UN human rights official says Citizenship law is fundamentally discriminatory

Shubhajit Roy
, citizenship amendment bill, citizenship amendment bill 2019, citizenship amendment bill protest, us on citizenship bill, CAB, UN on Cab

Siasat, on the same day, has an editorial based on the “Amreeki” Commission terming the CAB as dangerous. (PTI Photo)

In a strongly worded statement on the new citizenship law (CAB) — its first on the issue — the Trump administration Friday urged India to “protect the rights of its religious minorities” in keeping with its “Constitution and democratic values”.

The statement, which was released by the US State Department in Washington DC and shared by the US Embassy in Delhi, came on a day when the agitation in Assam against the law simmered down after two days of violence in which two people were killed in Guwahati during clashes with security forces.

The new law came into effect after the President gave his assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill late Thursday. It grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis — but not Muslims — who entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan until December 31, 2014.

Follow LIVE updates on protests over Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB)

“We are closely following developments regarding the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Respect for religious freedom and equal treatment under the law are fundamental principles of our two democracies,” said the US statement.

“The US urges India to protect the rights of its religious minorities in keeping with India’s Constitution and democratic values,” it said.

The US and the UK also issued travel advisories asking their citizens to “exercise caution” while visiting the North-East in the wake of the protests.

“The US government has temporarily suspended official travel to Assam,” the US advisory said. The UK advisory asked travellers to “monitor local media” and “follow instructions of the local authorities”.

In New York, a spokesperson for UN chief Antonio Guterres said the UN is “closely analysing the possible consequences” of the amended law. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, meanwhile, said they are “concerned” that India’s new Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 is “fundamentally discriminatory in nature” and appear to “undermine the commitment to equality”.

The US statement — from the highest level of government — came days before External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visit Washington DC next week for the second 2+2 ministerial dialogue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper.

Their meeting on December 18 is expected to focus on bilateral strategic issues, but a discussion on the citizenship law and the Kashmir situation cannot be ruled out.

There was no official response from India to the US statement but sources said the government has taken note of it.

Read | Citizenship law: Bangladesh protests after convoy of envoy attacked in Assam

In Geneva, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern that the new law “does not extend... protection to Muslims, including minority sects”.

The spokesperson said: “The amended law would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s constitution and India’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to which India is a State party, which prohibit discrimination based on racial, ethnic or religious grounds. Although India’s broader naturalization laws remain in place, these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality.”

At the UN, a deputy spokesman for the Secretary-General said: “We are aware that the lower and upper houses of the Indian Parliament have passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, and we are also aware of the concerns that have been publicly expressed. The United Nations is closely analysing the possible consequences of the law.”

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The spokesman said that some of the UN human rights mechanisms, including rapporteurs, “have already been expressing their concerns about the nature of this law...”

“As I mentioned a few days earlier, of course, we have our basic principles, including those enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and expect those to be upheld,” he said.

On Monday, after the Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee had tweeted: “Religious pluralism is central to the foundations of both India and the United States and is one of our core shared values. Any religious test for citizenship undermines this most basic democratic tenet.”

On Thursday, US Congressman André Carson, one of three Muslim members serving in Congress, said the legislation is an attempt to “effectively reduce Muslims in India to second-class citizens”.

Read | In Delhi, Jamia protest over Citizenship law turns violent, police use teargas

India had earlier responded to a statement by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an advisory body to the US Congress, which criticised the Bill and called for sanctions against Home Minister Amit Shah and other leaders.

In response, the Ministry of External Affairs had said it is “regrettable” that the body has chosen to be guided only by its “prejudices and biases” on a matter on which it clearly has “little knowledge and no locus standi”.

On the US House Foreign affairs Committee’s statement, the MEA spokesperson had said: “We feel that given our strong engagement with the Congress and other stakeholders in the US on matters of mutual interest, we expect that the members of the US Congress will take into account our views before drawing a conclusion on the Bill.”