Delhi bristles at UN High Commissioner for Human Rights move

New Delhi, 4 March, 2020: India on Tuesday questioned the locus standi of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to file an intervention application in the Supreme Court on the Citizenship Amendment Act, insisting it was an internal matter and concerned Parliament’s sovereign right to make laws.

It was the external affairs ministry that revealed, through a suo motu statement, that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was making such a move.

“We are clear that the CAA is constitutionally valid and complies with all requirements of our constitutional values. It is reflective of our long standing national commitment in respect of human rights issues arising from the tragedy of the Partition of India.

“India is a democratic country governed by the rule of law. We all have utmost respect for and full trust in our independent judiciary,” ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said. “We are confident our sound and legally sustainable position would be vindicated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.”

The UN body has sought the court’s nod to assist it as amicus curiae (friend of the court). There is no institutional recall of a UN agency seeking to intervene in such a manner in India in the past and Tuesday’s move was an indication that the internationalisation of issues New Delhi considers purely internal was not going to go away anytime soon.

There have been instances of foreigners filing petitions as individuals. In the Rohingya case, for example, a UN special rapporteur had filed a similar petition.

In another recent example — the Italian marines case — Italy’s ambassador to India had challenged the jurisdiction of Indian police in arresting the marines who had shot dead two fishermen off the Kerala coast mistaking them for pirates.

The OHCHR has been critical of the CAA from the time the law, which fast-tracks citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from three neighbouring Islamic countries, was enacted in December. The current move is essentially an attempt by the UN agency to brief the Supreme Court on how the legislation violates various international legal obligations India has signed up for over the years.

Before filing the application, the OHCHR had informed India’s permanent mission in Geneva about its intent.

Asked if the OHCHR had filed the application, spokesperson Jeremy Laurence told The Telegraph: “I can confirm that the High Commissioner intends to submit an amicus curiae brief on the Citizenship Amendment Act in the Indian Supreme Court, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s established procedures, and that she has informed the Indian Permanent Mission in Geneva of her intention. The amicus curiae will be filed shortly.”

Laurence added: “The High Commissioner has great respect for the Indian Supreme Court’s independence and importance, and in accordance with similar interventions in domestic jurisdictions by the High Commissioner and her predecessors, the amicus curiae will focus on providing an overview of relevant and applicable international human rights standards and norms to support the Court’s deliberations in the context of its review of the CAA.”

While welcoming the CAA for facilitating citizenship for refugees, the OHCHR is questioning the law essentially on one count — for failing the test of equality that is not only enshrined in the Indian Constitution but also in international agreements India is a signatory to.

India’s contention in making a religion-specific law that keeps out Muslims from the ambit of the CAA is that the three countries covered — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh — are all Islamic countries.

But, while countering Pakistan at the UN Human Rights Council plenary in Geneva last week, India had included Ahmadis, Shias, Pashtuns, Sindhis and Baloch as minority communities in Pakistan who, along with Sikhs and Christians, had been subjected to “systemic persecution”, draconian blasphemy laws, blatant abuse and forced conversions in that country.

This is something the government refused to acknowledge through the debate in Parliament on the CAA — repeatedly pointing out that the three countries are Muslim-majority nations.

~ The Telegraph

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