India fought off U.S. pressure to endorse ‘regime change to fix human rights'
India came under heavy pressure to sign up to the United States' confrontational human rights agenda but, in a rare act of defiance, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) stayed the course, saying “Washington cannot expect to enlist New Delhi on ‘frontal' efforts like regime change to fix human rights problems.''
The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi was barely able to suppress its fury. It commented in a cable to Washington that a “true change'' in India's policy on “human rights at the tactical level may have to wait until more of the Indian Foreign Service's NAM-nostalgic cadres retire.”
The rift, which related to the powers of the newly created United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), is reported in a U.S. diplomatic cable accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.
Reporting a meeting between U.S. diplomats and a senior MEA official, a cable dated March 31, 2006 (58912: confidential), sent under the name of Ambassador David Mulford, said: “MEA's UN Joint Secretary Manjiv Puri was sanguine about the as-yet unaddressed flaws in the new Human Rights Council, arguing that the need to stand for election in the General Assembly would bar the worst human rights violators from the Council.”
The 47-member Council, which replaced the Human Rights Commission, was established through a UN General Assembly resolution adopted with overwhelming majority on March 15, 2006. The U.S. was the only major power which — along with Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau — voted against it. The U.S. wanted countries which, in its opinion, did not have a good human rights record to be excluded from the Council's membership.
Even after the creation of the Council, the U.S. continued to push for an aggressive “country-specific” approach to promoting human rights. But India took the position that “engagement,'' “assistance'' and “advice” constituted a better option.
The cable said: “The GOI is comfortable promoting human rights around the globe, Puri said, but Washington cannot expect to enlist New Delhi on ‘frontal' efforts like regime change to fix human rights problems. India prefers to offer assistance, advice, and example to promote human rights, he explained, arguing that Pakistan, for example, is forced to defend human rights because the world community compares Pakistan to India's example.”
Mr. Puri made clear that India and the U.S. had “different approaches to promoting country-specific human rights,” and questioned whether passing a resolution against a country would achieve much.
“In some circumstances, ‘what does passing a resolution do,' he wondered, arguing that engagement and hoping that democracy will ‘rub off' is a better strategy in the long run,” the cable said.
It was signed off with the comment: “Although the senior leadership in New Delhi has made progress over the past two years in being willing actively and publicly to promote democracy, the Foreign Ministry's allergy to country-specific resolutions is proving resilient. It is unfortunate that New Delhi's positive statements to us on the HRC have been tarnished by its New York Ambassador's NAM-centric statement on the vote. A true change of course on human rights at the tactical level may have to wait until more of the Indian Foreign Service's NAM-nostalgic cadres retire.''
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)