U.S. House Panel Holds Hearing on Human Rights in Asia

Talking points: The dilution of Article 370 and terrorism in Kashmir figured in the talks. File  

The restrictions in Kashmir, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) were discussed at a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on human rights in Asia. The Committee on Asia and the Pacific and Nonproliferation held, as it did last year, a hearing on the topic titled: Stemming a Receding Tide: Human Rights and Democratic Values in Asia.

The hearing focussed on Asia, with India forming one segment of it.

“Human rights and democratic governance have not only been central to the concerns of Congress, they’ve traditionally been core to the conduct of American foreign policy,” said Chairman of the subcommittee, Ami Bera, who is an Indian American physician and Democratic lawmaker from California.

“The U.S. has its own faults and shortcomings when it comes to living up to our own values disparate treatment of communities of colour and immigrants to institutions increasingly influenced more by ideology than the rule of law,” Mr. Bera said. He said the U.S. recognises and welcomes feedback and suggested that countries in the region also welcome feedback and criticism. “This is what part of being a mature democracy is,” Mr. Bera said, echoing a sentiment he had expressed last year when he said India should be allowing of criticism as it assumed a leadership role in the world.

“Although this hearing focusses on Asia, I cannot help but observe that the problems here on the home front have tarnished our appeal and undermined our ability to urge others to live up to the highest ideals,” said Alyssa Ayres, a former high ranking American diplomat for South Asia, currently a South Asia expert for the think tank Council for Foreign Relations. Ms. Ayres also provides informal advice to the Biden campaign, as per her public bio.

In India, the steps the current government had taken have given cause for concern about the “future of Indian secularism and the place of minorities, particularly Muslims,” Ms. Ayres said, listing the dilution of Article 370, the CAA and the NRC. “Because India is so important to the strength of the global democratic order at a time of great strain, challenges in India are ones we should all care about deeply,” she said.

Negative impact

In her written statement, Ms. Ayres noted that the security restrictions and arrests of political leaders, including three former Chief Ministers, had negatively impacted human rights and democracy. She also wrote that there was documented history of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India and also documented history of Pakistan trying to change the status quo through force and Pakistan-based terrorists active in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Terrorism has undermined every effort at peace in the last two decades, and continues to create insecurity,” she said, acknowledging the “long-standing suffering” of Kashmiri Pandits.

On Sri Lanka, she said the country after a five year period of improvement (in terms of human rights and democratic values) was moving in the opposite direction with the return of the Rajapaksa government.

“Pakistan has struggled with democracy for much of its existence,” Ms. Ayres said. Nepal and the Maldives, though facing challenges, were on an updward trajectory as regards human rights and democracy, she said, noting that the Nepalese government nonetheless faced pressures from China on the issue of Tibetan refugees.

The other two witnesses at the hearing were former U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell and former U.S. government trade and foreign policy official Daniel Twining.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 1:48:38 PM |

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