How Mukul Rohatgi defended India's human rights record at the UN
The right to fair trial and free legal aid up to the highest court are enshrined as fundamental rights in the Constitution of India and thus guaranteed to all individuals.
As these issues were raised, the country's record on human rights issues came under sharp attack, but Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi, who was presenting India's case, issued strong rebuttals to all allegations made.
Rohatgi, is reported to have said at the review, ""The right to fair trial and free legal aid up to the highest court are enshrined as fundamental rights in the Constitution of India and thus guaranteed to all individuals. So much so that as the Attorney General of India, I was summoned by the Supreme Court at 2 in the morning to hear a last-ditch petition, after several rounds of litigation, by a convict who was guilty of terrorism to escape punishment (Yakub Memon case). This shows the importance attached to upholding of human rights by India."
The hearing, which was a part of the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Right's Council in Geneva, which is held every five years for every country. This was India's third such voluntary review.
As Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka backed India on its human rights record, other countries raised various concerns, which were responded to by India.
While Pakistan raised the issue of the use of pellet guns, which had been in the news recently following their use in Kashmir by security forces to tackle violent protests, India countered by stating that the situation in Kashmir is due to Pakistan's actions and there is zero tolerance to terrorism.
The issue of "Afrophobia" was raised by Haiti, related to the recent incidents in the country where students from African countries were victims of violence. The Indian delegation denied these by calling the country the "land of Buddha" which did not have a racist mindset and saying that these incidents were a case of local crime.
Another major concern that was raised at the hearings was that of the recent crack down of the government on the NGO's citing their foreign funding.
Countries, including the US, Australia, Germany, Czech Republic, Norway and Ireland, asked India to look into its laws pertaining to foreign contributions, with the US saying that there is "complete lack of transparency" in the implementation which affects NGOs in India.
Also, concerns over religious rights of minorities and growing intolerance were expressed by countries such as Germany, Vatican, Kazakhstan, Kenya, UK, South Korea and the Netherlands.
Issues of women's rights were raised by Japan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan and Liechtenstein, while Israel and Ireland questioned India on the issue of equal rights for the LGBT community. In addition, several countries asked India to ratify the convention against torture.
Pointing out that India made no distinction between caste, colour, creed or religion of a citizen, Rohatgi said, "India is a secular state with no state religion," and adding that the freedom of religion to every individual is guaranteed in the Indian Constitution. He also said that the right to free speech and expression is enshrined in the Constitution.
"As the world's largest multi-layered democracy, we fully recognise the importance of free speech and expression. Our people are conscious of their political freedoms and exercise their choices at every opportunity," Rohatgi said. "We believe in peace, non-violence and upholding human dignity. As such, the concept of torture is completely alien to our culture and it has no place in the governance of the nation."
The issue of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, was also raised by countries like the US, which led to the AG to explain that the Act is applied only to disturbed areas which are in proximity to some international borders. He said, "Whether this Act should be repealed or not is a matter of on-going vibrant political debate in my country."
On the issue of rights of transgenders, Rohatgi, pointed to how India has been at the forefront of recognising their equal rights with the Supreme Court in a landmark judgement in 2014 directing the government to declare trans-genders a "third gender" and included them as an "Other Backward Class" entitled to affirmative action benefits. It had also reinforced that trans-genders should have all rights under law, including marriage, adoption, divorce, succession and inheritance