United States President Joe Biden’s choice for the next ambassador to India said on Tuesday that he will actively bring up human rights if appointed to the position, AFP reported.
The nominee, Eric Garcetti, who is presently the mayor of Los Angeles, said at his confirmation hearing that he intended to engage directly with civil society groups in India.
“There are groups that are actively fighting for human rights of people on the ground in India that will get direct engagement from me,” Garcetti added, according to AFP.
The ambassador-designate told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he will also raise the matter of discrimination against Muslims in India, such as through the Citizenship Amendment Act, if confirmed to the position, The Hindu reported.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by Parliament in 2019, allows undocumented migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to apply for Indian citizenship, as long as they are not Muslims. The Act, criticised for being discriminatory, had triggered protests across India.
At the briefing on Tuesday, Garcetti said respect for human rights and strong democratic institutions were key to the relationship between India and the US. He added that he will “respectfully engage” with the Indian government on these matters, The Hindu reported.
Senator Bob Menendez, who is the chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, highlighted India’s “democratic backsliding and discrimination against religious minorities”.
Menendez said that India will have to address the concerns of the US if it wants to “deepen our partnership even further”, The Hindu reported.
Garcetti and Menendez’s statements come at a time when human rights defenders, minorities and critics of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government are facing increasing harassment in India.
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Last week, South African non-profit organisation Civicus had put India on a list of countries with “repressed” democratic values. A report released by the organisation flagged the use of draconian anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, repression of the farmers’ protest and the imposition of curfews in Jammu and Kashmir.
In May, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, during his visit to India, had discussed human rights violations “especially against Muslim minorities in the northeast” with the Cabinet ministers.
A month before that, the US State Department, in its report on human rights, had flagged “unlawful and arbitrary killings, arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities, overly restrictive rules on non-governmental organisations, violence against women and minorities and restrictions on freedom of expression and the press” as some of the concerns in India.
In January, global human rights body, the Human Rights Watch, had said that in 2020, the authorities in India had intensified their crackdown on critical voices in the country. The body has also accused the Indian authorities of using politically motivated allegations of tax evasion and financial irregularities to “silence human rights activists, journalists, and other critics of the government”.