U.S. Defence Secretary raises human rights concerns with Jaishankar, other Ministers

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar along with U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin during a meeting, in New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: PTI

American Secretary of Defense General (Retd.) Lloyd James Austin III addressed the issue of human rights in India during his meetings with Cabinet Ministers here on Saturday. An informed source said the issue also came up during his conversation with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar which also covered a broad range of topics like the situation in Afghanistan and the West Asian tension.

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“The Defense Secretary said as the two largest democracies in the world, human rights and values are important to us and we will lead with these values,” said the source.

Earlier, addressing a select group of American and Indian media outlets, Mr. Austin said he raised the violation of human rights of the Muslims in Assam with the Indian side. “I did have a conversation with other members of the Cabinet on this issue,” Mr. Austin was quoted saying by the NDTV. He however clarified that he “did not have an opportunity to talk to” Prime Minister Narendra Modi on reports of human rights violations targeting minority communities.

“We have to remember that India is our partner, a partner whose partnership we value. And I think partners need to be able to have those kinds of discussions. And certainly we feel comfortable doing that. And you can have those discussions in a very meaningful way and make progress,” he said in a report that appeared on NDTV online.

To a question from the news channel whether the issue of erosion of democracy featured in his discussions, Mr. Austin said, “You’ve heard President Biden say human rights and rule of law are important to the U.S. We always lead with our values. As a democracy that’s pretty important to us.”

Human rights and the right to peaceful protest have featured in India’s relations with many countries including the U.S. in recent months because of the crackdown on the protest by the farmers. Mr. Austin was asked to raise reports of violations by Chief of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Robert Menendez who emphasised that India-U.S. partnership in the 21st century must be based on “adherence to democratic values”. India, he said, “has been trending away from those values”.

The Indo-Pacific also came up during the meeting with Mr. Jaishankar. The American side briefed the Indian team about the trips of Mr. Austin to Japan and South Korea where he held discussions on the region before arriving in India. Among the other regional issues, the peace process in Afghanistan featured in the meeting.

“Assessments were exchanged on the peace process and the ground situation as also the concerns and interests of regional powers and neighbours. The External Affairs Minister appreciated the Biden Administration’s engagement with India on this issue,” said the source.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 1:06:33 AM |

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