Wednesday, 4 October 2006
Department of Foreign Affairs
Human Rights Issues
Question 282: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to new anti-conversion laws in India and to reports that these laws have been used to harass and oppress members of minority religious communities; if he will raise this matter with the Indian authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31136/06]
I understand that the new laws to which the Deputy refers relate to changes to existing laws passed by State legislatures in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh States. I am not aware of any proposal for anti-conversion laws at the federal level. Indeed federal law in India provides for freedom of religious expression.
Ireland is committed to religious freedom and condemns all forms of persecution on the basis of religion or belief, irrespective of where they occur or who the victims are. Ireland, with its EU partners, has previously expressed concern at various international fora, including at the United Nations, over the climate of intolerance towards religious groups in a number of countries around the world.
Together with our partners in the EU, we follow closely developments relating to the situation of Christian and other minority communities in India. These and other human rights concerns are regularly addressed within the framework of regular consultations on human rights between the EU and India.
In September 2005, the EU and India agreed a Joint Action Plan to strengthen the Strategic Partnership, in place since 2004. Continuing the dialogue on pluralism, diversity and human rights is an important goal of the Joint Action Plan, which commits both India and the EU to upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The most recent discussion on human rights issues, including the rights of minorities and the right to religious freedom, took place with the Indian authorities in New Delhi on 1 December 2005. The EU Heads of Mission Troika met with representatives from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the National Commission for Minorities.
I welcome initiatives such as the recent introduction by the Government of India, in the Indian Parliament, of the Communal Violence Suppression Bill, which will give special powers to the central government to deal with communal violence in Indian States. The EU is also following the questions relating to the discrimination against Christian Dalits which have been brought to the jurisdiction of the Indian Supreme Court.
I have asked our Embassy in New Delhi to continue to carefully monitor developments in this area.
Within the EU, and in the relevant international and regional organisations, Ireland actively promotes respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide. In this context, we monitor reports of abuses of religious freedom wherever they occur.
Together with our EU partners, we remain very concerned about the general human rights situation in Belarus, though religious freedom has not been an issue of specific difficulty. Our concerns relate particularly to the failure of the Belarus authorities to respect international standards in the area of democracy and the rule of law. On 10 April and 18 May 2006, the EU imposed restrictive measures on members of the Belarusian leadership and on officials responsible for the violation of international electoral standards and for the crackdown on civil society and democratic opposition.
In presenting his report to the UN Human Rights Council last week, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Belarus, Mr Adrian Severin, underlined the continued refusal of the Belarus Government to cooperate with his office or recognise his mandate. He pointed to a steady deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus, which was particularly evident in the period of the Presidential elections held on 19 March. The deterioration is characterised, the Special Rapporteur said, by a disregard for freedom of assembly, association and expression, by arbitrary use of State power and by widespread detentions. These views, moreover, coincide with numerous reports from other sources over a long period.
On the other hand, the Belarus Government has been willing to communicate with the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom or Belief, Ms Asma Jahangir. In this context, Ms Jahangir has underlined to Belarus, as she has to other countries, that the right to freedom of religion is not limited to members of registered religious communities.
As a general principle, Ireland expects each UN member state to cooperate fully with UN human rights mechanisms, including with Special Rapporteurs, and would strongly urge Belarus to meet its obligations in this regard.