This editorial was published by the Imphal Free Press on 26 July 2012
We knew something was not right when the Scandanavian diplomats were denied an audience by the state Chief Minister in Imphal, and the state Chief Secretary instead had to throw a reception cum dinner at a private hotel for the visiting diplomats. The reception saw a gathering of Imphal based journalists and members of the academia, besides several activists. The informal report in the grapevine then was that the Centre had advised the state Chief Minister not to meet the Scandanavian diplomats. We knew most of the Scandanavian countries take a lot of interest in human rights issues and their present focus is on the northeast more particularly Manipur for its proximity to Myanmar and Southeast Asia. Then came an interesting report in The Telegraph newspaper a few days back. The report by a New Delhi based correspondent said, India is watching three Dutch and Danish NGOs that have allegedly “cultivated” voluntary organisations in the Northeast to gather data for anti-India reports to be presented to the United Nations and that officials of these foreign agencies may face visa restrictions. It further said, reports prepared by voluntary organisations on human rights violations by the security forces in India’s northeastern states, particularly Manipur, have become “base material” for reports to the UN that are damaging to India.
The organizations in question are Danish Institute of Human Rights (DIHR) and Dutch Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development (Cordaid). It may be recalled here that two United Nations Special Rapporteurs had visited the Northeast in the recent past. They are UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Christof Heyns and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Margaret Sekaggya. Both of them had come upto Guwahati and met both human rights activists and families of victims of Manipur. They had both rejected the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. In a damning preliminary report Christof Heyns had said, AFSPA has no place in a democracy and it should be scrapped. The Special Rapporteur has also expressed surprise at the 1997 ruling of the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of AFSPA. He had said that it is difficult to understand how the Supreme Court which has been so progressive in other areas, also concerning right to life could have ruled in 1997 in favour of AFSPA. Special Rapporteurs are in fact eyes and ears of the UN Human Rights Council. And, the final report of Christof Heyns is slated for 2013. His preliminary report has put the Indian government in an embrassing situation.
The fate of AFSPA has been sealed with two UN Special Rapporteurs seeking its repeal. India has to respect the verdict of the Special Rapporteurs, if it sincerely believes in the tenets of democracy. Now, India seeks to shut off the human rights activists of the northeast region from the world bodies and human rights forums by cutting the source of funding. India’s concern seems to be that, the final reports of the UN Special Rapporteurs are going to put India in an embarrassing situation with regard to its human rights record. And it seems to be seriously trying to plug all the holes with regard to flight of human rights data or reports from local sources. In such an effort, it has chosen to disregard respect for human rights or values and also international norms. Why is India suddenly afraid of its human rights record going outside? Is it because it will lose the tag of largest democracy in the world through these reports? In its effort to stop the reports reaching United Nations and its various forums, it has forgotten its national pride. It does not seem to understand that by shutting off the northeast region from the world, it is going to lose face even more. What a pity!