During the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) review held at Geneva, five countries including USA, Germany and Pakistan, raised issues of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) specifically relevant to the North-Eastern region of India.
India's human rights record was reviewed in the UN Human Rights Council on November 10, 2022 at Geneva under the 4th cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
In connection with UNHRC review, Human Rights Alert executive director Babloo Loitongbam told the media on Tuesday at HRA office, Kwakeithel Thiyam Leikai, Imphal that during the review, 130 member states made 339 recommendations highlighting some of the most urgent human rights concerns in the country, including the protection of minority communities and vulnerable groups, tackling gender- based violence, upholding civil society freedoms, protecting human rights defenders, and ending torture in custody.
From the side of the civil society of Northeast India, Loitongbam and Khuraijam Athouba of the International Peace and Social Advancement (IPSA) and C Lalreruata of the Zo Indigenous Forum participated in the review.
Babloo told the media that some of the issues with specific relevance to Northeast India included the recommendation of ratification of Indigenous and Tribal People's Convention 1989 (ILO Convention 169) by Paraguay.
Meanwhile, Estonia, Canada, Croatia, Czechia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Belgium, Lithuania, Italy and Greece recommended India to respect freedom of expression, he informed.
The issue of AFSPA was raised by five countries, namely Germany and US in the advance question prior to the session and Norway, Belgium and Pakistan during the session itself.
Germany, in the advanced question prior to the session, raised the issue of AFSPA as the first issue in the following words: “Does the Indian government consider to revise the Armed Forces (Special Powers Act) with a view to bringing it into compliance with obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and fighting impunity?”
The United States of America also raised the issue in its advanced question in the following words: “We note the Government of India's rollback of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to promote accountability and justice. We continue to have concerns about section 197 of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure, which does not fully address accountability for security forces and prevents victims from accessing justice”.
During the session, the United States spoke as the 92nd speaker and stated in its 2nd recommendation to "Ratify the Convention Against Torture and to prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses"
Norway, as the 53rd speaker, in its 4th recommendation stated: “Revise the Armed Forces [Special Powers] Act to ensure compliance with obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and consider reducing the Act's geographic scope”.
Pakistan, as the 55th speaker, in its 5th recommendation stated: “Repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, National Security Act, Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, and the National Register of Citizens”.
Belgium, as 109th speaker, in its 4th recommendation stated: “Withdraw the Armed Forces Act 1958 and 1990 from the districts where it remains fully or partially in jurisdiction”.
Loitongbam informed that, as done in the 2nd and 3rd cycles, the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and the United Nations (CSCHR) submitted a stakeholder report for the 4th cycle of UPR, available online in the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as JS47_UPE41_IND_E_Main.
In its national report submitted to the UN ahead of its UPR review, the Indian Government claimed, "It is firmly committed to the promotion and protection of human rights".
The civil society organisations of the North East region engaging with the UPR process hope that the government of India will accept these recommendations and not simply take note of the recommendations. What actually matters to the citizens is the implementation of human rights on the ground, he added.