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US State Department Official Appeals to India to 'Uphold Human Rights Obligations'

The US State Department's 48th Annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices prominently mentions ethnic violence in Manipur.  
Representative image of a Manipur Police checkpoint. Photo: X/@manipur_police

New Delhi: A senior official in the United States’s State Department has called on India to uphold its human rights obligations and commitments by eliciting the views of civil society organisations working on the ground.

Robert Gilchrist, senior bureau official in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, part of the State Department, spoke on the occasion of the release of 48th Annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices on Monday, April 22. The report was submitted to the US Congress.

“What I will say is the US and India regularly consult at the highest levels on democracy and human rights issues. We strongly encourage, urge India to uphold its human rights obligations and commitments. We also regularly meet with civil society representatives, both in the US and India, to hear their perspectives, and those sorts of perspectives inform the Human Rights Report. And, we encourage the Government of India to consult and meet regularly with civil society organizations representing a diversity of people. So there are a number of steps. It remains a key component of our – not just our dialogue but in terms of our engagement with India,” said Gilchrist.

The section on India prominently mentions the ethnic violence in Manipur, which killed over 200 people and left thousands homeless. “The outbreak of ethnic conflict between the Kuki and Meitei ethnic groups during the year in India’s northeastern state of Manipur resulted in significant human rights abuses,” noted the report.

It also goes on to say, “The government took minimal credible steps or action to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses.”

The report says there were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings, during the year. “Media reports often described these allegedly staged killings of accused individuals at the hands of police or security forces as ‘encounter killings’,” the report adds.

Citing Human Rights Watch’s annual World Report, the State Department report said police used torture, other mistreatment, and arbitrary detentions to obtain forced or false confessions. In some cases, police reportedly held suspects without registering their arrests and denied detainees access to sufficient food and water.

Prison conditions were harsh and life-threatening due to extreme overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care, the report underlined.

It also referred to the plight of political prisoners from civil society organisations, members of marginalised groups, and minority political parties. “…those held or charged with terrorism-related, defamation, or sedition crimes were political prisoners, often being held for their speech, advocacy, or nonviolent criticism of the government.”

In the sub-section on transnational repression, the report listed allegations against the Indian government by other governments, diaspora communities, and human rights groups to have killed persons, or used violence or threats of violence against individuals in other countries, for reprisal. In particular, it mentions the case of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh Canadian citizen, whose death led to a diplomatic row between India and Canada.

The report also highlights the allegations of civil society leaders who noted the blocking of social media accounts in India and hashtags, takedown requests, and proliferation of conspiracy theories in the country were examples of transnational repression against diaspora activists working to advance human rights and religious freedom.

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