Asma Jehangir’s mistakes…and why India should not suffer the insult of being audited by the UN Human Rights Council
Asma Jehangir, the brave human rights activist from Pakistan, is the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. She was in New Delhi recently to “study the situation with regard to freedom of religion or belief” in India. Now it would have been supremely ironic for a Pakistani to audit religious freedoms in India. But Ms Jehangir has distinguished herself by standing up to her country’s own dictators, and that makes her more than qualified for the job.
That’s not to say that the job itself should exist. As this blog has previously argued the UN’s human rights council is a farce. With countries like China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are among its members it has strayed from focusing on core rights like freedom, equality, free expression and protection against authoritarian states. In a world where genocide and brutal violence against citizens continues, the Human Rights Council deemed it necessary to focus on…religion. It ruled that defaming a religion is a violation of human rights. And one of the first countries it is auditing—and why Ms Jehangir was in New Delhi—is India. Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Sudan and Zimbabwe will only be audited in 2011.
Notwithstanding Ms Jehangir’s personal credentials, the composition, priorities and actions of the UN Human Rights Council do not make it a credible body to comment on the human rights situation in India. A self-respecting government of India would have refused to subject the nation to this absurdity. But it suits the UPA government’s communally jaundiced perspective just fine.
Coming to Ms Jehangir’s speech itself, she made a valid point that the wheels of justice grind way too slowly in India. But she was wrong to single out the communal riots cases for speedy justice. The need for speedy justice is universal: rioters, terrorists and ‘ordinary’ criminals must be brought to book swiftly if justice is to be served. There is a danger in calling for “prioritisation” (or worse, “turns”) without calling for an overall increase in capacity and efficiency of the justice system.
Ms Jehangir praised the UPA government’s constitution of the Rajinder Sachar and Ranganath Mishra Committees to address the condition of minorities. Here she is way out of line. First, because religion is not the only factor determining who is a minority, but more importantly because social inequalities are firmly beyond the scope of human rights. The danger of enveloping religious, social and economic issues into the ambit of human rights runs the risk of ill-serving both.
The UNHRC must do only what it was set up to do. This blog had opposed India’s joining this outfit. When India did join, this blog had recommended that India drive an uncompromising agenda on protection of human rights, or quit. The agenda has already been compromised. India should disengage.