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Statements Made by Mr. Hardeep Singh Puri, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of India at the 60th Session of the Commission on Human Rights, Geneva

March 15, 2004

Mr.Chairman,

The emancipation of colonial and dependent countries and peoples was made possible due to the success of the struggle for freedom against British rule in India. India helped change the world.

India’s commitment to the right to self–determination, whereby peoples under alien subjugation, domination and exploitation can freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development is therefore firm and abiding.

As we look back we can derive satisfaction from the long road that we have travelled since that time. One glaring and unfortunate exception is Palestine. India remains steadfast in its support for and solidarity with the people of Palestine, as they struggle to realise the inalienable right of self-determination.

The colonial era which characterised the early part of the last century has ended. The United Nations recognised the changed realities of the post-colonial world and the new and different challenges before the international community.

The Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States adopted in 1970, and subsequently the Vienna Declaration and programme for Action adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 addressed themselves to the question of self-determination. They asserted that the right of self determination shall not be construed as authorising or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States conducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self determination of peoples and thus possessed of a Government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without discrimination of any kind. It has also been recognized that any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of a State or country or at its political independence is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples enjoins that every State shall refrain from any action aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of any other State or country.

In today’s world the right to self-determination is characterised by the following distinguishing features:

the right of the whole people to participate in freely held elections and govern themselves through a representative government;

the right to collectively participate in all walks of national life and national decision-making through democratic institutions;

the achievement of all fundamental rights on the basis of full equality and non-discrimination, including for religious, ethnic, linguistic and other minorities;

the full exercise of fundamental freedoms, and respect for universal human rights norms and principles, including those of tolerance and pluralism;

the right to independence of action and opinion

It is fundamental principle of law that with freedom comes responsibility. No right, including right to self-determination, should be used as an instrument to promote subversion and erode the political cohesion or territorial integrity of Member States of the UN. The right to self-determination cannot be abused to encourage secession and undermine pluralistic and democratic states. Ethnic or religious segregation and chauvinism cannot be legitimised on the specious ground that societies need to be constituted on homogenous lines before they can be tolerant towards diversity and accept multi-culturalism. Such a view will only result in legitimising forces of extreme nationalism and narrow chauvinism. In any event, the right of self determination, cannot be invoked as a smoke screen for opportunistic attempts at territorial aggrandisement through terrorism and violence.

Thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 6: RACISM, RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, XENOPHOBIA AND ALL FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION.

(March 22, 2004)

Mr. Chairman,

Mahatma Gandhi launched his political career through Satyagraha or "truthful struggle” against racist policies in South Africa. In 1946, India was the first country to raise its voice against apartheid at the United Nations. India regards racism and racial discrimination as the anti-thesis of everything humanity stands for - equality, justice, peace and progress.

As a nation which has been in the forefront of the international fight against racism and racial discrimination, India is deeply concerned over the recrudescence of racism, xenophobia, and exclusivism in the world in the last few years. This is all the more worrisome following the progress that was made at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban. It is imperative more than ever before to focus on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action without wasting time on sterile debates on issues on which consensus could not be reached in Durban.

After the indifferent attitude shown by many countries to the Working Group on the follow up of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action during its first Session, we are encouraged by the higher degree of engagement and broader participation at the Working Group’s Second Session. We endorse the approach that has been adopted by the Chair in implementing the mandate of the Working Group. India fully supports the thematic framework adopted by the Working Group, and welcomes the progress that was achieved during the Second Session. We look forward to continuing inputs from the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to the Working Group on the follow up of the Durban Conference.

The first meeting of the independent eminent experts on the implementation of the Durban Declaration in September 2003 is another positive development since the last session of this Commission. Many of the views contained in document E/CN.4/2004/112 are those we can readily identify with. These include the focus on access to education, access to justice, the role of the youth, civil society and the media, eradication of poverty and the importance of a "culture of compliance”. Above all, we agree with central role of the existing international legal framework and the need for universal ratification and full implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Mr. Chairman,

Besides theories of racial superiority, that are a legacy of the colonial era, some other important sources and causes of racism and racial discrimination are: glaring economic disparities amongst various parts of the globe which sustain and strengthen racist attitudes; the onslaught of bigotry, chauvinism and violence on diversity, pluralism and tolerance; absence of democracy, constitutional order and rule of law; political concepts in which foreigners are regarded as rivals or competitors and a threat to local prosperity, culture and identity; immigration, citizenship and refugee laws with racist overtones and political platforms based on race related hatred and discrimination. Equally condemnable are instances of oppression, backed by states in some cases, of national, sectarian and linguistic minorities. Modern communication technologies, including the Internet, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to misuse by the purveyors of racial hatred.

We have seen the study presented by the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Doudou Diene contained in document E/CN.4/2004/61. We cannot see how the reference to the caste system in India fits into a study on "Political platforms which promote or incite racial discrimination”. The national platform on which the Indian freedom struggle was based, and on which the Constitution of India rests, is entirely to the contrary. If anything, the evolution of Indian political thought, and that of the legal and administrative framework in the last more than five decades has been precisely in the direction of proscribing discrimination on any ground, including race and caste.

The magnitude and scale of the affirmative action that has been undertaken, and the policy instruments developed by the Indian Government to address the caste issue has no parallel in the world. There is no dearth of findings which illustrate the progress that has been achieved in the social, educational, economic and political spheres as a result of these multi-pronged efforts. There is similarly acknowledgement that a lot more has to be done.

There is similarly a high level of Government commitment to address the welfare of the Scheduled Tribes in India. Apart from the myriad legal and administrative instruments and provisions that have existed and been further strengthened since independence, a separate Ministry for Tribal Affairs was created in 1999 and a Department of Development of North Eastern Region was created in 2001.

The Tenth Five Year Plan of the country for the period 2002-2007 indicates the extent of resources that have been earmarked for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes since the start of the planning process, the progress achieved in the economic, social and political indicators, and the programmes and targets for the next five years.

It also bears clarification that the term ‘caste’ denotes a ‘social’ and ‘class’ distinction which has its origins in the fundamental division of Indian society during ancient times. The use of the term ‘descent’ in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination refers to ‘racial descent’. Communities which fall under the definition of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are unique to Indian society and its historical process and do not come under the purview of Article 1 of the Convention.

Mr. Chairman,

We are firmly against the stereotyping of any religion. At the same time, we must guard against self-proclaimed defenders of religious faiths. India is home to almost all religions of the world, including the second largest Muslim population. It is absolutely clear to us that true respect for all religions comes only with genuine respect for democracy, tolerance and pluralism.

As one of the most complex and diverse societies in the world, India is fully conscious of its responsibility to make a substantial contribution to the fight against racism. We will work tirelessly to ensure that our shared vision and conviction of an egalitarian global family is translated into reality.

Thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 7: THE RIGHT TO DEVELOPMENT.

(March 23, 2004)

Mr.Chairman,

My delegation aligns itself with the statements made by the Nonaligned Movement and the Like Minded Group under this Agenda item.

Over 50 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are nowhere close to realising the goal of "inherent dignity of man”, promised in that Declaration, for millions of poor around the globe. The vision of the Universal Declaration placing equal importance on freedom from fear as well as from want remains largely unfulfilled. The importance of the Right to Development, which represents a synthesis of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, lies in enabling the international community to address these important issues effectively.

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action re-affirmed that the Right to Development, as established in the 1986 General Assembly Declaration, is a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights.

We also believe that rights are entitlements that require co-related duties and that the realisation of the Right to Development can be ensured only if the existence of corresponding obligations is acknowledged both at the national and international levels.

The realisation of the Right to Development requires first and foremost effective policies at the national level. States have the primary responsibility and obligation of adopting policies, setting priorities and allocating resources for the realisation of the Right to Development. In our view democracy, transparent, accountable and participatory governance alone can ensure that the actions of States in this area are in the best interests of the people. The function of the watchdog can be performed only by the people of the country who are the best judge of their needs. Prescriptive norms imposed from outside are counter-productive and contrary to the sovereign equality of States recognised in the Declaration.

It needs to be stressed that a rights-based approach to development or the mainstreaming of human rights in development is a concept distinct from the mainstreaming of the right to development in the promotion and protection of all human rights. Each has its place, but the one cannot subsume the other. We have to keep this distinction in mind while promoting the realisation of the right to development.

Equally important for realisation of the Right to Development are equitable economic relations, a conducive economic environment and cooperation at the international level. Article 3(3) of the Declaration on the Right to Development provides that States have the duty to cooperate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development. Article 4(1) also talks of the duty of States to take steps, individually and collectively, to formulate international development policies with a view to facilitating the full realisation of the Right to Development.

Mr. Chairman,

Developing countries continue to remain starved of resources required for realisation of the Right to Development. More importantly, the world today is a global village where national boundaries no longer guarantee that a country will be invulnerable to external financial and economic influences. We take note of the positive contribution towards the realisation of this right already being made by the UN system and other international bodies. At the same time, we believe that this work needs to be adapted better to the imperatives of the Right to Development and much more needs to be done at the international level.

This has been recognised repeatedly at the Summits in Vienna, Copenhagen, Cairo, Beijing, Monterrey, Doha, and Johannesburg, not to mention the Millennium Development Goals. These Summits reflect the international consensus that exists at the highest level. It is our responsibility as members of this Commission to contribute to the effective implementation of these decisions in so far as they impact on the Right to Development.

India attaches great importance to the Working Group on the Right to Development. We are encouraged by the greater engagement and broader participation of delegations at the last session of the Working Group, and hope that the spirit of dialogue will continue to imbue the consideration of the Right to Development in the Commission on Human Rights, as well as in other relevant fora of the United Nations. India looks forward to the first meeting of the High Level Task Force that has been recommended by the Working Group. We trust that the Task Force will be the beginning of the process of the implementation of the Right to Development.

We would also take this opportunity to record our appreciation for the valuable work done by the Independent Expert, Professor Arjun Sengupta and his contribution to the articulation of the various dimensions of the Right to Development, which has helped the Working Group in his deliberations

Thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 8: QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES, INCLUDING PALESTINE.

(March 24, 2004)

Mr. Chairman,

This Commission has concluded a short while ago a Special Sitting to consider the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory resulting from the assassination of Shiekh Ahmad Yassin. Targetted killings will only exacerbate the cycle of violence and counter-violence.

As we continue our deliberations under Item 8, we have to ask ourselves what is the message that this Commission should send to the Middle East region at this juncture. In our view, for this Commission to be a part of the solution the need of the hour is to reemphasise the need for a peaceful solution of the conflict, to prevent further loss of life and restore confidence between both sides, thereby paving the way for their return to the negotiating table. There can be no military solution to this essentially political problem.

The negotiations should lead to the realization of the inalienable and legitimate right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and a home land and to a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and the principal of ‘Land for Peace’, with the state of Palestine existing alongside Israel within secure and internationally recognized borders.

India has historically been unwavering in its support for the Palestinian cause. We voted against the partition of Palestine, and recognised the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. We recognised the State of Palestine in 1988, and opened our Representative Office to the Palestinian National Authority in 1996.

India has extended its full support to the vision contained in UN Security Council Resolution 1397. We fully endorse UN Security Council Resolution 1402 and 1403, which call on both parties to move immediately to a meaningful cease-fire, and for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah. We support the recent peace initiatives of the international community, including the endorsement by the UN Security Council in its Resolution 1515 of the Quartet Roadmap and the call to restart negotiations.

During the last decade of the Middle East Peace Process, India has executed a number of projects and programs worth several million dollars, aimed at capacity building and institutional support. This is in addition to regular assistance in the form of student fellowships, technical cooperation programmes and financial support to UNRWA. We have reiterated our support for the Palestinian people, and conveyed our readiness to assist in whatever way we can to the Palestinian leadership, with whom we have maintained regular contact.

The tragic developments in the Middle East are a cause of widespread international concern. The world has watched the incidents of violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and other parts of the Palestinian National Authority and Israel with growing consternation. It is a matter of deep regret that the situation has shown no signs of improvement. Innocent men, women and children continue to bear the brunt of untold suffering. These events also adversely affect regional stability. Security and human rights are closely interlinked. A secure environment and the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace are essential prerequisites for the promotion and protection of human rights.

The spiral of violence and counter-violence in particular exacerbates an already serious socio-economic crisis on both sides, as evidenced by falling living standards and growing unemployment levels. World Bank reports have documented that the Palestinian economy is in severe recession. Unemployment has tripled to almost one-third of the work-force. Real incomes have fallen by almost 30 percent, and the proportion of the poor has doubled since late 2000. These trends need to be addressed and reversed on an urgent basis.

Both sides must cease all acts of violence, including all acts of terror and fully cooperate with the efforts of the international community. There must be immediate, parallel and accelerated movement towards tangible political progress and a defined series of steps leading to permanent peace involving recognition, normalisation and security between the two sides.

We are not in favour of the unilateral disengagement plan, which is being talked about; there should be political negotiations to arrive at a solution acceptable to both sides. We are also not in favour of a separation fence which encroaches on Palestinian territory and causes major humanitarian problems.

Mr. Chairman,

India is vitally interested in peace, development and stability in the region and stands ready to assist in whatever way we can. Ultimately, however, it is the parties themselves that have to shoulder the major responsibility for achieving a permanent and lasting solution. There has to be a spirit of accommodation and political will to achieve a just and comprehensive peace. Meanwhile, we cannot lose sight of the fact that human rights standards and International Humanitarian Law are universal and should be respected by all sides.

Thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 9: QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS IN ANY PART OF THE WORLD

(March 25, 2004)

Mr. Chairman

Agenda Item 9 of this Commission is of key importance in our common endeavour to promote and protect human rights around the globe. Its effectiveness in the advancement of human rights, however, depends critically on member states recognizing that the country resolutions are an instrument of last resort, not the first weapon of choice to be used whenever a country falls out of political favour.

Indiscriminate use of Item 9 country resolutions over the years has led to sharp divisions in the Commission. This is unfortunate. We need to ask ourselves if our shared objective of promoting and protecting human rights across the world is best served by the approach that has evolved for the consideration of this item. Selecting the right approach, clearly, is as important as the objective it is intended to serve. The problem is not with Item 9, but the way it has come to be misused by members of the Commission.

When this Commission was established by ECOSOC in 1946, it was conceived as a very different body from what it is today. It was envisioned, essentially, as a body for setting standards in different thematic areas relating to human rights. Since then a complex Human Rights structure has emerged around it. Its ever expanding role and, some would add, its increasing intrusiveness into the sovereign space of member states, have led many countries to wonder if the present structure might be doing more harm than good for the cause of human rights – a cause dear to my country as it is to many of those represented in this Commission.

To be sure, every institution needs to evolve dynamically, to reflect the ever-changing nature of the problems that it is called upon to address. But when the impression gains ground that this complex human rights edifice that has taken shape over the years is really an instrument for advancing the political objectives of those who control its purse-strings, we must recognize that we have a problem. The standards we set for ourselves need to be uniformly applied.

The credibility of initiatives that are brought before the Commission under Item 9 rests on our ability to distinguish between those societies that cherish and protect the values of human dignity, democracy, equality, and the free expression of the will of the people, and those that are fundamentally opposed to them. The annual ritual of sitting in judgement over others does not move us towards our desired goal. ‘Naming and shaming’ through country specific resolutions only serves to create acrimony in the Commission.

At the end of the day, the measures that we adopt have to be proportional to the problems that they seek to address. We also have to ask ourselves whether the concerns and aspirations of the vast majority of the United Nations membership which belong to the developing world have not been lost sight of in the working of the Commission. The challenge that these countries face of limited resources and unlimited expectations needs to be understood and recognized.

Mr. Chairman,

India remains steadfast in its view that true respect for human rights can only be assured in a political environment that guarantees democracy and freedom. India's experience demonstrates that a democratic, pluralistic society with a secular polity, an independent judiciary, a vibrant civil society, an independent media, and a powerful and independent Human Rights Commissions at the national and state levels, is an effective guarantee for the protection and promotion of human rights in a country.

We do not claim to be perfect. No country can. Yet, our open and democratic socio-political system has the wherewithal to deal with problems that occur. There are instances where economic and social grievances have manifested themselves. Our approach towards such problems has and will continue to be to address them through dialogue, strengthening of our institutions, and intensified efforts at economic development.

The very same liberties and freedoms which democracies guarantee also tragically make them the most vulnerable to misuse and assault. The challenge from terrorism is one of the gravest threats facing the world. Terrorist acts are frontal assaults on the most basic human rights, life and liberty. Terrorism has to be fought internationally by the community of civilized nations. It is axiomatic that ensuring the security of its people is the first responsibility of a government. This Commission owes a special responsibility to recognize and address the rights of the victims of terrorism. At the same time, we recognize that counter-terrorism measures should preserve the rule of law, protect human rights and sustain democracy.

Mr.Chairman,

In conclusion, we once again reiterate our complete commitment to human rights, human dignity and fundamental freedoms. India will, as in the past, constructively engage with other stakeholders for the promotion and protection of human rights during this session of the Commission.

ITEM 10: ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS.

(March 29, 2004)

Mr. Chairman,

India acceded to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1979. While we were not among the original signatories to the Covenant, the importance of economic, social, and cultural rights featured prominently in the Constitution we adopted in 1950, which contained a separate section on the Directive Principles of State Policy. At the broadest level, they call upon the state to strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting, as effectively as it may, a social order in which social, economic and political justice would inform all the institutions of national life. Formally, though these Directive Principles were not justiciable, they were nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country, and obliged the State to apply them in making laws.

Over the years, in a series of landmark judgements, the Indian Supreme Court has ruled that the "Directive Principles" must be "read into" the Fundamental Rights, as the two sets of rights are complimentary to each other. The Supreme Court also ruled that the right to life, enshrined in the Constitution, includes within it the right to live with human dignity and all that goes with it, including the necessities of life, such as adequate nutrition, clothing, shelter and basic education.

The practical realisation of the rights enshrined in the Covenant, of course, depends on the stage of development of a country. Countries need to adopt policies that have as their central objective the welfare of their people. India has achieved significant success in this regard. Today, India looks forward to a GDP growth rate of 8% per annum. We hope to double per capita income in 10 years. The Tenth Five Year Plan for the period 2002-2007 has defined national development objectives in terms of enhancing the well being of the people. The Millennium Development Goals have been incorporated into the Plan with even more ambitious targets. For the period 2002-2007, the Plan aims to reduce the poverty ratio to 21% and increase the literacy rate to 75%. It also aims at creating 50 million jobs by 2007 and providing shelter to every one of our billion plus citizens by 2012. Special emphasis is being placed on addressing the life-time concerns’ of our citizens, covering health, housing, education and employment.

The 86th Constitution Amendment Act – which makes free and compulsory education for children between the age group of 6 to 14 years a fundamental right – has come into force. This is a historic step towards the realisation of the universal right to education in India.

Mr. Chairman,

Human development is a process of expanding people’s choices, allowing them to live secure lives with full freedoms and rights. Human development requires equitable, and sustainable economic growth. There is no gainsaying that there can be no real development without gender equality, and the participation of all sections of society in the decision making process.

The realization of economic, social and cultural rights is indispensable to the dignity of man. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action recognizes that all human rights are universal, indivisible, inter-dependent and inter- related. The international community must therefore, treat them in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis. Experience has taught us that economic, social and cultural rights can best be pursued only in open, free and democratic societies, where government policies mirror the will and aspirations of the people.

Mr. Chairman,

By expediting economic growth, creating jobs and raising incomes, globalisation has the potential to advance human development around the world. But globalisation has also increased vulnerability and insecurity. Multilateral institutions can play a major role in maximising the benefits of trade and globalisation while minimising their risks. We have noted with interest the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the fundamental principle of non-discrimination in the context of globalisation, in particular its recommendation that states should undertake human rights impact assessments of trade rules. We need to ask whether the multilateral trade regime has maximized possibilities for human development, and provided developing countries with policy flexibility to make institutional and other innovations These issues have a direct bearing on employment, education, public health, movements of capital and labour and ownership of access to technology - all of which have an important bearing on the realisation of ESC rights.

It is unfortunate that the debate over the role of international cooperation in the progressive realization of these rights should continue after so many years. Article 2 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes clearly that each State Party undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and cooperation, to achieve progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the Covenant. The success in the progressive realisation of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights at the national level therefore depends to a large extent on effective international cooperation. Requisite resources to developing countries and the creation of a conducive international economic environment for realisation of the ESC rights of their citizens is a joint responsibility.

Mr. Chairman

The Working Group which met last month to consider options regarding an Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, discussed various issues connected with ESC rights. However, it could not reach a consensus. Some delegations pressed for an optional Protocol on a formal complaints mechanism. They argued that such a protocol would result in the improved enjoyment by people of economic, social and cultural rights, and the strengthening of international accountability of States parties. I am afraid that my delegation, and that of many other member states, remained unpersuaded by these arguments.

My delegation believes that it is premature to consider a legally binding complaints mechanism at the international level, akin to the complaints mechanism under the Covenant on Civil and Political rights. The international framework for Civil and Political rights evolved over several centuries and embody the experience of a number of democratic countries. Concepts and ideas related to Economic and Social rights, on the other hand, have engaged the global community for just over fifty years.

There is, also, no clear standard against which to measure a member state’s obligation of "progressive realization” based on the "maximum of its available resources”. The absence of a precise standard makes monitoring of compliance at the international level virtually impossible. That is why we believe that this aspect of the ESC rights is best handled in the framework of the legal and judicial systems of each country. Only when we reach a measure of development homogeneity globally, would it be meaningful to seriously embark on an international protocol on a complaints mechanism.

Mr. Chairman,

In conclusion, we would like to express our appreciation to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for its work in enhancing the visibility of ESC Rights and clarifying the provisions of the International Covenant. We are also grateful to the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights for its pioneering work in this area.

AGENDA ITEM 11: Civil and Political Rights

(April 1, 2004)

Mr. Chairman, In a few weeks from now, over 600 million Indians will take part in the world’s largest exercise of a basic human right - the right to universal adult franchise - to elect a government of their choice. Once again, they will cast their vote to determine who will represent them in Parliament, and in some of the State legislatures that are going to the polls at the same time. They will do so freely, just as they have done regularly since India won independence in 1947. While people in India might appear to take this right for granted, they know only too well that this fundamental right to choose ones representatives, is denied to peoples in many parts of the world, and that the enjoyment of virtually every other civil and political right depends on the exercise of this right.

Mr. Chairman,

Democracy is an article of faith for over one billion Indians. To be sure, along with the holding of periodic elections, a vibrant democracy needs a whole range of institutions for its proper functioning. We are proud that these institutions of democracy have grown deep roots in our country. Our secular, pluralistic society, where every citizen is equal under the law, should inspire freedom loving people everywhere. No country should accept a lesser system.

Civil and political rights represent the cornerstone of the international edifice of human rights. The extent of civil and political rights enjoyed by the citizens of a state, defines the essence of a society, impacting as it does on virtually every aspect of life. The enjoyment - or denial - of these rights shapes the way people think, their attitudes, the way they relate to each other, their entire value system. More than anything else, civil and political rights shape a nation.

India won its independence at a time when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was taking shape. The framers of our Constitution were enlightened visionaries, with a deep concern for human values. Our founding fathers were determined to establish a political framework in which the most basic aspiration of the people – the aspiration to live with freedom and dignity – would be secure, guaranteed to withstand any attempt at infringement. That guarantee has stood firm for over fifty-five years. If the people of India today take their rights and freedoms for granted, it merely reflects how entrenched they have become. A life without such freedoms is unthinkable.

We have never accepted the argument that some have tried to make - that there was an implicit trade-off between civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other. On the contrary, we see democracy, and the values and principles that go with it, not as an obstacle to the fight against poverty and the development of the country, but as the only durable and sustainable framework within which the welfare of the people can be ensured. We have sought to promote both sets of rights as a composite whole.

It is doubtless true that lack of adequate resources and insufficient national capacity in developing countries handicaps the ability of the state to secure for its people the full enjoyment of the fruits of civil and political rights. But that certainly does not mean that restricting civil and political rights is necessary for economic and social advancement.

No one, of course, would claim that democratic societies are necessarily beyond reproach on each and every issue relating to the protection and promotion of civil and political rights. That would be an impossible standard for any country to meet. But with the safeguards provided by the institutions of a democratic society, including an independent judiciary, a free press, an alert and vibrant civil society unafraid to question the government’s actions and highlight its perceived failures, democracies are far less likely to tolerate abuses of human rights than societies which are closed, authoritarian and devoid of a system of checks and balances.

When human rights violations do occur, institutions in democratic societies ensure that corrective measures are taken. We are, therefore, disappointed to find that the Special Rapporteur on Torture, in his report in document number 56, and 56/Add.1 has expressed concern that the government has not extended to him an invitation to visit India. We are rather perplexed by the notion, evidently shared by some Special Rapporteurs, that the measure of a country’s commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights is the alacrity with which they respond to a request for an invitation to visit the country. There might, arguably, be some basis for such a belief where human rights in closed, non-democratic societies are at issue. It seems to us rather presumptuous, however, that the Special Rapporteur on Torture should believe that absent his watchful eye democratic societies would fail to take corrective measures when human rights violations do occur.

Mr. Chairman,

India has been a victim of terrorism for over 20 years. Terrorism and its backers seek to exploit the freedoms available in democratic societies. These freedoms are viewed by some of them as legitimate instruments to take advantage of. Terrorism has emerged as a truly global threat. Democracies must rally against this international menace, and must treat states that sponsor terrorism as global pariahs. Terrorists are unconcerned about human rights or, indeed, about any norms prescribed by Humanitarian Law. Terrorists are the biggest violators of the most basic of human rights, the Right to Life. Their objective is to instill fear, their tactic is to intimidate. They have absolutely no compunction about denying the basic rights of innocent citizens. No cause, no religion, no ideology, no so-called struggle justifies terrorism. Grievances, real or imaginary, cannot be addressed at the point of a gun.

Ensuring the security of its people is the first responsibility of a government. Faced with the growing threat of terrorism, most countries - including India - have been forced to enact special legislation to tackle terrorists. It is, of course, important to strike a balance between the imperative of dealing with, and putting an end to, terrorism on the one hand, and safeguarding human rights on the other. In tackling terrorism effective domestic measures must be supplemented by sustained international cooperation, particularly through a strong and effective legal regime.

Before concluding, Mr. Chairman, I would like to touch upon an aspect of our functioning that is beginning to concern our delegation. The edifice of mechanisms, special procedures, and international instruments that we have created over the years is today in need of rationalization. Instead of consolidating our gains, we seem to be moving in the direction of further proliferation and duplication of mandate holders and instruments. This may satisfy certain domestic agendas, but it is doubtful whether such proliferation serves the cause of human rights. Ultimately, it is the implementation by, and the political will of, each State that will lead to the promotion and protection of civil and political rights. There can be no substitute to national capacity building.

Thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 12: INTEGRATION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND THE GENDER PERSPECTIVE

Mr. Chairman,

The importance of Agenda Item 12 on the integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective in the work of this Commission cannot be overemphasized. The progress of any society is dependent on its ability to protect and promote the rights of its women.

Long before India ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and other international instruments dealing with women’s rights, our national commitment to women’s rights had found full reflection in the Constitution adopted in 1950. The Constitution was ahead of its time, not only by the standards of the newly independent countries, but also of many of the developed countries in removing all forms of discrimination against women. The guaranteeing of equal rights and privileges for women by the Constitution marked the first step in the journey towards the transformation of the status of women in India.

As a result of concerted efforts and a comprehensive policy framework over the last five decades there have been significant advances in the socio-economic indicators for women. These include a considerable rise in life expectancy at birth, increase in mean age at marriage, and decline in the female death rate. Most importantly, there has been an increase in the female literacy rate from just under 30% in 1981 to over 54% in 2001, and for the first time, the absolute number of female illiterates has shown a decline in the 2001 Census. Other indicators such as the Gross Enrolment Ratio for girls at primary and middle levels, number of women in higher education, and the female work participation have also shown a marked positive trend.

Empowerment of women is critical for the socio-economic progress of any country. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments in 1993 have made a significant impact on the participation of women in the grassroot democratic institutions at the village and local levels. A Bill has been also introduced in our Parliament that seeks to reserve one-third of the seats for women in the House of the People and in the Legislative Assemblies of the States. Alongwith this, several programmes have been designed for the holistic empowerment of women through the process of mobilization, organisation and awareness generation, which would enhance the self-confidence of women within the household and community and empower them to access resources from various available and new sources.

It is our conviction that education is key to the advancement of women. The spread of liberal education and values has unleashed forces for social reform and created awareness about the need for increased participation of women in the educational, social, economic and political life of India. The care of the girl child in the areas of health and nutrition, education and economic potential constitutes a major focus of state policy. The 86th Constitution Amendment Act – which makes free and compulsory education for children between the age group of 6 to 14 years a fundamental right – has come into force. This is a historic step towards the realisation of the universal right to education in India, which will also have a profound effect on the girl child.

An important institution that is playing a significant role to protect and promote the interests and safeguard the rights of women is the National Commission for Women. This statutory body has been in existence for more than a decade and has been in the forefront of the national endeavour to improve the status of women in society. The Commission has been reviewing laws, looking into specific cases of complaints of atrocities, harassment, denial of rights and exploitation of women. It has also been taking remedial action to restore the legitimate rights of women.

Comprehensive efforts have also been underway to secure gender justice by substantially increasing coverage of programmes for affirmative action, campaigns for equal rights to women in property, credit facilitation, income generating opportunities, provision of support services like day care facilities, crèches, hostels for working women, etc. Specific provisions for women from the vulnerable sections of society have been made in the Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 and the Prevention of Atrocities Rules of 1995. States and Union Territories have been asked to formulate specific schemes under the Special Component Plan for the development of women from the vulnerable sections in the field of education, housing, drinking water supply facilities and also ownership rights on assets.

Mr. Chairman,

To build upon the progress made the Government of India adopted the National Policy for Empowerment of Women in 2001, which will guide the approach to the empowerment of women in the Tenth Plan period from 2002 to 2007. An allocation of over 3 billion US dollars has been made for this period for the Department of Women and Child Development, the largest for any single department in the Government of India, for the implementation of the Plan. The main components of the action plan are:

Creating an environment, through positive economic and social policies, for the development of women to enable them to realise their full potential; - Ensuring the de jure and de facto enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by women on par with men in all spheres; - Providing equal access to participation and decision-making for women in the social, political and economic life of the nation; - Ensuring equal access to women to health care, quality education at all levels, career and vocational guidance, employment, equal remuneration, occupational health and safety, social security and public office; - Strengthening legal systems aimed at the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women; - Changing societal attitudes and community practices by active participation and involvement of both men and women; - Mainstreaming a gender perspective in the development process; - Building and strengthening partnerships with civil society, particularly women’s organizations, corporate and private sector agencies.

In addition to the role of the State and the constitutional provisions that exist, the judiciary has played a key role in the advancement of gender justice in India, including through the mechanism of public interest litigation which has taken deep roots in the country. The Supreme Court of India has delivered landmark pronouncements on matters such as the need for equal property rights for women, particularly in case of inheritance and sexual harassment at the workplace. The process of organising women into Self-Help Groups to provide them a permanent forum for articulating their needs has been extremely successful, with more than a million such groups now in existence all over the country. Functioning at the grass root level, these groups are becoming agents of social change, and enabling access to financial and material resources.

In conclusion, let me reiterate India’s full commitment to work with the international community to promote and protect the rights of women.

Thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 13: RIGHTS OF THE CHILD

Mr. Chairman,

India’s commitment to the rights of the child is civilisational and enshrined in our Constitution. Mahatma Gandhi had said, and I quote, if we are to reach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on real war against war, we shall have to begin with children, unquote. Even prior to India’s accession to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, India’s policies and programmes at the central and state levels were directed towards creating an affirmative environment for children’s rights.

One of the Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the Constitution states that the State shall, and I quote, ensure that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment, unquote. India has one of the most comprehensive legal regimes for the protection of children. The Constitution of India articulates in substantial measure several of the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Our national policies have seen rapid progress since independence and we have tried to provide maximum outreach for our programmes for children. This is a recognition of the importance that children have in the life and well-being of a nation, as equally of the fact that India has the largest child population in the world.

Being a vibrant democracy, change necessarily takes place in an environment of consensus and participation of the people. This process may be time consuming, but the results are resilient and sustainable. Poverty is the greatest enemy of children. Our achievements vis-a-vis all indicators for children for the past decade have been positive if not total, and though we realize we still have a long road ahead, our commitment and determination remains undeterred. India, as a pluralistic society, is committed to bringing about attitudinal change through consultation and decentralized, democratic means, a task which is extremely challenging.

Among the major measures taken by the Government of India in the recent past are:

  • The 93rd Constitution Amendment Bill now known as the Constitution (86th Amendment) Act making free and compulsory education a fundamental right for all children in the age group of 6-14 years. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which means Campaign for Education for All, is the Government of India's national programme to achieve Universalisation of Elementary Education as mandated by the 86th Amendment to the Constitution of India.
  • The National Commission for Children Bill was introduced in Parliament in December 2003 after intense consultation with State Governments, NGOs, experts and members of civil society. The Commission will function as a guardian of children’s rights with powers to take suo motu cognizance of child right violations.
  • The National Charter for Children, a policy document that embodies our agenda for children, has been laid in both houses of Parliament. Underlying the Charter is our intent to secure for every child its inherent right to be a child and enjoy a healthy and happy childhood, to address the root causes that negate the healthy growth and development of children, and to awaken the conscience of the community in the wider societal context to protect children from all forms of abuse, while strengthening the family, society and the nation.
  • The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 has been amended in 2003 to provide for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception, and more stringent enforcement. - The National AIDS Prevention and Control Policy announced in 2001 aims at effective containment of the infection levels of HIV/AIDS in the general population in order to achieve zero-level of new infections by 2007.
  • The National Health Policy of 2002 seeks to achieve an acceptable standard of good health amongst the general population of the country, through decentralized interventions and community participation.
  • The Government of India is committed to eliminate all forms of child labour beginning with hazardous occupations. The National Child Labour Projects that started with coverage of 5 districts increased to 100 districts in the 9th Plan. The resources allocated to the programme have more than doubled to over 130 million US dollars in the current 10th Plan, with coverage of 250 districts.
  • The objective in the 10th Five Year Plan is to ensure that every child between the age of 5 to 14 years and working in hazardous occupations and processes is withdrawn and sent to school.
  • The Department of Women and Child Development as a follow-up to the UN General Assembly Special Session for Children is in the process of finalizing a National Plan of Action for Children with a special focus on reduction of Infant, Child, Maternal Mortality, Child Malnutrition, providing free and compulsory education to all children in the age group 6-14 years, protecting children from all types of abuse and exploitation, and improving sanitation coverage both in rural and urban areas.
  • India has launched a national programme for formation of Women’s Self Help Groups for reaching women’s empowerment to the grassroots. Approximately 53,000 women’s groups have been formed across the country, and are at varied stages of maturity. The programme, apart from socially and economically empowering rural women from the poorest strata, has already demonstrated a marked improvement in children’s indicators in areas where the groups are active, especially of infant, child and maternal mortality rates, school attendance by children, particularly girls, and reduction in malnutrition and anemia.
Mr. Chairman,

The realisation of children’s rights cannot be accomplished by Government action alone. While such action is a prerequisite for establishing the enabling legal and policy environment and for initiating and implementing major national programmes, requisite public awareness and information is vital for bringing about attitudinal change. This can only be brought about by a complementary and dynamic partnership with NGOs, social activists and grassroot field workers, and participation of civil society. A conducive international cooperation framework, as recognized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is equally essential to enable States with limited resources to fulfil their goals and aspirations.

 

Thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 14: SPECIFIC GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS

Mr. Chairman,

The protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities is a fundamental responsibility of all States. These rights are explicitly set out in a number of international instruments, most notably in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities.

Given the immense diversity of India, with its myriad religions, languages and cultures, it is not surprising that there are as many minority groups in our country as there are possible classifications based on identifying characteristics. Our heritage is one of inclusion. In keeping with this heritage our founding fathers enshrined in our Constitution, ideals that ensure that all citizens of India have an equal opportunity to develop, by securing for them social, economic and political justice; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; and equality of status and opportunity. These principles form the bedrock of India’s pluralistic society. They are essential for establishing a society where people have opportunity to enjoy all human rights in the framework of cohesion and stability. Our respect for the individual underpins our commitment to safeguarding the rights of every human being, irrespective of race, religion, sex or other defining characteristic.

We believe that the values of tolerance and pluralism are universal in nature. Their advancement by the United Nations system and this Commission will contribute significantly to the promotion and protection of human rights within and among societies. It is in keeping with this approach that India will table its biennial resolution, which has traditionally been adopted by consensus, on ‘Tolerance and Pluralism as indivisible elements in the promotion and protection of human right’. We commend the resolution for the consideration of the Commission this year.

Mr. Chairman,

India is home to all major religions. We have the second largest Muslim population in the world. We don’t just cherish diversity, we celebrate it. Respect for the other person’s identity as member of a particular minority group therefore has deep and abiding roots in the social consciousness of India.

Secularism is a fundamental tenet of the Indian Constitution and political system. The Constitution of India has laid down special provisions for safeguarding the rights of minorities. It prescribes that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws. It lays down that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. Every religious denomination has the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious, educational and charitable purposes, to manage their own affairs in matters of religion, to own and acquire property and to administer such property in accordance with law. No religious instruction can be imparted in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds and no person attending any educational institution recognised by the State or receiving aid out of State funds can be compelled to take part in any religious instruction without his or her consent. There shall also be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. Citizens residing in India have the right to conserve their distinct language, script or culture.

The National Commission for Minorities was constituted in 1993. The Commission is vested with broad statutory powers for the effective implementation of safeguards provided under the Constitution for the protection of interests of minorities and for making recommendations in this regard to the Central and State Governments. The Commission looks into the welfare of minorities, and has the powers to examine specific complaints regarding the deprivation of rights and safeguards of minorities. It is both a monitoring and standard setting body with powers to receive complaints. Its reports are laid on the table of both Houses of Parliament along with a memorandum of action taken or proposed to be taken by the Government.

Differences in society are only natural. Whenever problems occur solutions to them have to be found within a democratic framework: by establishing firm foundations of equality and non-discrimination, strengthening legislation, raising public awareness, and concerted action by civil society and the media. The challenge is to address such differences through dialogue and empathy. The recrudescence of various forms of exclusivism, bigotry, hatred and intolerance is particularly worrying, as are extremism and violence in the name of religion. Such developments present challenges to the entire civilised world, which must be met with firm resolve.

Mr. Chairman,

The Working Group on Minorities has developed into an important forum for the examination of problems being faced by minorities and identifying solutions for such problems. We have closely followed its work, including of its tenth session in March 2004, and are of the view that the Working Group should be fully supported by this Commission as well as by the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, its parent body.

The Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the ‘Rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities’ submitted to this Commission has put forward many ideas deserving our consideration. In our view, they require careful deliberation. While strengthening or creating new human rights mechanisms we have to adopt a judicious approach, so that we do not contribute to the duplication or enfeeblement of existing mechanisms such as the Treaty bodies and special procedures. In view of the limited material and financial resources available with the Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner, our first priority ought to be to rationalise and increase the effectiveness of existing mechanisms. Finally, as we have stated elsewhere, there is and can be no substitute to the creation of strong and resilient domestic institutions and safeguards. The international community should be ready to assist in the creation of appropriate national capacity should such assistance be required.

Mr.Chairman,

We welcome the focus of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights of persons with disabilities. There is a strong legal framework in our country for empowerment of persons with disabilities. In 1995 India enacted a landmark legislation in this regard – the Persons with Disabilities Act - to ensure that people with disabilities enjoyed equal opportunities. India has been taking an active part in the Working Group to prepare a Convention for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. Our delegation submitted comprehensive proposals for consideration of the Working Group when it met earlier this year.

Mr. Chairman,

In conclusion I would like to say that we believe that the protection of the rights of specific groups and individuals is first and foremost the duty of each state. It must be our common endeavour to ensure that all states fulfil their obligations to their citizens and develop the requisite capacity and political will to do so.



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