban. Fascism is reshaping itself in India. It has infiltrated Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, and now seriously endangers Indian democracy.

Similarly, the inauguration of a Hindu temple in Ayudha on August 5, 2020 (the same day a year after Article 370 was revoked) in lieu of a Mughal-era mosque razed by a right-wing Hindu mob in 1992. This confirms that the BJP has re-energized Savarkar’s plan of Hindutva as a political religion, although in a decidedly populist tone. Conservatism is now increasingly couched in current class semantics (“rich” and “poor”) rather than ancient caste terminology. Some people are considered more equal than others. Muslims, Christians, Marxists, and anti-caste campaigners are the new targets of prejudice and rejection. Individuals under such categories would be deemed political Hindus if they accepted Hindutva. In the new Hindu government, the lines are porous, and everything is negotiable.

Here, the point of concern is whether secularism would continue to serve India’s central philosophy. Perhaps it would be determined by a confluence of political factors, specifically the BJP’s future electoral success and the tactics the opposition uses to challenge the ruling party. Hindu nationalism is stripping India of one of its greatest strengths at a time when nations all over the world are struggling to deal with religious diversity. Therefore, it may not be incorrect to say that Hindu nationalism has an unquestionable sphere of influence over Indian politics and society, despite its evidently xenophobic emergence under the BJP. In fact, the revival of caste identities, which frequently threaten religious identities, is indirectly detrimental to secularism. The BJP has consistently attempted to adopt discriminatory policies to exploit caste-based individualities. In sum, India’s commitment to secularist republic tradition is now in doubt given the political dominance of the BJP’s trademark of Hindu nationalism.

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