March 28, 2023
To the attention of participants of the 2nd edition of Summit for Democracy
Accompanying fact sheet: Here.
The upcoming 2nd edition of the Summit for Democracy (28th-30th March 2023) jointly hosted at the initiative of US President Joe Biden by the United States, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Republic of Korea, and Republic of Zambia provides an invaluable opportunity for States to work collectively towards the preservation and strengthening of democracies around the world. India, which is often hailed as the ‘world’s largest democracy’ has not pledged any concrete policy initiatives to safeguard civil and political rights that form the backbone of democracy during the first edition of the Summit in 2021, and there are no indications that it will during the upcoming session later this month. Therefore, we the undersigned call on participating states to call on India to make pledges towards ensuring constitutionally guaranteed democratic freedoms during the upcoming Summit this March.
India‘s constitution enshrines democracy, and this constitutionally guaranteed democracy is integral to the Indian ethos and history. Indeed, Prime Minister Modi at last year’s Summit for Democracy praised India’s rich tradition of democracy as one that “can deliver, has delivered and will continue to deliver”. During his address, he referred to the core tenets of democracy in India including the practice of multiparty elections, the existence of an independent judiciary and a free media, added to the participation of citizens to guarantee the spirit of democracy. Additionally, he offered India’s expertise “on the conduct of free and fair elections” and “enhancing transparency in governance through digital technologies”.
Yet, evidence shows reality diverging from these lofty claims. Two years after his address, the state of democracy in India, and the protection of these constitutionally guaranteed democratic freedoms for all, shows drastic deterioration.
Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2020 report downgraded India to “partly free” and ranked India as one of the ‘Countries in the Spotlight’ for the “deterioration of basic freedoms” – an assessment that remains unchanged in its 2022 report, showing a clear disregard for the rule of law and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. The right to freedom of expression, through press freedom, is under immediate threat. In the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, India slid in ranks to the 150th position. Since its decline to the 150th rank, more incidents such as the recent crackdown against the BBC following the broadcasting of the two-part documentary “India: The Modi Question“ on the 2002 Gujarat Riots, and reports of foreign press being controlled on the ground have followed. Civil society organizations and human rights defenders are targeted by draconian laws including the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) allowing the designation of individuals as terrorists without due process. The March 2023 USCIRF report cites India as being a country of particular concern regarding freedom of religion and belief, since over 19014 verified victims of communal violence, physical assaults, and lynching since 2017, the majority (86.7%) are Muslims. Violence against Christians also rose by 81% between 2020 and 2021. In February 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described people participating in various peaceful protests against discriminatory policies and practices, as “parasites”, and protestors were further targeted with their houses being demolished, confiscation of property and unlawful arrests. These incidents have led the Early Warning Project in 2023 to rank India as 8th highest-risk of concern for mass atrocities against religious minorities among 162 countries, and as evidence suggests on the ground, targeted violence disproportionately affects religious minorities.
For a fact sheet with further information jointly prepared by the authors of this statement, click here.
These grave and continuous assaults against democratic principles in India are in stark opposition not only with India’s historic legacy as the largest democracy in the world, but also stands in blatant violation of its constitutionally guaranteed democratic freedoms.
The core tenets of democracy, highlighted by the Prime Minister – free and fair elections, freedom of press and non-discrimination – seem no longer guaranteed for all people of India. It is vital that India’s democratic heritage is preserved according to the spirit of its Constitution and international obligations. Violations of fundamental freedoms in India bear dangerous consequences not only for minorities and other marginalised groups in India, but for the future of democracy in the world at large. As democracy is under threat, including by the organising host states, the systematic undermining of India’s democracy poses threats to a troubled region, and to the wider world.
Recognising that the Summit for Democracy provides opportunity for States to improve democracy in their countries and around the world, we, as civil society organizations working from India and international allies concerned about democracy and human rights in India, raise the alarm as to the rapidly deteriorating state of constitutionally guaranteed democratic freedoms in India, and:
● call on States to engage meaningfully with India at the 2023 Summit for Democracy to change this course of action.
● call on India to implement constitutionally enshrined fundamental freedoms including
Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians, New Zealand
Arisa, Advocating Rights in South Asia
Chicago Coalition for Human Rights in India
Indian American Muslim Council
Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience
Frank Schwalba-Hoth, former Member of the European Parliament
Gerard Noodt Foundation FoRB
Human Rights without Frontiers
India Labour Solidarity
South Asia Justice Campaign
South Asia Solidarity Group
Stichting The London Story
The Humanism Project