India should drive an uncompromising agenda at the UN Human Rights Council. Or leave.
The central problem of the UN Human Rights Council is its assumption that a motley collection of countries — without regard to their own domestic position and practice — can be an effective vehicle to protect the inalienable rights of people everywhere on the planet. How can it be even reasonable for countries, a majority of which are not free societies, to have a say in the definition and protection of human rights elsewhere? Most importantly, how can it be even reasonable for India participate in such a grouping, implicitly devaluing its own democratic credentials and consitutional freedoms? Unless India is prepared to ‘spread freedom’ across the world, India stands to benefit little by participating in this new talk shop.
With the rationale and composition of the Human Rights Council being so contradictory, it is not unsurprising that its business will throw up such gems as Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC, highlighting “the urgent need for developing an effective approach to combat defamation of religions and promote respect and tolerance”. It was supported by Saudi Arabia and Iran, whose foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki declared “that freedom of expression should not constitute a pretext and a platform to insult religions and their sanctities. Defamation of religions, particularly the divine message of Islam, should be rejected”.
The question is this — what would the Indian government do if the UN were to circumscribe some rights that the Indian constitution guarantees its citizens? It is not obliged to take the UN’s definition, of course, but it is likely that India will be forced on the defensive. The lesson from Nehru’s ill-advised involvement of the UN in the face of Pakistani aggression in Kashmir is that it is best to keep the UN out of affairs that India can sort out on its own. At the minimum, the UN Human Rights Council will be farcical and ineffective (so what is it doing about Sudan?). But in the worst case, the Human Rights Council can pass resolutions that, like those ancient UN security council resolutions on Kashmir, can be used to frustrate India at every opportunity. (By the way, the Pakistani delegate to the inaugural session didn’t miss the chance to do his routine on Kashmir)
India should have stayed out. But now that it finds itself in the Council it must prevent the agenda from being hijacked in the name of religious sensitivities or suchlike. India should either take a bold, uncompromising stand on the universality of rights and freedoms; or pull out altogether if it lacks the appetite for this. And then let the farce be complete.