Universal Periodic Review


First session meeting highlights

10 April 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record
The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by India this afternoon, during which 42 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the reports on Tunisia and Morocco, following the review of the country on Tuesday, 8 April.

SWASHPAWAN SINGH, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in introducing the national report of India recalled that his country had over one billion people and the home of almost all religions of the world and whose Constitution recognized 22 official languages. India was also the largest democracy in the world and there were 604 districts and over 638,000 villages in India. The total number of elected local representatives exceeded three million of which over one million were women. This was by far the largest number of elected representatives ever in history, or anywhere in the contemporary world. In the spirit of the UPR, the national report of India had been prepared through a process of wide consultation with all stakeholders. The Indian Constitution was among the most progressive constitutions in the world and certainly the most comprehensive. India’s democratic polity, a vibrant civil society and powerful and independent National Human Rights Commission, provided the requisite framework for the promotion and protection of human rights. India was also amongst the countries that had been affected most by the scourge of terrorism. India remained committed to protect its people form this menace by taking effective measures within the framework of its Constitution and the basic values and institutions it embodied.

GOOLAM E. VAHANVATI, Solicitor General of India, said his country had a long tradition of promoting and protecting human rights and it had always been the belief of India that in a truly pluralistic society growth and welfare of citizens could be ensured only through the promotion and protection of human rights. The Chapter of fundamental rights in India’s written Constitution was one of the most definitive, detailed and well-thought of expositions of rights available in the world today. The Supreme Court of India had interpreted the right to life as including the right to live with dignity, right to helath, education, human environment, speedy trial and privacy, among other things. The Election Commission of India had been functioning independently and without any interference, and ensured the conduct of free and fair elections. Much of the focus of the Government had been to improve the provision of services through grassroots local self-governance institutions, particularly in rural areas. It was the belief of India that development through decentralized democratic institutions was more equitable and accountable. India had taken an important initiative for the empowerment of women by reserving one-third of all seats for women in urban and local self-government, thus bringing over one million women at the grassroots level into political decision making. India considered and accepted a free media as one of the most vital pillars of democracy and a value guardian for the protection of human rights. There had been an exponential growth in the media in the country, both print and electronic.

Human rights were guaranteed to all persons in India and this included its commitment to secularism and the protection of minorities, he added. India had secured the right to practice and preserve their religious and cultural beliefs as a part of the Chapter on Fundamental Rights. The disadvantaged sections of India society received special focus. India had been conscious of the need to empower the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and was fully committed to tackle any discrimination against them at every level. There were ministries for Social Justice and Empowerment and for Tribal Affairs as well as statutory bodies in the form of National Commissions. The caste system, which was unique to India, was not racial in origin, and therefore, caste-based discrimination could not be considered a form of racial discrimination. Every one in Indian society was entitled to fair and equal treatment and the access to means of advancement. Education had been a priority of India and elementary education had been declared to be a fundamental right. The goal was to achieve 100% coverage in primary schools. Moreover, India was now among the few countries to have a nation-wide employment guarantee act and the right to work was being significantly realized with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme. A social and economic revolution and inclusive growth was now taking place in India. National institutional mechanisms had been set up to make human rights secure and enforceable. Under the Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993, a powerful and independent National Human Rights Commission had been working with an exemplary record for over a decade. Another revolutionary change had been the enactment of the Right to Information Act. It was noted that over the last two decades, terrorism had claimed the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children in India. Ensuring the security of its people was the first responsibility of the Government, and the State was the first line of defense against terrorism.

During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the creation of the National Charter on Children; allocation of one-third of the seat in the Government for women; India’s cooperation with mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and other treaty bodies; steps to eliminate poverty; efforts to promote and protect the rights of women and children; certain encouraging effects of the rapid economic growth; the establishment of national commissions on women, minorities, caste and children, among others; the balance between the human rights agenda and development issues in the country; and the efforts to advance the rights of women and their empowerment in the economic and social fields as reflected over the last five years.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to attacks against castes and tribal communities and religious minorities, and efforts by the State to curb such acts; the State’s anti-conversion legislation; the approach the Government was taking with respect to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, given allegations of improper behavior by the security forces and steps to repeal the Act; the registration and treatment of civil society groups in India; actions taken to promote gender rights and policies to mainstream gender in national planning; women’s participation in decision-making; measures to combat and overcome extreme poverty and programmes to uphold the right to development; the effects of the programme launched in 1988 on child labor; experiences and challenges in managing national elections with respect to human rights; the results of the 2005 law on the right to information; and coordination between various national commissions.

Several delegations posed questions pertaining to steps taken to address caste-based discrimination and measures to eliminate discrimination against the Dalits, in particular. Similarly issues were raised on the equal treatment in society on the access to land, education and medical services; means available to the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Women, Minorities, Castes and Tribes; and traditional practices leading to discrimination against women, castes and tribes.

Other issues and questions pertained to how the programme instituted by the Ministry for Minorities had contributed to improving the situation of minorities and the role played by civil society in that regard; information on efforts addressing gender balance; efforts to guarantee that all citizens fully enjoyed freedom of though, belief and religion; government and police corruption; steps to combat crimes against women, domestic violence, dowry-related deaths; the intentions of the State to abolish corporal punishment; and measures to ensure full equality regardless of sexual orientation; and efforts to address the concerns posed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2004 regarding limited facilities and services for children with disabilities.

Additional information was sought on the State’s Plan of Action on Education; school attendance of children in rural areas; measures taken to fully realize the right to food in the country; the plan and scope of the Government to implement measures regarding the right to health; the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, in particular the right to development; the role played by judiciary to set the framework for promoting human rights in India; the role of the judiciary in protecting human rights; and the assessment of tangible results as a result of the enactment of the Right to Information Act.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations, some of which called on the State to provide disaggregated data on caste discrimination; to ratify the optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and ILO Conventions 138 and 182 related to the abolition of child labor, and lift its reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; to explore new ways of reversing the trends of increased marginalization of the poor in the wake of the growing economy; to strengthen human rights education to address the phenomenon of gender-based and cast-based discrimination; and that a standing invitation be extend to all the Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures, in particular the Special Rapporteur on torture.

A number of delegations also encouraged India to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. Among the other recommendations were those encouraging further measures in the field of human rights education; to integrate a gender perspective in the follow-up to the review; and to amend the Special Marriage Act to give women equal rights to property accumulated through marriage.

The delegation of the India provided responses to a series of questions posed to it during the course of the discussion. Responding to written questions put forth ahead of time, a member of the Indian delegation said, as a means of further strengthening the protection of human rights in the country, the Indian Parliament passed the Protection of Human Rights Act in 1993 for constitution of a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), State Human Rights Commission in States and Human Rights Courts. The State Human Rights Commissions had been set up in 18 States. The NHRC was one of India’s most Paris Principles-compliant national institutions in the world. The purview of the NHRC covered the entire range of civil and political, as well as social and cultural rights.

Responding to written questions on the empowerment of women, the delegation noted that India had enacted the requisite legislations, policies and programmes to protect women against social discrimination and violence and to prevent social evils like domestic violence, trafficking for prostitution, child marriages, dowry, among other things. A Bill to prevent sexual harassment at the work place was also in the works. The National Policy for Empowerment of Women of 2001 had as its goal bringing about the advancement, development and empowerment of women in all spheres of life. Moreover, to provide protection for women in distress, over 565 homes, shelters and short stay homes and helplines were being operated.

Concerning the rights of children, it was noted that India had ratified the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child to reiterate its commitment for the welfare and development of children and was implementing the world’s largest child care programme – the Integrated Child Development Services where supplementary nutrition was provided to over 78 million women and children and pre-school education to 32 million children.

In response to questions posed orally during the interactive discussion, the delegation said, with respect to the Convention against Torture, that India was a signatory to the Convention, was completely committed to its objectives and the Indian Penal Code condemned all acts of torture. Regarding the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, it was noted that although India was a country confronted by terrorism, any violations of human rights committed by the armed forces were expeditiously dealt with including those perpetrated when dealing with counter terrorism measures. Human rights Training was also afforded to armed forces.

As regards the gap between the rich in the poor, the delegation said this was a great concern of the country and every effort was being made to ensure that India’s growth was all inclusive with no disparity between the rich and the poor. It was noted that following last years poor farming season, the Government had donated $15 billion to pay off farmer’s debts.

Regarding education, it was the goal of the Government to achieve 100% primary education. There had also been an increase in the rate of Muslim women who were now part of the education system. On human rights education, the Government had embarked on scheme entitled the National Legal Literacy Mission aimed at making sure those living in rural areas had legal access and were aware of their rights.

Concerning the Armed Forces, it was stated that no force in India functioned with impunity; the armed forces were under strict orders that they would not transgress human rights. If such acts were committed by these personnel, court martials were applied. Minorities enjoyed a special status in India, the delegation affirmed in response to a question. Responding to another question, it was noted that India signed the Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances the same day it was open for signature and the process of ratification was underway.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were the United Kingdom, Ghana, Canada, Brazil, Mauritius, the Russian Federation, Malaysia, China, Cuba, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Bangladesh, France, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Italy, Switzerland, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Slovenia and Qatar.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Bhutan, Singapore, Belgium, Luxembourg, the United States, Algeria, Latvia, Venezuela, Iran, Nepal, Ecuador, Palestine, Syria, Sweden, Tunisia, Israel and Morocco.

The 13-person delegation of India consisted of representatives of the Office of the Solicitor General, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of India are Indonesia, the Netherlands and Ghana.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on India can be found here.

Adoption of report on Tunisia: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Tunisia are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mauritius and China. Introducing the report SHREE BABOO CHEKITAN SERVANSING (Mauritius) praised the State under review for its high quality presentation and report. The discussions had been extremely constructive and held in a positive atmosphere and that the report described well the discussion and recommendations made. Representing the State under review, BÉCHIR TEKKARI, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Tunisia, said the UPR process reflected the will of States to move ahead in the promotion and protection of human rights. Tunisia paid great attention to the recommendations and would follow up to them accordingly.

Adoption of report on Morocco: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Morocco are Romania, Madagascar and France. Introducing the report JEAN-BAPTISTE MATTEI (France) thanked the delegation for its commitment to the Working Group and the work of the Human Rights Council. Only two further recommendations would be further studied by Morocco it was noted that the text would reflect that the recommendations listed above enjoyed the support of Morocco. Representing the State under review, MOHAMED LOULICHKI, the Permanent Representative of Morocco to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said, in fulfilling its goals toward the promotion and protection of human rights, Morocco had committed itself to the Universal Periodic Review process and appreciated the support afforded to it during the review. Morocco would continue to cooperate with the Human Rights Council towards the final adoption of the report by the Council plenary in June.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of India on Monday, 14 April.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Brazil after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of Indonesia and Finland.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp