Brussels, June 26, 2023
At a briefing on June 26 with European Parliament representatives, members of the Indian diaspora, Indian civil society and senior international lawyers warned that there is credible evidence of crimes under international law committed against religious minorities in India. As Prime Minister Modi is expected to visit Europe next month, they called for immediate action at the highest level. Among the speakers were former ICC Prosecutor Dr Fatou Bensouda, former United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp, human rights defender Cedric Prakash, and President of the PUCL Kavita Srivastava. They cited evidence of arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial demolitions of houses, mob attacks, and lynchings throughout the first half of 2023.
Stephen Rapp, expert on an independent panel of experts into crimes against humanity in India, noted: “In 2021, we found credible evidence of serious human rights violations as well as crimes under international law committed against Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. These crimes had been exacerbated by policies of the ruling party, and the expectation of impunity.” These violations continue, he noted.
Father Cedric Prakash, Jesuit priest and human rights defender, said: “Attacks on minorities are perpetrated not only by people at the grassroots, but by the state as well. This is a non-negotiable fact.” Recalling concrete examples from the first half of 2023, Father Prakash noted: “If you are a pastor and you are conducting a prayer, immediately you are attacked. This is happening with frightening regularity.”
Kavita Srivastava, President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, warned: “We are on the edge of genocide in some parts of India.” Examining state complicity in incidents from the first half of 2023, she noted that at least 200 churches have been burnt during ongoing violence in Manipur, in North-Eastern India. “You cannot destroy a church without the support of the Indian state. All officers have told us, it does not take more than 6 to 8 hours to stop a riot – if you have the will to do so.”
Dr Fatou Bensouda, former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and current Gambian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, urged for immediate action: “We do not have any doubt that there is responsibility to act now, at the highest level.” She specified: “What is happening against the Muslim minorities in India, these are crimes that are punishable under the Rome Statute. It is high time to take steps to stop them, or to punish them.”
The speakers called on the international community to change its stance towards Prime Minister Modi, and reflected on his recent and upcoming visits to the United States and Europe. Kavita Srivastava commented: “If Joe Biden had to do this grand reception and give him the red carpet, he should have realised that he is actually endorsing somebody who directly and indirectly is responsible for a lot of these crimes.” Father Cedric Prakash called on members of the European Parliament to see through lies about human rights in India, and recognise the gravity of the situation. During Modi’s official state visit to the United States in June, 75 lawmakers in the United States had called on President Biden to address human rights with Modi, while others boycotted Modi’s speech. Stephen Rapp also noted the importance of joint press conferences, as they allow civil society and the international community to hold the Indian government accountable for its pledge to democracy.
The event took place as the EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief turn 10 years old, and as the EU takes stock of their implementation. In these guidelines, the EU commits to “publicly condemn the execution or killing of individuals and other acts of grave violence on the grounds of religion or belief”, which the panellists encouraged the EU to do in the case of India. Already in 2021, the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion in its annual report considered India to be the country of most concern. Similarly, the 2023 USCIRF report by the United States cites India as being a “country of particular concern” regarding freedom of religion and belief.
The event was hosted by a coalition of Indian diaspora organisations, led by The London Story, and co-led by Indian American Muslim Council, UK Indian Muslim Council, Hindus for Human Rights, and Scottish Indians for Justice.
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