Europe’s top human rights official says he raised a number of concerns during official meetings in New Delhi with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, including funding restrictions on NGOs, recent communal violence, the situation in Jammu & Kashmir, and the condition of religious minorities.
However, the official accounts of the meetings released by the NHRC and the Minority Affairs Ministry did not refer to the contentious issues being raised.
The concerns were reportedly raised when European Union Special Representative of Human Rights Eamon Gilmore, who was a guest speaker at the MEA’s Raisina Dialogue this week, met with the Indian officials along with his delegation. The discussions came just ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Europe tour beginning Monday, where he will visit Germany, Denmark and France.
In separate tweets released before his departure on Friday, Mr. Gilmore said he had “also” discussed “the NHRC role in relation to Foreign Contributions Regulatory Act (FCRA), detentions, bail, sedition and anti-terrorism laws, UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act], minorities and individual cases”. Mr. Gilmore linked the list to the NHRC version, which instead only said that Chairperson Justice Arun Mishra “[had asked] the visiting European Union delegation to work together to ameliorate the cause of human rights across the globe”.
“Besides a brief insight into the functioning of the NHRC, various aspects of human rights were also discussed including the issue of patent & affordability of life saving drugs and problems of Terrorism,” the statement said, releasing photographs of the delegation meetings, which included NHRC Members (retd.) Justice M.M Kumar; former Ministry of External Affairs official D. M. Mulay; and former Director, Intelligence Bureau (IB), Rajiv Jain.
According to sources in the Minority Affairs Ministry, Mr. Naqvi reportedly told the delegation that “not a single major communal riot has taken place in India since 2014”. Mr. Naqvi also dismissed Mr. Gilmore’s contentions as “isolated incidents” which have be given “communal colour”. The entire attempt, he said is to define the Narendra Modi government. Mr. Naqvi has not responded to Mr. Gilmore’s tweet.
Mr. Gilmore’s description of the meeting with Mr. Naqvi was also at odds with the official government version put out. While the Minority Affairs Minister had tweeted that he “apprised the delegation of the effective results of welfare programmes being carried out by the Narendra Modi Govt for socio-economic-educational empowerment of all sections of the society including the Minorities,” Mr. Gilmore’s response referencing the earlier statement said that he had discussed, “FCRA, use of sedition and anti-terrorism laws, detentions, the situation of minorities, communal violence, situation in Jammu Kashmir, and individual cases,” with Mr. Naqvi.
According to sources in the Minority Affairs Ministry, Mr. Naqvi reportedly told the delegation that “not a single major communal riot has taken place in India since 2014”. Mr. Naqvi also dismissed Mr. Gilmore’s contentions as “isolated incidents” which have been given “communal colour”. The entire attempt, he said, is to define the Narendra Modi government. Mr. Naqvi has not responded to Mr. Gilmore’s tweet.
The MEA, the NHRC and the Minority Affairs Ministry did not respond to requests for a comment on the issues discussed during the meetings in Delhi, or on the reason for the discrepancy between the two. Sources in the Ministry told The Hindu that Mr. Gilmore’s comments had been “strongly countered” during the meeting.
While the EU did not respond to a specific question about the “individual” cases mentioned, sources said Mr. Gilmore, who had earlier issued a stern statement of concern after the death of Jesuit priest Stan Swamy in custody in July 2021, had also discussed the case during his meeting. In a statement referencing concerns by the United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteur that Mr. Swamy had been wrongfully charged for terrorism, Mr. Gilmore praised Mr. Swamy as “a defender of indigenous peoples’ rights”.
An NHRC official, who did not confirm whether the Stan Swamy case was raised during the meeting, said however that it was an individual case that was under judicial orders. The NHRC had intervened by issuing a notice to the Maharashtra Government on July 4, 2021 to ensure “every possible medical treatment” was provided to him.
This is the first time a senior visiting dignitary to Delhi has publicly raised the issue of the recent communal violence that followed religious processions in seven States. The issue of about 6,000 NGOs that have lost their FCRA license to receive foreign funds, including several NGOs working on climate change and labour rights, has also not been raised at this level thus far.
(With inputs from Damini Nath)