Human rights to be a ‘ core’ part of Garcetti’s engagement with India

The U.S. Ambassador to India said he would bring up human rights and discrimination such as the Citizenship Amendment Act.

December 15, 2021 01:39 am | Updated 01:39 am IST - Los Angeles

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. File

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. File

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti , U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee for the position of Ambassador to India, told a Senate committee that human rights, including in the context of the Citizenship Amendment Act, will be a “core” part of his work in India.

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Garcetti said he had fought for human rights (he was on the board of rights group, Human Rights Watch, in California) and that he would bring up human rights and discrimination such as via the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as a “core” piece of his engagement , rather than as an obligation. He was responding to a question from Senator Ben Cardin (Democrat, Maryland) on human rights and also specifically the CAA, as being discriminatory against Muslims.

On the question of how he would balance the need to work with India as a strategic partner with advancing human rights, Mr. Garcetti said the relationship between the countries was underpinned by a commitment to human rights, democracy and civil society.

“ It's a two way street on these, but I intend to engage directly with civil society,” he said, adding, “There are groups that are actively fighting for human rights of people on the ground in India that will get direct engagement from me.”

Setting the stage in his initial remarks, Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat, New Jersey), who chairs the Committee, said that as the U.S. and India deepen their relationship, there would “ inevitably “ be areas of friction, citing India’s purchase of Russian defence equipment and “democratic backsliding and discrimination against religious minorities.” Mr. Menendez told Mr. Garcetti that he expected him to be frank with New Delhi about not just aspects of cooperation but also areas of concern in the relationship.

“ New Delhi will need to address our concerns if it seeks to deepen our partnership even further,” Mr. Menendez said.

“ …Respect for human rights and strong democratic institutions are key elements of our relationship and values that are enshrined in both of our constitutions and if confirmed, I will engage regularly and respectfully with the Indian government on these issues,” he said at one point during the hearing.

Denies allegations that he tolerated sexual harassment in his office

Asked by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat, New Hampshire) about his role in a lawsuit brought by a former bodyguard against his deputy Rick Jacobs, Mr. Garcetti denied allegations that he was witness to but did not stop Jacobs’s sexual advances towards his bodyguard. He had also previously denied these allegations.

The mayor also said he had a policy of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and that he would raise sexual harassment (in the women context) if confirmed to the ambassador role in India.

‘ India vital to U.S. prosperity and security’

“ Few nations are more vital to the future of American security and prosperity than India,” Mr. Garcetti said, adding that if confirmed he would seek to advance a shared vision of a “ free and open Indo Pacific region,” and support “ free trade” to help generate middle class American jobs. He also said he would endeavor to strengthen India’s border security, via counter terrorism coordination, information sharing and joint military exercises and freedom of navigation patrols. Mr. Garcetti said he had personally witnessed military exercises (he used to be a navy intelligence officer) and expressed his condolences for the death of General Bipin Rawat.

Mr. Garcetti suggested a focus of his work would be climate action, as he highlighted his credentials as the chair of a global network of city mayors confronting climate change. He also said he would work with India via the International Solar Alliances (which is headed by India and which the U.S. signed up to in November) and the climate partnership between the two countries.

“ But my friends in the end, the bedrock of our relationship are the warm and deep ties between our peoples,” he said.

Non-Committal on CAATSA or Waiver

On CAATSA (Countering Americas Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, a domestic law in the U.S.), Mr. Garcetti did not commit to a position on a sanctions waiver for India for buying the Russian S-400 missile defence system, saying instead that he did not want to prejudge the Secretary of State’s decision on the matter. He did, however, say that he would advocate for India to continue to diversity its defence purchases [i.e., away from Russia] and bring up the threats to U.S. security systems if such diversification did not occur. He suggested that he would work with someone who has served along with the Indian forces to deepen people to people military ties and industrial coordination in the military.

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