Posts Tagged ‘India’

Wrap up 46th session of UN Human Rights Council with key resolutions on Belarus and Myanmar and more

March 29, 2021

UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréA general view of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in session. 24 March 2021

The UN’s top rights forum passed resolutions condemning abuses of fundamental freedoms in Belarus and Myanmar on Wednesday, in response to ongoing concerns over the human rights situation in both countries.

The ISHR and another 15 organisations (see below) produced as usual their reflections on the key outcomes of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations including pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees, and the human rights situations in Algeria, Cameroon, China, India, Kashmir and the Philippines.

They welcome some important procedural advances such as the possibility for NGOs to make video statements, which should be maintained and expanded after the pandemic for all discussions, including in general debates. …They are concerned by the renewal for another year of the ‘efficiency’ measures piloted in 2020, despite their negative impact on civil society participation in a year also impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge States to reinstate general debates in the June sessions, to preserve their open-ended nature, and maintain the option of video intervention also in general debates.

Environmental justice:

They welcome the joint statement calling for the recognition of the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment that was delivered by the Maldives, on behalf of Costa Rica, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland and supported by 55 States. We call on all States to seize this historic opportunity to support the core-group as they continue to work towards UN recognition so that everyone in the world, wherever they live, and without discrimination, has the right to live in a safe, clean and sustainable environment.

We welcome the joint statement that was delivered by Bangladesh, on behalf of 55 States, calling the Council to create a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. We believe this new mandate would be essential to supporting a stronger human rights-based approach to climate change, engaging in country visits, normative work and capacity-building, and further addressing the human rights impacts of climate responses, in order to support the most vulnerable. This mandate should be established without further delay.

Racial Justice: Over 150 States jointly welcomed that the implementation of HRC Resolution 43/1 will center victims and their families. They urge the Council to respond to the High Commissioner’s call to address root causes of racism including the “legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, and its context of colonialism”. The Council must answer to the demands of victims’ families and civil society’s, and establish – at its next session – an independent inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States and a thematic commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, especially where it is related to legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery.

Right to health: The resolution on ensuring equitable, affordable, timely, and universal access by all countries to vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a welcome move in highlighting the need for States not to have export and other restrictions on access to safe diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines, and vaccines, and essential health technologies, and their components, as well as equipment  and encouraged States to use all flexibilities within TRIPs. However, a revised version of the resolution tabled was further weakened by the deletion of one paragraph on stockpiling of vaccines and the reference to ‘unequal allocation and  distribution among countries”. The specific deletion highlights the collusion between rich States and big pharmaceuticals, their investment in furthering monopolistic intellectual property regimes resulting in grave human rights violations. The reluctance of States, predominantly WEOG States who continue to defend intellectual property regimes and States’ refusal to hold business enterprises accountable to human rights standards is very concerning during this Global crisis.

Attempts to undermine HRC mandate: They regret that once again this Council has adopted a resolution, purportedly advancing ‘mutual beneficial cooperation’ which seeks to undermine and reinterpret both the principle of universality and its mandate. Technical assistance, dialogue and cooperation must be pursued with the goal of promoting and protecting human rights, not as an end in itself or as a means of facilitating inter-State relations. We reiterate our call on all States, and especially Council members, to consider country situations in an independent manner, based on objective human rights criteria supported by credible UN and civil society information. This is an essential part of the Council’s work; reliance on cooperation alone hobbles the Council’s ability to act to support the defenders and communities that look to it for justice.

Country-specific resolutions: They welcome the new mandate for the High Commissioner focused on the human rights situation in Belarus in the context of the 2020 Presidential election. It is now essential for States to support the High Commissioner’s office, ensuring the resources and expertise are made available so that the mandate can be operationalised as quickly as possible. Immediately afterwards, on 24 March, 2021 the Human Rights House Foundation published a call by 64 Belarusian and international human rights organisations, welcoming the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council mandating the High Commissioner to create a new robust monitoring and reporting mandate focused on accountability for human rights violations in Belarus that have taken place since 1 May 2020. In so doing, the Council demonstrated its determination to hold Belarusian authorities to account. This mandate needs immediate action. We urge the international community to support this critical next step. The mandate should provide a complementary and expert international mechanism to regional accountability processes already under way. Furthermore, it should assist in the identification of those responsible for the most serious violations for future prosecution. [https://humanrightshouse.org/statements/civil-society-organisations-call-for-the-immediate-operationalisation-of-hrcs-new-mandate-on-belarus/]

They welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, and urge Council to consider further action to hold Iranian authorities accountable, in view of the systematic impunity and lack of transparency surrounding violations of human rights in the country.

They welcome the call for additional resources for the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, increased reporting by OHCHR as well as the work of the IIMM. Lack of international monitoring on, the imposition of martial law in Myanmar to prosecute civilians, including protesters, before military courts, the dangerous escalation of violence by the Tatmadaw and the widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity demand more efforts to ensure accountability.

They welcome the renewal and strengthening of the OHCHR’s monitoring and reporting mandate on Nicaragua, in a context of steady human rights deterioration marked by the Government’s refusal to cooperate constructively with the Office, over two years after its expulsion from the country. The adopted resolution lays out steps that Nicaragua should take to resume good faith cooperation and improve the situation ahead of this year’s national elections. It is also vital that this Council and its members continue to closely follow the situation in Nicaragua, and live up to the resolution’s commitments, by considering all available measures should the situation deteriorate by next year.

They welcome the increased monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka. However, in light of the High Commissioner’s report on the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation and Sri Lanka’s incapacity and unwillingness to pursue accountability for crimes under international law, the Council should have urged States to seek other avenues to advance accountability, including through extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction.

While they welcome the extension of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS), they regret the adoption of a competing resolution under the inadequate agenda item 10. This resolution sends a wrong signal as myriads of local-level conflicts and ongoing SGBV and other violations of fundamental rights continue to threaten the country’s stability. We urge South Sudan to continue cooperating with the CHRSS and to demonstrate concrete progress on key benchmarks and indicators.

They welcome the report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria on arbitrary imprisonment and detention and reiterate the recommendation to establish an independent mechanism “to locate the missing or their remains”, and call on States to ensure the meaningful participation of victims and adopt a victim-centered approach, including by taking into consideration the Truth and Justice Charter of Syrian associations of survivors and families of disappeared when addressing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.

Country-specific State statements: They welcome States’ leadership and statements on human rights situations that merit the HRC’s attention.

They welcome the joint statement on the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and urge all actors, including the Ethiopian Federal Government, to protect civilians and ensure unhindered humanitarian access. Those responsible for crimes under international law, including Ethiopian soldiers, members of armed militias and non-State groups, and Eritrean soldiers involved in Tigray, must be held criminally accountable. The HRC should mandate an independent investigation and reporting by the High Commissioner.

For the first time in seven years, States at the HRC have united to condemn the widespread human rights violations by Egypt and its misuse of counter-terrorism measures to imprison human rights defenders, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers and peaceful critics. They welcome the cross-regional joint statement by 32 States and we reiterate our call supported by over 100 NGOs from across the world on the HRC to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the situation.

They welcome the joint statement by 45 States focused on the human rights situation in Russia, including the imprisonment of Alexi Navalny and the large number of arbitrary arrests of protestors across Russia. The statement rightly expresses concern for shrinking civil society space in Russia through recent legislative amendments and Russia using its “tools of State” to attack independent media and civil society.

In the context of mounting international recognition that Israel imposes an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, they welcome Namibia’s call for the “restoration of the UN Special Committee on Apartheid in order to ensure the implementation of the Apartheid Convention to the Palestinian situation.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/]

For the future:

The next session will receive a report on pushbacks from the Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants. The Council must respond to the severity and scale of pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees in transit and at borders and the ongoing suppression of solidarity, including by answering the High Commissioner’s call for independent monitoring. The Council’s silence feeds impunity, it must build on the momentum of the joint statement of over 90 States reaffirming their commitment to protection of the human rights of all migrants regardless of status.

While the OHCHR expressed deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation and the ongoing crackdown on civil society in Algeria, and called for the immediate and unconditional release of arbitrarily detained individuals, the Council has remained largely silent. As authorities are increasingly arbitrarily and violently arresting protesters – at least 1,500 since the resumption of the Hirak pro-democracy movement on 13 February, they call on the Council to address the criminalisation of public freedoms, to protect peaceful protesters, activists and the media.

Cameroon is one of the human rights crises the Council has failed to address for too long. They condemn the acts of intimidation and reprisal exercised by the Cameroonian government in response to NGOs raising concerns, including DefendDefenders. This is unacceptable behavior by a Council member. The Council should consider collective action to address the gross human rights violations and abuses occurring in the country.

They echo the calls of many governments for the Council to step up its meaningful action to ensure that concerns raised by civil society, the UN Special Procedures and the OHCHR about the human rights situation in China be properly addressed, including through an independent international investigation. We also regret that a number of States have taken an unprincipled approach of voicing support to actions, such as those by the Chinese government, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, through their national and other joint statements.

They call for the Council’s attention on the rapid deterioration of human rights in India. Violent crackdowns on recent farmers’ protests, internet shutdowns in protest areas, sedition and criminal charges against journalists reporting on these protests, and criminalisation of human rights defenders signal an ongoing dangerous trend in restrictions of fundamental freedoms in India. We call on India to ensure fundamental freedoms and allow journalists, HRDs and civil society to continue their legitimate work without intimidation and fear of reprisals. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/29/also-un-calls-on-india-to-protect-human-rights-defenders/]

We once again regret the lack of Council’s attention on the human rights crisis in Kashmir. Fundamental freedoms in the Indian-administered Kashmir remains severely curtailed since the revocation of the constitutional autonomy in August 2019. Raids in October and November 2020 on residences and offices of human rights defenders and civil society organisations by India’s anti-terrorism authorities in a clear attempt at intimidation have further exacerbated the ongoing crisis. We call on the OHCHR to continue to monitor and regularly report to the Council on the situation in both Indian and Pakistani administered  Kashmir, and on Indian and Pakistani authorities to give the OHCHR and independent observers unfettered access to the region. [See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/09/forgotten-kashmir-something-has-to-be-done/]

Nearly six months since its adoption, the Council Resolution 45/33 on technical assistance to the Philippines has proven utterly insufficient to address the widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity. Killings in the war on drugs continue, and attacks on human rights defenders and activists have escalated. The killing of nine unarmed activists on 7 March 2021 clearly demonstrates that no amount of technical assistance will end the killings as long as the President and senior officials continue to incite violence and killings as official State policy. It is imperative that the Council sets up an international accountability mechanism to end the cycle of violence and impunity in the Philippines. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/09/philippines-killings-continue-and-de-lima-stays-in-jail/]

Watch the statement: 

*The statement was also endorsed by: Franciscans International; Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR); International Commission of Jurists (ICJ);  International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); African Centre For Democracy And Human Rights Studies; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH); MENA Rights Group; International Lesbian and Gay Association; Impact Iran; Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM); Siamak Pourzand Foundation; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS); ARTICLE 19; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

NOTE: The 47th regular session of the Human Rights Council is scheduled from 21 June 2021 to 9 July 2021.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc46-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-human-rights-council

Human Rights

Clooney Foundation for Justice to observe trial of Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan

March 2, 2021

On 25 February, 2021 the Clooney Foundation for Justice announced it will monitor the trial of award-winning Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan who has been detained in Kashmir for over two and a half years and faces the death penalty if convicted. [See https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/15/trialwatch-finds-its-feet-in-2019/.

Sultan is a journalist who wrote stories about human rights and political issues for the Kashmir Narrator. He has been imprisoned since his arrest in August 2018 and was only indicted 5 months later. He is now charged with supporting a terrorist group (the Hizbul Mujahideen) and conspiring to kill a police officer, and if convicted after trial, faces the death penalty. Press and human rights organizations believe the charges actually stem from Sultan’s coverage of a Kashmiri militant killed by Indian security forces, whose killing set off anti-government demonstrations in Kashmir in July 2016. The indictment cites Sultan’s social media posts and possession of letter pads of the Hizbul Mujahideen in his home as evidence of his involvement with the banned group. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), after CPJ called for Sultan’s release in The Washington Post, the Jammu and Kashmir police responded on Twitter that Sultan was not being held for his work but for “hatching a criminal conspiracy, harbouring and supporting terrorists who martyred a police constable.”

Sultan, who has received the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award from the American National Press Club in 2019, featured in TIME magazine’s 10 ‘Most Urgent’ cases of threats to press freedom around the world last year.

Sultan’s trial is restarting after multiple delays by the State, including absences by key prosecution witnesses,and again afterthe2 019 revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status. He is one of a number of journalists in Kashmir who appear to have been detained, investigated, and/or prosecuted in connection with their journalistic activities under Indian counterterrorism and related laws. Detained for over two and a half years in Kashmir Central Jail, where COVID cases have been mounting since the summer of 2020, Sultan’s next bail hearing is scheduled for February 26, 2021. The Clooney Foundation for Justice calls on the authorities to ensure that Sultan’s bail hearing is conducted in accordance with international human rights law and any proceedings against him respect his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and to freedom of expression.

https://thewire.in/media/clooney-foundation-to-monitor-trial-of-kashmiri-journalist-detained-for-over-2-years

India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka are all in the same rickety boat when it comes to human rights

December 17, 2020

TRT World published a summary of a report by the South Asia Collective “India and Pakistan no different on how they treat minorities”. Please note that Turkish Radio and Television Corporation is the national public broadcaster of Turkey. One looks there in vain for information on human rights violations in Turkey itself. Still the report referred to (produced with the financial support of the European Union and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) is of interest:

The past ten years have been abysmal for minorities and civil rights activists in South Asian countries including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, according to the South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020. 

Governments have introduced repressive laws that curb freedom of expression, persecute journalists and bar people from organising peaceful demonstrations, says the report published by the South Asia Collective, an international group of activists and NGOs. Some laws disproportionately target minorities such as Muslims in India and Sri Lanka, and Christians in Pakistan.  One policy that transcends almost all the regional governments is their attempt to restrict the role of NGOs – especially if they receive funding  from abroad. 

India, where minorities have faced state-sanctioned violence since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was re-elected last year, has handicapped foreign NGOs by setting limits on how they can spend money received from international donors.  Most of the affected NGOs are the ones that work in areas which highlight abuse of power, government indifference towards the plight of minorities, and the brutality of security forces. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/06/istanbul-court-jails-four-human-rights-defenders-on-terror-charges-seven-acquitted/]

“BJP rule has been characterised by the open targeting of several high-profile NGOs, with foreign funding freezes being the weapon of choice,” the report said. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/29/amnesty-feels-forced-to-shut-sown-its-india-office-amidst-govenment-pressure/]

New Delhi's discriminatory amendment to citizenship law has further alienated India's Muslims.
New Delhi’s discriminatory amendment to citizenship law has further alienated India’s Muslims. (AP Archive)

Other policy changes such as requiring NGOs to register with income tax authorities every five years are a similar tool of “administrative harassment”. ..

The intimidation is not limited to NGOs as journalists reporting on creeping BJP authoritarianism often feel the wrath of the state.   “…between 25 March and 31 May 2020, at least 55 Indian journalists faced arrest, physical assaults, destruction of property, threats or registration of FIRs (police reports),” the report said. 

New Delhi increasingly relies on internet controls to curb dissent. Internet shutdowns jumped to 106 in 2019 from only six in 2014 as authorities used different laws to control the flow of information.  Kashmir faced a complete internet blackout for months after the Muslim-majority region’s nominal autonomy was withdrawn last year…

India is also using the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to target Dalits, a caste of Hindus who face widespread discrimination under the country’s hierarchical caste system… Changes in the Citizenship Act that target Muslim migrants and the brutal police reponse to subsequent protests — in which 22 people were shot dead in Utter Pradesh state in a single day — further illustrate the worsening status of minorities in India. 

In neighbouring Pakistan, India’s archrival, minorities and those activists trying to help them, fare no better. 

“NGOs and INGOs (international NGOs) are subject to extensive regulation involving multiple, lengthy procedures of registration, security clearance, and approvals for funding,” the report said.

The Christians and Hindus in Pakistan regularly complain that young girls are forced to convert to Islam.
The Christians and Hindus in Pakistan regularly complain that young girls are forced to convert to Islam. (AP Archive)

In recent years, Islamabad has increased vigilance on NGOs which it fears might be working on a foreign agenda to promote dissent.  What will particularly bother Pakistan’s policymakers is the report’s focus on how the country’s Blasphemy Law, meant to protect religious sentiments, continues to be misused against minorities. 

In reality, the law explicitly discriminates against Ahmadiyas since parts of it criminalise public expression of Ahmadiya beliefs and prohibit Ahmadiyas from calling themselves Muslims, praying in Muslim sites of worship and propagating their faith.”  Just this week, a report by the United States Commission on International Rights Freedom pointed out that Pakistan accounts for nearly half of the incidents of mob violence against alleged blasphemers.  

At times, people accused of blasphemy are killed in court in front of police and lawyers.   Christians, another minority, are frequently targeted while authorities do little to protect them.  For instance, a church constructed in the Toba Tek Singh district of Punjab province had to be sealed in 2016 after local Muslims agitated against it.  This alienation doesn’t stop at the places of worship – young Chrsitan students are continuously harassed by their peers to convert to Islam, the report said. 

Similarly, Sri Lanka witnessed rising levels of intolerance towards minorities in recent years, especially as successive governments tried to pacify extremist Buddhists to garner their votes.  Muslims in Sri Lanka have felt a wave of discrimination and official apathy after the suicide attacks that killed more than 200 people last year.  “After the Easter attacks, Muslims, particularly a large number of Muslim men, were arrested seemingly without reasonable cause.” Jingoistic government-aligned media has helped paint Muslims as the villain in Sri Lanka. 

The incitement of hatred and vitriol by media outlets continues unabated. For example, Muslim Covid-19 patients were identified by their faith, unlike other patients, and blamed by the media for spreading coronavirus.” 

https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/india-and-pakistan-no-different-on-how-they-treat-minorities-42419

For 30 years Parveena Ahangar has fought for justice against disappearances in Kashmir

November 30, 2020

Parveena Ahangar
Parveena Ahangar

Several weeks ago authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir raided the home and offices of Parveena Ahangar, a local human rights defender, over alleged “terrorist funding,” sending shockwaves in NGOs operating in the region. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/09/30/parveena-ahangar-and-parvez-imroz-in-kashmir-awarded-rafto-prize-2017/]

The “iron lady of Kashmir” said that in 30 years of activism, the October raid by the Indian National Investigation Agency was the first time such brazen action was taken against her, calling it “saddening.”

On the eve of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, Anadolu Agency spoke with Ahangar, who is chair and founder of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), a group seeking justice for victims of enforced disappearances in the Indian-administered region.

“For the last three decades, nobody has raised questions on my work and integrity. This is for the first time that the Indian Investigating Agency wants to prove otherwise, but I will not budge what I am committed to before my God,” Ahangar said in her office in Srinagar.

In 2017, the Indian National Investigation Agency started pursuing a case against pro-freedom activists and groups, claiming that they were getting money from undisclosed sources and using it to fund terrorist activities Since then, many raids have been carried out across the region..

Ahangar’s son, Javed Ahmed Ahangar, was abducted Aug. 18, 1990, by the Indian army and consequently disappeared. He was a Class 11 student at the time. Overtaken with grief, she looked long and hard to find him, but to no avail. She took the legal route and filed various petitions, but that did not help.

In 1994, she formed the association of Parents of Disappeared Persons when the government and every other institution failed to deliver justice in her son’s case and other victims.

I am myself a sufferer. My 18-year-old son who was abducted by the Indian Army in 1990 has not been returned to me, and there are hundreds of mothers who are still waiting for their sons but have not been returned. I’m fighting for the return of our sons,” said Ahangar.

She said for four years she fought the legal battle to find his whereabouts. “I saw hundreds of mothers waiting at the doors of these institutions pleading for the same but the reply used to come ‘untraced’ with no accountability. Where are our sons, I am asking the Indian government.”

According to APDP figures, 8,000-10,000 people in the disputed region have disappeared with no trace.

In an in-depth peer-reviewed study, Lubna Mohiuddin (1997) observed that despite no formal declaration of a state of emergency, the presence of Indian troops in the region shot up from 0.15 million in 1990 to 0.7 million by 1997, which aggravated human rights abuses in the region.

“Despite India being a signatory of multiple international covenants, charters and declarations, violence in Kashmir continues to occur in the form of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, tortures, burning of houses, and gang-rapes,” the study said.

On Aug. 5, 2019, when India scrapped the limited autonomy of the Jammu and Kashmir region, the APDP documented the Kashmir region as going through one of the worst forms of state authoritarianism and high handedness.

“The Indian Government has continuously asserted that ‘normalcy’ has been returned to Kashmir. But, the testimonies and ground level reports indicate the contrary, as there are still severe restrictions and curtailment of basic human rights of the residents of the Kashmir region,” according to the report.

Ahangar says if India thinks “by taking out raids at my home or at my office will stop me from doing what I have been doing for the last 30 years, it will not happen. I have been hardened by the pain and grief after hearing thousands of stories of people who have been trampled under the foot of oppression for so long.

If I am asking for protection of my and their rights, what wrong I am committing?” she said. “It is a long battle to go. If I have to stand alone, I will and nothing by the grace of God can deter me from doing that.”

On the tenth of every month, the APDP used to hold a sit-in-protest to demand justice against enforced disappearances but after the abrogation of special status and the current pandemic crisis, it has been suspended.

——

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/parveena-ahangar-a-story-of-courage-from-kashmir/2059667

https://www.yenisafak.com/en/world/parveena-ahangar-a-story-of-courage-from-kashmirs-iron-lady-3555432

Profile interview with Ahmer Khan, a journalist from J&K with a mission

November 4, 2020

On 18 October 2020 the Week published an interesting interview with Ahmer Khan, an award winning multimedia journalist under the title: “Covering other humanitarian stories helped me process the trauma of J&K, my homeland’’

ahmer-khan Ahmer Khan, multimedia journalist from Kashmir

Ahmer Khan is an award-winning, multimedia journalist from Kashmir. He was nominated for the Emmys 2020 for the Vice News film, India Burning, which focused on the plight of the 200 million Muslims in the country after the rise of Hindu nationalism. Khan is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lorenzo Natali Media Prize by European Commission 2018, AFP Kate Webb Prize 2019, and the Human Rights Press Award 2020. He is also among the finalists for the Rory Peck Award 2020. He has contributed to major international publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, TIME, Al-Jazeera, Radio France International,, The Christian Science Monitor and Vice News, among others. Khan talks to THE WEEK about his career and what it is to be a journalist in Kashmir.

Edited excerpts:

Was it the camera or telling stories through visuals that you were attracted to? 

Well, it was a little bit of both. Kashmir and photography are directly proportional to each other. First, I used to click pictures with a Sony Ericson handset. But I always knew what I was going to do in future. So I studied journalism and worked simultaneously.   

What exactly did your work consist of in ‘India Burning’? 

..I was a local producer of the film and I shot some parts of the film as well. My responsibility was to take care of everything in Assam. From set-up to the execution.

Is there a reason why you work with international media rather than the national media?  

Yes, of course. I have never worked with any Indian organisation purposely. I did not want my stories to get distorted and manipulated the way editors of most of the Indian organisations do. I am grateful that I have found work elsewhere because there is too much saturation and it is hard for stories to get accepted anywhere now.  

How did you establish your name in the industry? 

I think I chose to report outside Kashmir from the beginning. I didn’t restrict myself to Kashmir or even India. I have reported from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. That is something not everyone does.  

Has living amidst the conflict in Kashmir, in any way, affected you as a person and as a journalist?

Our home is a dystopian state. We all have had encounters affecting our lives forever. My father passed away when I was 10 years old. I think every job/assignment in Kashmir is scary. The fear of uncertainty is always there. 

You deal with more humanitarian stories, you are always in the middle of conflict and turbulence, you report on natural disasters and political disruptions. What is it that drives you to this beat? 

It all comes from the basic human tendency of wanting to explore more of what you have grown up seeing. I grew up in the ’90s in Kashmir when the turmoil was at its peak and then I witnessed the uprising from 2008, 2010 and the following years. I, like any other Kashmiri, witnessed young Kashmiris being killed, tortured and extreme human rights violations on the streets. It is too much to handle and process, but when one looks at the other side of the world, we see pain everywhere and start being grateful for what we have. I think for me, covering other humanitarian stories helped me process the daily trauma of my own homeland.  

How is covering stories in Kashmir different from other places in India?

In Kashmir, everything is way too personal. At times, we have to cover the stories while looking at the dead bodies of our own people. It is hard to keep aside your human side. But covering other human rights stories elsewhere and in mainland India, including Assam and Delhi has surely strengthened me more. Although, in Kashmir, it is getting extremely difficult to work freely as days pass. There is a constant fear of being muzzled for telling the truth. And, I think it’s happening across the South Asian countries.

You deal with a lot of life-threatening situations, you have also been harassed by the authorities. How does that make you feel? 

Most people in the media in Kashmir have faced harassment and intimidation by the state. We have recently seen journalists being booked in stringent terror laws. We are living through one of the most dangerous periods of all times for the Kashmiri press to work. It is natural to feel worried. There is a continuous fear of life for all of us. .. 

You identify yourself as a multimedia journalist. How is covering a story through writing, photography and videography different? 

I am quintessentially a photographer and videographer. I started writing because I know the media nowadays is shrinking into one multimedia space. One skill isn’t enough. So the work adds. When you go to cover the story, you have to shoot, take quotes, video interviews and also make sure that you have got all aspects of the story in terms of text, video and photos. It is hard work but satisfactory in many ways. I also do radio stories. In fact, my Lorenzo Natali Media award was for my first radio story for Radio France International. Being a freelance journalist, you have to keep up with the demands of editors as there is a lot of uncertainty. 

What do you have to say about the mainstream journalism that is turning blasphemous? 

What they are doing is not journalism. It is dangerous and authoritarian. If a journalist does not report about the oppressed, undermined or underprivileged, he or she is just doing PR. …

https://www.theweek.in/leisure/society/2020/10/18/covering-other-humanitarian-stories-helped-me-process-the-trauma-of-jandk-my-homeland.html

Also UN calls on India to protect human rights defenders

October 29, 2020

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called for the Indian government to protect the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs in India. She praised India for being at the forefront of the fight for human rights but cautioned that vaguely worded laws may put that in jeopardy.

Her Tuesday 20 October 2020 statement comes as a response to worrying uses of the Indian Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FRCA) which various UN bodies have been worried is overbroad and vague in its objectives. Additionally, it prohibits them from receiving foreign money for “for any activities prejudicial to the public interest.” This can and has had an impact on the right to freedom of association and expression and has prevented foreign NGOs from giving money to Indian causes.

“The FCRA has been invoked over the years to justify an array of highly intrusive measures, ranging from official raids on NGO offices and freezing of bank accounts, to suspension or cancellation of registration, including of civil society organizations that have engaged with UN human rights bodies,” Bachelet said. Most recently it led Amnesty international to close their Indian offices after they were raided and their bank account was frozen.  [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/29/amnesty-feels-forced-to-shut-sown-its-india-office-amidst-govenment-pressure/]

Bachelet, also called for the Indian government to allow peaceful protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act. More than 1,500 people have been arrested because of their protests to this act and many have been charged with violations of the FCRA.

Finally, Bachelet,called for India to review the arrests of human rights defenders who have been arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for exercising their basic human rights.

[see e.g.https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/11/the-indomitable-father-stan-swamy-defending-the-adivasis-and-the-dalits-a-cause-of-arrest/]

https://www.jurist.org/news/2020/10/un-calls-on-india-to-safeguard-rights-of-rights-groups-and-ngos-in-face-of-legislation/

On 9 November came: https://theowp.org/reports/new-frontiers-in-the-suppression-of-human-rights-in-india/

The Indomitable Father Stan Swamy, defending the adivasis and the Dalits a cause of arrest

October 11, 2020

Stan Swamy and the adivasis he supports in an impossible battle for their own ancestral lands are pawns pitted against mammoth mining companies. Falsely branding activists as Maoists is the easiest way to condemn to enable vested interests to finish them off.The Indomitable Spirit of Father Stan Swamy

A file photo of human rights activist Stan Swamy. Photo: PTI

Mari Marcel Thekaekara wrote in the Indian Wire of 10 October 2020 a detailed and personal piece about “The Indomitable Spirit of Father Stan Swamy”

No, it’s not possible,” were my first thoughts when I heard that Father Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest and activist had been arrested – for the second time. His crime? He defended the rights of adivasis being exploited in their homeland Jharkhand.

[see also; https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/40747]

Father Swamy has been accused of having links to a Maoist plot connected to the Bhima Koregaon case and was arrested by the National Investigation Agency on Thursday night. The rights activist is one of the gentlest and kindest men I have ever met. So the entire premise – for anyone who knows him – is entirely ludicrous. Funny even, if it were not so tragic. He has Parkinson’s disease. His hand shakes when he raises a cup of tea to his lips. He speaks so softly, you have to strain to hear him.

Social activists hold a protest after the arrest of Father Stan Swamy by the NIA in the Bhima Koregaon case, in Ranchi, October 9, 2020. Photo: PTI

He assures his interrogators that he has no connection with Maoists. He believes in peaceful, non-violent protest. I believe him. Because I know that his integrity is above reproach.

I heard of Father Stan Swamy in the early seventies, because he was among the first people I knew who advocated living with the adivasi community in Jharkhand to understand their lives and their problems; to help find solutions and a way forward. I went there in the early seventies while still in college to write a story for our student magazine.

On a more personal note, Stan Swamy, introduced my husband, also named Stan, to the adivasi world. He shared Father Swamy’s hut in a Ho village in Jharkhand. My husband always told young activists:

“Gandhiji’s non violence was not merely moral or religious. It was strategic. Gandhi was a brilliant general. Oxymoronic though that sounds. He understood that the fight for freedom could not be won by violence because mere ordinary Indians, even if they poured out on the streets with justice on their side, with God on their side, could never win. Even if there were thousands or lakhs of people marching in protest, they could never match the might of the state. Before 1947, the British could bring out the artillery and finish us off. One wrong step could have changed the course of our history. But the entire world watched India’s non violent battle for independence, open mouthed. Non violence was a new word, a new tactic, made in India. The world sympathised and empathised. Gandhi’s strategic non violence was the most brilliant weapon in our war for Independence’

The same scenario is playing out today. And the average activist understands that putting ordinary villagers, adivasis, Dalits or women in the line of fire is counterproductive and unfair. We learnt this strategy from Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan.

In recent times, it has become the norm to equate the word activist with ‘anti-national’. But who is an activist? What do they do?

It’s quite simple. All over India, there are thousands of people who took up the cause of fighting for social justice for the poor, the marginalised and the voiceless. These people were inspired by the brightest and best minds in our country – from Gandhiji to Vinobha Bhave to JP.

Post Independence, when the battle for freedom was won, Gandhi urged his followers to go out and continue the fight for freedom. This time, it was to free the poorest from hunger and poverty, to teach and educate, to weave and spin, to spread harmony and peace. Thousands rallied to his call and Gandhi ashrams were filled with people determined to continue the freedom struggle on a new battlefield – India’s villages.

The sixties saw the rise of the Dalit movement. New leaders emerged. Gandhi raised the question of untouchability in the early days of the Independence movement, but his ‘Harijan’ epithet was subsequently dismissed  by Dalits as patronising. Dalit power became a clarion call, drawing inspiration from the African-American Black Panther movement. Dr B.R. Ambedkar showed the way.

The term activist gained popularity during the JP movement and during the fight against the Emergency in the mid seventies. After the Emergency, thousands of young patriots, drawing their inspiration from JPs charisma, accepted his challenge to go out and organise the poor, the under privileged and the vulnerable; to fight for their rights. This period saw a proliferation of human rights defenders, though the term was not used till later.

Women and men dedicated their lives to fighting for Dalit rights, adivasi rights, womens’ rights, farmers’ unions and fisherfolk movements. These activists evolved in their understanding of rights based movements. They often lived with the communities they worked with. They identified with the people and though many were middle class, they tried to live simpler lives than their parents, than the backgrounds and privileged upbringing they had been born into. They were pleased to be branded activists and wore the badge with pride.

From the fifties and sixties, when Gandhians prevailed, we moved into the seventies where a sea change took place. Global thinking wafted across the world to India. The 1968 student movement in France, Latin American thinking, Marxist ideology – all these gained ground and influenced grass roots workers. The focus changed from the passive Gandhian way – the giving of food, clothes, free education and medicine to changing unjust situations at the base. ’Daan’ or mere giving was now passe.  Activists were trained to encourage people to ask who was cheating them and why? So if people were encroaching on adivasi or Dalit land, it was time to establish basic human rights; time to equip people to defend themselves, to fight injustice – non-violently, the Gandhian way, and the strategic way.

Soon, womens’ groups began to take action against dowry deaths and acid attacks, and took to the streets and courts to protest and demand justice. Dalit groups found lawyers willing to fight caste atrocity cases in court. Adivasis had activists urging them to defend their ancestral millennia old homelands from dominant caste landlords who shamelessly cheated them and usurped their lands. Environmentalists and eco-warriors hugged trees and stopped forests from being denuded. A huge green movement began. The protest movements grew from strength to strength.

In reality, these people are defending human rights and saving the Earth for future generations. When it comes to central India and defending tribal land from powerful mining companies, the battle assumes David versus Goliath proportions.

Stan Swamy and the adivasis he supports in an impossible battle for their own ancestral lands are tiny pawns pitted against mammoth mining companies. Falsely branding activists as Maoists is the easiest way to condemn them and to enable vested interests to finish them off.

The frail 83-year-old has trumped up charges levelled against him. Yet he has a core of steel, an indomitable strength that comes with moral conviction and a commitment to truth and to the powerless. As they took him to prison, Stan Swamy announced he would begin a fast. His fellow Jesuits who rushed to the prison with his medicines, say he has refused even a sip of water.

I kept asking why, they would arrest this gentle, kind man. Father Cedric Prakash, who is also a Jesuit and activist, said in a TV interview, “It’s to create a fear psychosis. If they can imprison an 83-year-old who has spent his life committed to the poor, who is safe?”

Asianet phoned to interview my husband Stan. People cautioned him, “You will draw attention to yourself. It can boomerang and have repercussions on your work in the Nilgiris.”

On 17 October: https://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/13484/jesuits-worldwide-protest-against-imprisonment-of-elderly-priest-

On 16 January 2021: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/stan-swamy-bhima-koregaon-stan-swamy-arrest-united-nations-human-rights-7148223/

https://thewire.in/rights/the-indomitable-spirit-of-father-stan-swamy

https://scroll.in/latest/975476/project-to-silence-dissent-all-india-catholic-union-demands-activist-stan-swamys-

Amnesty feels forced to shut down its India office under govenment pressure

September 29, 2020

On 29 September 2020, it was announced that Amnesty International has shut down its India operations, alleging ‘a ‘witch-hunt’ by the Government

Amnesty India shuts operations
Amnesty India shuts operations

The complete freezing of Amnesty International India’s bank accounts by the Government of India which it came to know on 10 September 2020, brings all the work being done by the organization to a grinding halt. The organisation has been compelled to let go of its staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work. This is latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations, Amnesty International India said today. See below the CHRONOLOGY OF ATTACKS AND HARASSMENT OF AI INDIA, starting in October 2018:

The continuing crackdown on Amnesty International India over the last two years and the complete freezing of bank accounts is not accidental. The constant harassment by government agencies including the Enforcement Directorate is a result of our unequivocal calls for transparency in the government, more recently for accountability of the Delhi police and the Government of India regarding the grave human rights violations in the Delhi riots and Jammu & Kashmir. For a movement that has done nothing but raises its voices against injustice, this latest attack is akin to freezing dissent,” said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.

Amnesty International India stands in full compliance with all applicable Indian and international laws. For human rights work in India, it operates through a distinct model of raising funds domestically. More than four million Indians have supported Amnesty International India’s work in the last eight years and around 100,000 Indians have made financial contributions. These contributions evidently cannot have any relation with the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. The fact that the Government is now portraying this lawful fundraising model as money-laundering is evidence that the overbroad legal framework is maliciously activated when human rights activists and groups challenge the government’s grave inactions and excesses.

The attacks on Amnesty International India and other outspoken human rights organizations, activists and human rights defenders is only an extension of the various repressive policies and sustained assault by the government on those who speak truth to power. “Treating human rights organisations like criminal enterprises and dissenting individuals as criminals without any credible evidence is a deliberate attempt by the Enforcement Directorate and Government of India to stoke a climate of fear and dismantle the critical voices in India. It reeks of fear and repression, ignores the human cost to this crackdown particularly during a pandemic and violates people’s basic rights to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, and association guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and international human rights law. Instead, as a global power and a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, India must fearlessly welcome calls for accountability and justice,” said Avinash Kumar.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/15/lawyers-are-the-frontline-warriors-and-defenders-of-the-rule-of-law/

——

BACKGROUND: CHRONOLOGY OF ATTACKS AND HARASSMENT OF AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL INDIA:

  1. On 25 October 2018, Amnesty International India endured a 10-hour-long raid as a group of officers from the Enforcement Directorate (ED), a financial investigation agency under the Ministry of Finance, entered its premises and locked the gates behind them. Most of the information and documents that were demanded during the search were already available in the public domain or filed with the relevant government authorities. The residence of a Director was also raided.
  2. Immediately after the raid, the bank accounts were also frozen by the ED. As a result, Amnesty International India was forced to let go of a number of its staff, adversely affecting its work in India including with the marginalised communities. Despite the ongoing investigations and before the framing of charges, the Government of India started a smear campaign against Amnesty International India in the country through selective leaking of documents gathered by the ED, to government-aligned media outlets. This resulted in a malicious media trial against the organization.
  3. In early 2019, the Department of Income Tax started sending investigative letters to more than 30 small regular donors. Apparently, the department did not find any irregularities but the process adversely affected the fundraising campaigns of Amnesty International India.
  4. In June 2019, Amnesty International India was denied permission to hold the press conference launch in Srinagar to release its third ‘Lawless Law’ report on the misuse and abuse of Public Safety Act in Jammu and Kashmir. It was forced to digitally release it.
  5. On 22 October 2019, Amnesty International testified at the US Congressional hearing on the situation of human rights in South Asia with a specific focus on Jammu and Kashmir since the unilateral abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India.
  6. On 15 November 2019, two weeks after the testimony and amid rumours of impending arrests of the organization’s top officials, the offices of Amnesty International India and the residence of one of its directors were raided again by the CBI. The raids were conducted on the basis of a First Information Report filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs over unsubstantiated allegations of suspected violations of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. It suggested investigations be launched under other laws like the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
  7. On 13 April 2020, Amnesty International India called on the Uttar Pradesh Government to stop its intimidation of journalists through use of repressive laws during a pandemic. On 15 April 2020, the Cyber Crime Police Station, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh notified Twitter to furnish information about Amnesty International India’s Twitter account @AIIndia which the organization uses to monitor and analyse developments in international human rights law and Indian constitutional and criminal law related to human rights issues.
  8. On 5 August 2020, marking the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, Amnesty International India released an update on the situation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir.
  9. On 28 August 2020, marking the six-month anniversary of the riots that took place in North-East Delhi in February 2020, Amnesty International India released an investigative brief on the complicity of Delhi police in the riots which claimed the lives of at least 53 people, mostly from the minority Muslim community.
  10. The release of the two publications has provided fresh impetus to the establishment to harass and intimidate Amnesty International India through its investigative agencies.
  11. On 10 September 2020 Amnesty International India came to know that all its bank accounts were completely frozen by the Enforcement Directorate bringing most of the work of the human rights organization to a grinding halt.

see also:

https://www.newsx.com/national/amnesty-shuts-india-operations-alleges-witch-hunt-by-government.html

Kenneth Roth speaks plainly on international human rights: China a violator and US “unprincipled”

September 29, 2020

In Newsweek of 21 September 2020 did an interview with Kenneth Roth who has spent 27 years as the executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in which he warns that China poses a threat to the global human rights system, that U.S. is no longer to be relied on as a supporter of human rights and how this has left a void, emboldening autocrats who have used the pandemic to undermine democratic societies.

China and the threat it poses to human rights both at home and around the world is a huge issue,” he says, identifying the current period as the darkest in China’s history when it comes to human rights since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. More than a million Uighur Muslims have been put in internment camps in the country’s Xinjiang province, According to the United Nations (U.N.). China says the camps serve as “re-education” centers designed to combat extremism, but those who have managed to escape share stories of forced labor, torture, medical experiments and rape. Roth says: “The Uighurs are the most severe example of worsening repression under Xi Jinping (China’s prime minister). It’s quite clear that this is the darkest moment in China in human rights terms since the massacre of Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989, the Uyghurs have been the most grievous sufferers of that where a million or more have been detained essentially to force them to abandon Islam and their culture.” The worsening repression doesn’t just extend to minorities, it’s something Roth says we can see also occurring in Hong Kong and Tibet as well as against China’s own population more widely.

There is no independent civil society,” he says. “There is no independent media, human rights defenders are routinely imprisoned. There is a complete lockdown on any organized public dissent and that is just across the board, not just minority population areas. China’s also building this so-called social credit system which is designed to condition access to various governmental benefits on one’s social reliability. So it’s using high-tech tools to control the population.“…

….

On the human rights challenges facing Europe, Roth expresses particular concern about the situation in Belarus, where the man dubbed “Europe’s last dictator“, Alexander Lukashenko, is facing widespread protests over a disputed election. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, with the government frequently accused of repressing the opposition….

Kenneth Roth
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch

He also thinks India‘s Prime Minister Modi has got away with what he calls his systematic discrimination against the country’s 172 million Muslims because of the West’s desire to tap into Indian markets and use it as a counterweight against China, which Newsweek will be reporting on in the coming days.

Roth is highly critical of the Trump administration, accusing the president’s foreign policy of being driven by the guiding principle of “self-glorification” and only speaking out in defense of human rights when the offending country is a perceived adversary.

Trump is utterly uninterested in calling out any human rights violation by anybody other than a handful of perceived adversaries, China, Venezuela, Iran, Nicaragua and Cuba and that’s about it, which is a completely unprincipled approach to human rights which does not attract any adherence and greatly weakens the force of US intervention,” he says. “Human Rights Watch has been living with Trump for four years now and we have already stopped relying on the U.S. as anything like a principled supporter of human rights.”

With the U.S. increasingly withdrawing from the world stage and with the European Union not really filling the void, as he says, is there a new approach to the defense of human rights emerging?

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/19/are-human-rights-defenders-making-a-comeback-kenneth-roth-thinks-so/

https://www.newsweek.com/human-rights-china-u-s-foreign-policy-trump-democracy-europe-human-rights-watch-1533239

Lawyers are the frontline warriors and defenders of the rule of law

September 15, 2020

Thanks to student Amrita Nair in the Leaflet of 14 September 2020 we have a good report of Indira Jaising‘s webinar: “The nature of the Legal Profession: Its role, challenges and limitations

She referred to the courts as the conflict zones and lawyers being people who resolve conflicts.

Quoting Atticus Finch, Jaising stated that the courts are to be great levelers where all men must be treated equally, but alas, this is ideal, but not necessarily the situation. Bias, blind prejudice, and lack of access to legal services have created huge gaps between people, making them less equal from one another. People come to the courts for all sorts of reasons. But the largest litigant in the court of law is the State, being respondent in a plethora of cases relating to fundamental rights violations and enjoying the monopoly for prosecuting crimes, among other things. While the state has the privilege to prosecute crimes, several individuals find themselves arrayed as accused persons in these cases, warranting the help of legal representation to prevent being stripped off of their right to life and liberty. The fight of an individual against the might of the state is unequal in criminal cases, making the system intrinsically unequal and discriminatory. Not every individual has the resources to hire a lawyer who could represent their case to the best of their capabilities. It is during such times that lawyers must come to the rescue of the unfortunate and underprivileged, to help restore balance in the system.

Jaising traced back the history of the evolution of the legal profession, stating that India got it from the British and emphasised how important it is to study the history of courts to understand how and why they function the way they do, today.

She spoke about the concept of the Star Chambers where the proceedings went on in closed chambers with only the judge, the jury, and the executioner present. Emphasis was laid on how there was no legal representation allowed and everything depended on how a person defended his own case, making it highly arbitrary as not everyone possessed the skills to defend themselves.

The emergence of the legal profession came with the modern judges having local experience and the position of the Barrister being created, with wide powers including the power to remove other advocates. The judicial system has come a long way since then, with modern-day High Courts and the Supreme Court making their own rules and the monopoly of Barristers being removed.

The Indian Bar Council Act was enforced with the objective of unifying various practicing advocates under the banner of lawyers or the members of the Bar. The Bar Councils were given more powers with regard to the decisions in matters of education, regulation and appointment. The Advocates Act of 1961 established an All India Bar which had wide powers and duties in regard to the legal profession.

Jaising remarked that the rejection of the Star Chambers and the need to protect the life and liberty of the people is what our system is based on. Lawyers are the frontline warriors and defenders of rule of law, which is a basic feature of the Constitution.

She said it was the duty of the lawyers in defending and upholding the values of the 73-year-old Constitution of India.

While speaking about the Parliamentary form of government, Jaising observed that the government does may claim to represent the will of the people, but their decisions and laws are subject to judicial review and even a majoritarian government cannot violate the basic features of the Constitution. It was the duty of the lawyers to question them when they seemed to deviate from the constitutional principles and mandate.

Addressing the issues surrounding the independence of the judiciary, Jaising stated that there cannot be an independent judiciary without the independence of the legal profession. Just as there exists the separation of powers between the three branches of the government, lawyers must be independent of judges. They must be allowed to make bona fide criticism of judges and the judgements or else the system gets reduced to the archaic Star Chambers, without any voice of opposition.

She explained that being charged with contempt of court charge by the judiciary threatened the independence of the legal profession. Prashant Bhushan’s case being a recent example. In Bhushan’s case, the court exercised powers to convict him dehors the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.  Fundamental rights can only be restricted by law and not by relying on the inherent powers to convict, the court threatened the freedom of speech and the independence of the legal system by bypassing the Act.

“Lawyers need to be respectful of judges, but not sycophants. Lawyers who bend over backward for judges pose a threat to the independence of the legal system,” she said.

According to her, an attack on one lawyer is an attack against the entire profession. The ability of lawyers to speak truth to power must be defended collectively through Bar Associations and Bar Councils. The need of the hour is more Bar Associations that speak out on issues of Human Rights, she said.

Jaising explained how the police were often the biggest lawbreakers, relying on the media to defame the innocent. Press conferences being held by the police while the case is sub judice brings prejudice into the matter and amounts to contempt of court. It is the lawyers that step in to defend the individuals against the might of the State and a prejudiced media, she said.

She pointed out that the right to legal representation itself is under attack. She spoke of how the State had the time and again targeted various lawyers defending the foundations of the Indian Constitution by standing against CAA, defending human rights, criticizing the State among other things. As lawyers and members of the legal community, despite all attacks, the only way to live is to stand up for our rights.

When asked about the pay gap between a corporate job and litigation and whether one would have enough to fend for themselves if they take up the litigation route, Jaising made an observation that the ones who chose the corporate path realised soon that the pursuit of wealth is not giving them any satisfaction. She responded by saying that all law students must come together and demand that all juniors working with a senior advocate must be paid a minimum amount of salary that is pre-decided and equal for all. It must be taken up at an institutional level and the Bar Council must come up with a rule to tackle this problem. Like in the US, ones engaging in pro bono work must have their loans waived and must do a mandatory 2-3 years of pro bono with law firms. She encouraged students to engage in work that they’re passionate about and not be driven by the quest for money. The satisfaction derived out of the work is priceless and one will never feel the lack of money when they engage in the work that they love and are passionate about.

In response to a question regarding the emotional connect of a lawyer with a client and the righteousness of the law and how it might prove to be an impediment, Jaising said that it is always possible to have an emotional connection with the client while also being dispassionate about the case. It is important to not make a conflict out of the two. One must not lie or manipulate the record but make the judge see the law as they see it or how the law ought to be seen.

“Get up, stand up and stand up for your rights!” said Jaising. She urged law students and lawyers to become human rights defenders and fight for principles they believed in.

The ability of lawyers to speak truth to power must be defended collectively by the Bar: Indira Jaising