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Human Rights, Rights

UN : India’s IT rules don’t conform to global rights norms

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NEW DELHI: UN Special Rapporteurs have written to the Indian government saying that India’s Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, in their current form, do not conform with international human rights norms.
They also “recalled” in a report that restrictions to freedom of expression must never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multi-party democracy, democratic tenets and human rights. The report also said consultations with relevant stakeholders on the issue are essential in order to ensure the “final text is compatible with India’s international legal obligations”. The observations were made in Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

The report said as a global leader in technology innovation, India has the potential to develop a legislation that can place it at the forefront of efforts to protect digital rights. However, the substantially broadened scope of the Rules is likely to do just the opposite, it said.
“We would therefore encourage the government to take all necessary steps to carry out a detailed review of the Rules and to consult with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society dealing with human rights, freedom of expression, privacy rights and digital rights”, the report said.
“We understand the new Rules were issued under the Information Technology Act of 2000 and therefore, were not subject to parliamentary review or open for consultation with stakeholders. We believe such consultations with relevant stakeholders are essential in order to ensure the final text is compatible with India’s international legal obligations, in particular with Articles 17 and 19 of the ICCPR,” it added.

Don’t need lectures from US cos on free speech: Prasad
Union law and telecommunications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad reiterated at an online lecture on Saturday that the guidelines issued by the Centre for social media companies came after a direction from the Supreme Court, adding that the instructions were essential to stop “misuse” of social media.
He also warned Twitter that India “does not need lectures on freedom of expression” from profitable American corporations and operating in India implies obeying Indian law.

Human Rights, Indigenous People

May 28 order has no relation whatsoever with CAA: Ministry of Home Affairs to Supreme Court

The 2019 Act, better known by its abbreviation ‘CAA’, is under challenge before the Supreme Court.
The Ministry of Home Affairs maintained in the Supreme Court on Monday that its May 28 order delegating power to District Collectors in 13 districts across five States to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh has “no relation whatsoever” with the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019.

The 2019 Act, better known by its abbreviation ‘CAA’, is under challenge before the Supreme Court. The law is accused of “fast-tracking” citizenship for non-Muslim persecuted minorities — Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi and Christian — from India’s three neighbours. The CAA is blamed of illegally granting citizenship on the basis of religion.

Also read: Union Home Ministry order inviting citizenship applications faces Supreme Court challenge

Petitions in the Supreme Court have drawn parallels between the CAA and the May 28 notification, which facilitates non-Muslims from the three countries residing in 13 districts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab to apply for citizenship.

Indian Union Muslim League party, represented by advocate Haris Beeran, said the May 28 order was a deliberate ploy to implement CAA’s “malafide designs”.

In its response, the MHA countered that the May order “merely delegates the power of (granting citizenship by registration and naturalisation) to the local authorities in particular cases”.

“The Central Government used its authority under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act… It is merely a process of decentralisation of decision-making aimed at speedy disposal of the citizenship applications of such foreigners… It has no relation whatsoever to the CAA,” the MHA affidavit said.

But Mr. Beeran expressed his doubts, saying “if it has no relation to CAA, where does the May 28 notification draw authority from to specify the same communities for the same three countries for facilitating the citizenship process”.

The government reasoned that the notification did not “provide for any relaxations to the foreigners and applies only to foreigners who have entered the country legally”. The applicants should possess valid documents like passports and Indian visa.

“Any foreigner of any faith can apply for citizenship of India at any time,” the MHA affidavit said.

The government however said the May 28 notification was only one among numerous such orders passed in the past to meet “administrative exigencies”. The Centre said it had similarly delegated powers to District Collectors of 16 districts and Home Secretaries of seven States in 2016. Following this, the Centre had received “several representations” to extend the delegatory powers to more districts and States. The May 28 order was the result.

The May 2021 order extends the power to District Collectors of Morbi, Rajkot, Patan and Vadodara in Gujarat, Jalore, Udaipur, Pali, Barmer and Sirohi in Rajasthan, Durg and Balodabazar in Chhattisgarh, Faridabad in Haryana and Jalandhar in Punjab and to Home Secretaries of two more States, i.e., Haryana and Punjab.

“Now District Collectors of 29 districts and Home Secretaries of nine States will exercise powers of Central Government to grant citizenship to the specified category of foreigners. The Central Government has also retained its right to simultaneously use these powers any time,” the affidavit noted.

Human Rights

Youth arrested for Facebook post against Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma

Human Rights

Myanmar MPs Living In Exile In Mizoram Paint Horrific Picture Of Bloodshed In Their Country
by Jaideep Mazumdar –
Myanmar MPs Living In Exile In Mizoram Paint Horrific Picture Of Bloodshed In Their Country
A villager looks on in Myanmar, as the military junta bombs public dwellings and kills thousands, as part of a coup. –
According to the Mizoram Police’s Crime Investigation Department (CID), which keeps track of and deals with political refugees from Myanmar, a total of 5,673 Myanmarese nationals have taken refuge in the state till now.

The Myanmarese refugees have been sheltered in nine districts of the state, including state capital Aizawl. Most of them are staying in Champhai district bordering Myanmar.

Eighteen parliamentarians belonging to Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League For Democracy (NLD) have painted a ghastly picture of the violence unleashed by the country’s military junta that seized power in the country on 1 February this year.

The 18 MPs, along with more than 5,600 fellow-Myanmarese, fled their country and have sought refuge at various places in Mizoram after the brutal and bloody crackdown on NLD leaders and supporters, as well as innocent civilians, unleashed by the Tatmadaw (as the military is called in Myanmar) following the coup.

Human Rights, Rights

With new NGO curbs, government signals it won’t let anyone demand that it protect rights of Indians

These moves will have a chilling effect on the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly.
By Prerna Dhoop & Vandana Dhoop

Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s student wing protest against Amnesty in Bangalore in August, 2016. | Sajjad Hussain/AFP
On September 29, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a press release stating in uncertain terms how it viewed the operations of the human rights advocacy group Amnesty India.

“All the glossy statements about humanitarian work and speaking truth to power are nothing but a ploy to divert attention from their activities which were in clear contravention of laid down Indian laws,” the release alleged. “…India has a rich and pluralistic democratic culture with a free press, independent judiciary and tradition of vibrant domestic debate. The people of India have placed unprecedented trust in the current government. Amnesty’s failure to comply with local regulations does not entitle them to make comments on the democratic and plural character of India.”

Earlier in the day, Amnesty India, the local arm of the international rights organisation Amnesty International, said it had been forced to halt its operations because of a “witch-hunt” by the Indian government over “unfounded and motivated allegations” that resulted in its ban accounts being frozen.

Days before, on September 21, the Lok Sabha amended the act regulating how non-governmental organisations can receive foreign funds, ostensibly with the aim of “strengthening the compliance mechanism, enhancing transparency and accountability in the receipt and utilisation of foreign contribution”.

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill 2020 and the freezing of Amnesty’s accounts are not unrelated.

Chilling effect
To begin with, by creating overbroad, vague restrictions for NGO funding and operations, these moves will have a chilling effect on the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly.

With the amendments, the government has expanded governmental discretion, bureaucratic control and oversight with respect to the day-to-day functioning of NGOs in India. For instance, it has reduced the cap on administrative expenses from the previous 50% of the funds received to 20%. It has also made it mandatory for organisations across India to receive all FCRA money only through an account in a Delhi branch of the State Bank of India, Delhi. It has also mandated the submission of a statement of expenses four times a year.

Under the garb of ensuring transparency and accountability, the government is seeking to choke NGOs with red tape so that they are unable to do their humanitarian work.

The FCRA amendment disallows Amnesty and other civil society organisations that receive foreign contributions from supporting the work of other NGOs. This makes it more difficult for grassroots NGOs that are independent of government, business, religion and political groups to operate in India.

With this, the government’s move has choked Covid-19 aid from flowing to the remotest corners of the country.

Amnesty’s office in Bengaluru.
But most of all, the government has made it clear that it will view with suspicion any organisations that seek to uphold the fundamental values of dignity, freedom, justice and equality for all. It will not allow any organisation to hold it to account and to demand that it protect and respect the rights of Indians.

That is evident from the manner in which it has choked the operations of Amnesty, an organisation that has used the international human rights principle of “naming and shaming” to compel states to comply with their obligations under human rights treaties.

In recent months, Amnesty India has issued reports that question the government about rights violations during the Delhi riots in February and about the situation in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370. In addition, it has engaged in advocacy, lobbying and campaigning; written letters, petitioned and protested against human rights abuses in India.

Repressing freedom
The passage of the FCRA Amendment Bill, 2020 and the actions against Amnesty place India next to only Russia, where the government has used the Foreign Agents Law, 2012 and Undesirable Organisations Law, 2015 as a weapon to repress freedom of association and expression. These laws have been used to pursue a systematic campaign against human rights organisations and NGOs in the country. In 2016, Amnesty was forced to suspend its operations in Russia.

Russia’s actions run contrary to the advice that was offered by Rabindranath Tagore during a visit to the Soviet Union. The Indian said that the Soviets should construct a social and political system that permits disagreement because, it would not only be an uninteresting but a sterile world of mechanical regularity if all our opinions were forcibly made alike”.

As Tagore also noted, “Opinions are constantly changed and rechanged only through the free circulation of intellectual forces and moral persuasion…Freedom of mind is needed for the reception of truth; terror hopelessly kills it.”

I would serve Prime Minister Narendra Modi well to pay heed to Tagore too and acknowledge the existence of differences of opinion.

Prerna Dhoop is a human rights lawyer based in Kolkata.
Vandana Dhoop is an independent researcher

Human Rights

China demolish mosque in Xinjiang to build public toilet

China’s war against Xinjiang has touched a new law as reports claim that Chinese authorities have built a public toilet on the site of a demolished mosque.

The incident took place in the Atush region of Xinjiang. The mosque in the Suntagh village was demolished in 2018. Two years later, a public toilet stands in its place. The people of Suntagh have toilets at home and the village barely receives tourists, so locals say there is no need for the public toilet.

Chinese authorities know it as well that’s why the new stalls have not even been opened to the public. The bitter truth is China wants to target the Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang. China has destroyed 70 per cent of the mosques in Xinjiang and with this toilet, it is only adding insult to injury.

However, it is not the first such incident. In 2019, China destroyed the Azna mosque and now a store that sells alcohol and cigarettes has come up in its place.

In the Hotan city, authorities have been trying to build an underwear factory in the place of a demolished mosque. Beijing has destroyed between 10,000 to 15,000 mosques in Xinjiang in the last three years, according to the Uighur human rights project.

A Guardian report published last year had satellite images of the Imam Asim shrine. The shrine is located in Taklamakan desert. It used to attract Muslims from across the Hotan oasis. China recently tore down the buildings around the shrine. It also demolished the mosque and the place is deserted now.

There are similar images from Xinjiang’s Kargilik town too, the mosque was razed in 2018. China wants to erase the unique identity of Uighurs. It wants to “sinicise” Islam meaning make Islam Chinese and it is not shy of saying it out loud.

In 2019, China passed a 5-year plan to “guide Islam to be compatible with socialism”. The government of China also launched a mosque rectification campaign. There are 22 million Muslims in China including 11 million Uighurs.

China wants to blend them into the Han society which is the majority race and Beijing is ready to go to any lengths to achieve it. It has unleashed genocide in Xinjiang. Chinese authorities have jailed 1.8 million Uighurs. China has killed many and harvested their organs. Women are being raped, men are being sterilised and children have been taken away from their parents.

China has waged a war on its Muslims targeting their culture, history and their religion, those in Xinjiang cannot do much about it. However, people outside can but they aren’t. China’s actions should provoke the Muslim world but they remain silent.

Saudi Arabia the self-appointed leader of the Muslim world won’t say a word against China. Turkey which wants to dethrone the Saudis and project itself as the rightful leader of the Muslim world has been rounding up those who escaped from China and handing them over to Beijing.

Pakistan pretends it doesn’t even know what’s going on in Xinjiang. Malaysia says it won’t criticise China because it does not respond well to criticism and Iran has actually justified China’s action saying Beijing is serving Islam by suppressing the Uighurs.

The rest of the world that claims to uphold human rights has watched China’s Muslims being killed by the Chinese state and not lifted a finger. China has built a toilet as the world has flushed its conscience

Human Rights

Citizenship Act, NRC: San Francisco becomes sixth US city to censure both moves

San Francisco has become the sixth city in the United States to censure the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, media reported on Wednesday.

In its city council meet on Tuesday, the Alliance for Justice and Accountability along with other local San Francisco organisations worked on a resolution to declare CAA and NRC as an act “to render millions of people among minorities and caste oppressed stateless”. American Institute of Islamic History and Culture, San Francisco Interfaith Council, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and the San Francisco Muslim Community Center were part of this.

Seattle, Albany, Saint Paul, Hamtramck and Cambridge have also passed similar resolutions, calling CAA and NRC “exclusionary and bigoted”.

San Francisco is standing on the right side of the history, said Hala Hijazi, commissioner of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Hijazi, also a board member of the San Francisco Muslim Community Center as well as the San Francisco Interfaith Council, said the city was leading the moral consensus in the global outcry against the legislation. “When genocidal campaigns begin, one important intervention is the international condemnation, and the Bay Area community feels a deep sense of solidarity with their elected, as the time to stand against the Indian government’s Islamophobic policies is now,” she added.

The Alliance for Justice and Accountability said that the use of religion as a criterion for granting citizenship is a “flagrant violation of all norms of secular democracies”, adding that it was inconsistent with India’s Constitution that guarantees equality before the law for people of all faiths.

“These genocidal projects happen in the shadows and this resolution highlights the significance of standing up for South Asian minorities, Muslims, and caste oppressed communities,” said Sharmin Hossain of the Equality Labs, a human rights start-up.

She added that thousands of organisers across the country have called for the resolution to be amplified to ensure it is an example for cities across the US to not stand on the “side of genocide”.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the condition that they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014.

Around 70 people were killed in protests that erupted across the country after the Act was passed. These stopped in March after the nationwide lockdown was in place to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

The National Register of Citizens is a proposed nationwide exercise to identify undocumented immigrants. One such exercise, carried out in Assam last year, resulted in the exclusion of 19 lakh people. Critics fear that the CAA when used in conjunction with a proposed National Register of Indian Citizens will allow the government to force many Muslims to prove their citizenship.

Human Rights

Myanmar bombing civilians: Air raids ‘that killed children amount to war crimes’

Myanmar is bombing its own people, according to Amnesty International. The human rights watchdog says it has evidence that indiscriminate airstrikes by Myanmar’s military, also known as the Tatmadaw, are killing civilians, including children, amid a worsening armed conflict in the country’s Rakhine and Chin States.

Myanmar’s military has killed civilians, including children, in indiscriminate air attacks amid worsening conflict in the country’s western Rakhine and Chin states, a prominent rights group said, urging the United Nations Security Council to launch a war crimes investigation.

In a report on Wednesday, Amnesty International said it collected new evidence showing Myanmar’s military – also known as the Tatmadaw – bombed several villages in Chin state in March and April, killing more than a dozen people.

One witness who was interviewed remotely told the group that an air raid in Paletwa Township on March 14 and 15 killed his uncle, his brother and his brother’s 16-year-old friend.

Two people from another family in the same village cluster said nine people, including a seven-year-old boy, were also killed in the bombardment.

“Our family is destroyed,” the boy’s father told Amnesty.

Myanmar SittweVillagers arrive at a temporary camp with their belongings on June 29, 2020, in Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar [AP Photo]
In another round of aerial raids in Paletwa on April 7, seven people were killed and eight wounded, the report said, citing testimony from a farmer.

The indiscriminate attacks, which Amnesty said amounted to war crimes due to civilian deaths, came amid a surge in fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army (AA), an armed group seeking greater autonomy for the Buddhist Rakhine people who make up a majority of Rakhine state’s population. The region is also home to the mostly Muslim Rohingya, and borders Chin state, whose people are mostly Christian.

The conflict escalated in January last year following an AA attack on police posts and worsened in March after Myanmar’s government officially labelled the group a terrorist organisation. The AA posed “a danger to law and order, peace and stability of the country and public peace,” it said.

The attacks, and other serious human rights violations, are taking place in towns and villages where internet communication has been cut off for over a year. Locals have been kept in the dark over the threat of Covid-19 and denied information about humanitarian assistance. Rakhine State has been largely free of the coronavirus, but cases were on the rise in June.

Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific regional director says that whilst Myanmar authorities were urging people to stay at home to help stop Covid-19, in Rakhine and Chin states its military was burning down homes and killing civilians “in indiscriminate attacks that amount to war crimes”.

“Despite mounting international pressure on the military’s operations in the area, including at the International Court of Justice, the shocking testimonies we have collected shows just how deep impunity continues to run within Myanmar military ranks.”

In May and June, Amnesty interviewed more than 20 ethnic Rakhine and Chin villagers affected by military operations, which included airstrikes and shelling; analysed satellite images of burned villages, and verified video footage showing violations by the Burmese military.

The conflict has escalated since the January 4 2019 attack by the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine armed group, against several police posts in northern Rakhine State. The incident prompted a retaliatory order to ‘crush’ the AA and marked a turning point in the escalation of the conflict, which has since displaced tens of thousands. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that in recent days an additional 10,000 people fled their homes as a result of heavy fighting and warnings of advancing military operations.

Myanmar officially labelled the AA an unlawful organization on March 23. Fighting surged between March and May, while Myanmar also faced its first Covid-19 cases. More than 30 civilians were killed or injured in May alone, according to the UN. The victims were predominantly from Buddhist and Christian ethnic minorities, though media reports have also documented violations against Rohingya civilians.

The military’s airpower has inflicted immense damage and human suffering. Soldiers also appear to regularly confiscate or destroy civilian property and commandeer monasteries as bases. Amnesty documented the use and confiscation of civilian property by soldiers in Rakhine State and northern Shan State in 2019.

Residents say soldiers took rice, firewood, blankets and clothes, mobile phones and personal documents, gold bracelets, and necklaces. Livestock was slaughtered or taken. Myanmar soldiers also knocked down doors, broke windows, and damaged small Buddhist shrines kept at home.

Amnesty also documented incidents of the burning or destruction of villages in different townships in Rakhine and Chin States. Satellite imagery of several affected villages shows widescale burning consistent with Myanmar military tactics. The military and the AA have blamed each other for the burning.

They say they have not been able to document operations and abuses by the Arakan Army in the reporting period due to Covid-19 travel restrictions and limited access to affected areas and witnesses. But reports suggest the army has continued a pattern of abuses previously documented including endangering the lives of civilians during attacks, intimidation of local communities, and arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

Call for war crimes probe
Tens of thousands of people have been forced from their homes in the unrest, and much of the fighting is taking place in communities where the internet has been cut off for more than a year, and against the backdrop of the new coronavirus pandemic.

“While Myanmar authorities were urging people to stay at home to help stop COVID-19, in Rakhine and Chin states its military was burning down homes and killing civilians in indiscriminate attacks that amount to war crimes,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director.

“The reliance on air strikes and internet blackouts may be new, but one constant is the military’s remorseless neglect for civilian life,” Bequelin said, calling on the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a war crimes inquiry.

“This relentless pattern of violations is clearly a matter for the ICC. The Security Council must act,” he added.

Zaw Htay, spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, did not respond to calls for comment. But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement addressing concerns over the internet blackout, saying access was restricted to “prevent the AA from exploiting mobile internet technologies to detonate” bombs and landmines.

Internet will be restored once the situation “stabilises”, the statement said, adding that the government is taking measures to ensure the shutdown does not hinder efforts to combat the virus. Such action include disseminating COVID-19 information through SMS messages, the ministry added.

UN envoy: Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi failed as humanitarian (2:58)
Media access to Rakhine is heavily restricted, and prearranged visits with government minders are the only way foreign journalists can report from the area.

Myanmar is already under investigation in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over its treatment of the Rohingya, hundreds of thousands of whom fled Rakhine following a brutal military crackdown nearly three years ago. The government had defended what happened then as a legitimate response to attacks by Rohingya fighters from a small armed group, known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

In January, the court said “irreparable damage” had been caused to the Rohingya and ordered the government to take immediate steps to prevent genocide. Some Rohingya still live in the area, often in squalid camps.

Beatings, threats
In its latest report into the situation in the troubled region, Amnesty said it collected testimony from witnesses who recounted arbitrary detention and torture, and verified video footage showing abuses by the Tatmadaw. One woman whose husband was arrested in February said soldiers had tied up the detained man and beaten him for four nights and five days.

“He wasn’t given food or water … They kicked and hit him with rifles in the back and kicked his chest as well,” she said, recounting what her husband had told her. “Before this, he was tall and big, but when I saw him … he was visibly thin.”

The beating of detainees appears to be widespread, Amnesty said, noting that the military had admitted its soldiers punched and kicked blindfolded detainees in May after a video of the incident went viral.

Reporting from Rakhine: Surveillance, fear
The group, citing satellite imagery of conflict-affected villages, also reported widescale burning consistent with Myanmar military tactics. The Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army have previously blamed each other for the village burning.

Separately, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) said more than 500 Chin people were currently stranded in Paletwa after the army turned them back as they were returning to their villages by boat. The group – all local administrators – had travelled to the town for a meeting.

The military “stopped us and told us that we cannot go back to our villages,” one of the village administrators told CHRO. “When we asked them why we are not allowed to return having already allowed us to enter, the soldiers at the security post shouted, ‘Do not ask any questions or say anything in return. We were given orders from above.’ No one dares to go since some boats were even shot at in order to threaten us.”

Amnesty said it was not able to document operations and abuses by the Arakan Army in the reporting period due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and limited access to conflict-affected areas and witnesses.

But reports suggest the Arakan Army has continued a pattern of abuses including the endangering the lives of civilians during attacks and intimidation of local communities, the group added.