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Updated: April 1, 2011 05:23 IST

When New Delhi stood its ground

Hasan Suroor
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The Hindu

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.)

People in India live in same internet age as much as they live in US and West, I wonder why their interpretation is then so different to the West. Obama talked about democracy while visiting Egypt, Israel 2 years back only to see the words coming to haunt him when Mubarak was holding on to power 2 months back. MMSingh too has talked about promoting the democracy - just during the last month. The Libyan situation has deteriorated over 2/3 months. When Ghadafi does not want to leave power and wants to crush whoever calls for democracy. Should all do what India or its so called NAM focussed foreign Service did in UN vote, abstain from decisions as if that will decide the situation in Libya. Indira Gandhi did not vacillate when Bangladesh was next door in turmoil in '71. Why that situation was any different than one in Libya. All this internet age does not register its ripples in India is it because cricket World Cup is going on and India's corruption cases are keeping the country busy to itself - after all Libya is a far away country which only has almost same population Delhi has. Yes, why should India bother? But I wonder why does India covet a seat at UN - so that it can bring indecisiveness on all issues. That could only be good for India and not for the world.

from:  Gaurav Kaushik
Posted on: Apr 1, 2011 at 16:46 IST

Brilliant! The MEA did a good job. The US must be told that we are a genuine democracy and can think for ourselves. We won't accept the US tutoring us on what to do and what not to do. True we have many skeletons in our cupboard when it comes to human rights issues and protection but so does the US. In fact compared to the US ours is a quite good record. Most of the current dangers faced by the world were single handedly created by the US and its cronies. Osama bin Laden and the Taliban were American creations used by it to force the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Saddam was also supported and armed by the US in the early days of his regime. The autocracies and dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf have total American backing. These regimes have (or had) the worst human rights record in the world. Analysing these events leads to the following statement - AS LONG AS YOU ARE A SUPPORTER OF EACH AND EVERY US ACTION AND ACCEPT ALL THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS SET BY IT (WHICH SUIT THE NEEDS AND REQUIREMENTS OF THE US INDUSTRY, COMMERCE AND TRADE) YOUR BRUTALITIES AND GHASTLY DEEDS WILL BE OVERLOOKED AND PARDONED.

from:  Avishek Deb
Posted on: Apr 1, 2011 at 16:36 IST

I wish the future Foreign Service professionals too are NAM-centric and steer India in the zone of Independent foreign policy. What US is doing is not bringing human rights, it is installing its puppets which can be seen in a way as a virtual colonialism. Until the regime serves them, they give a damn to what happens to the citizens, Bahrain is an excellent example.

from:  Sivasathivel Kandasamy
Posted on: Apr 1, 2011 at 13:33 IST

It would be interesting to know how the cable drew its conclusion that the policy of leadership change is proving resilient. Specially after the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq. And now, with involvement in Libya, they are repeating the same mistakes that the previous US administration committed. When will the US learn that fundamental and long-term change cannot be brought about by external force but must come from within.

from:  Shubh
Posted on: Apr 1, 2011 at 08:10 IST
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