Holland to raise free speech concerns in India’s 2017 UPR

August 27, 2016 06:51 pm | Updated 06:51 pm IST - New Delhi

India’s recent track record in protecting freedom of expression is expected to come under close scrutiny in the next Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2017, and leading the charge could be Holland. The UPR is a mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council that periodically reviews the compliance of member states with international human rights law.

A recent Human Rights Watch Report (HRW) report titled Stifling Dissent: The Criminalisation of Peaceful Expression in India , as well as the adverse remarks on India’s law governing foreign donations to NGOs (the FCRA), by the United Nations Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai, prompted a Dutch MP to raise India’s human rights record in the Dutch Parliament.

The Parliamentary query, addressed to the Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, reads, “Are you willing, partly in view of one of the recommendations in the HRW report, to address the strong lack of freedom of expression in India during India’s Universal Periodic Review in 2017 and encourage India to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of expression for a fact-finding mission?”

In his reply, Mr. Koenders assured the Parliament that Holland is prepared to raise the issue of free speech with India in the framework of the UPR. Mr. Koenders’s answer also stated that the Netherlands will, “where possible, exert itself to raise these issues at EU level”.

India’s human rights record becoming a talking point in EU forums assumes significance in the context of the recent incident involving Amnesty International India, which was slapped with the sedition charge in connection with an event it organised to highlight human rights violations in the Kashmir Valley.

“We appreciate that our foreign minister will raise the issue of freedom of expression during India’s next UPR in 2017 at the Human Rights Council,” said Gerard Oonk, director, India Committee of the Netherlands, a Utrecht-based NGO that tracks human rights issues in India for action and advocacy in the Netherlands. “But we urge that this should not be just a statement about its general importance but on the actual and very worrying trend to silence critics, being a real threat to Indian democracy.”

This development comes close on the heels of a letter written by HRW to the president of the European Commission in March this year, requesting the EU to “urge the Indian government” to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, repeal the sedition law, and “amend the FCRA so that it does not interfere with the rights to freedom of expression and association and cannot be misused to choke the protected peaceful activities of civil society organisations.”

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