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March 19, 2021

Drift from HR, democratic values: India could face sanctions, say US Senate leaders

WASHINGTON: US Senate leaders have expressed concerns over New Delhi's drift from human rights and democratic values while warning that India could face sanctions as well.

In a detailed letter to Secretary Defense General Austin Lloyd, who is due in New Delhi to meet with his counterpart, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez urged to raise democracy and human rights concerns with the Indian government.

"We must acknowledge that the partnership is strongest when based on shared democratic values and the Indian government has been trending away from those values," the chairman of the committee wrote, adding that he expects the secretary to raise the administration’s opposition to India’s reportedly planned purchase of the Russian

S-400 missile defense system, which threatens future US-India defense cooperation and "puts India at risk of sanctions under Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)."

The letter also pointed out the Indian government’s ongoing crackdown on farmers peacefully protesting new farming laws and corresponding intimidation of journalists and government critics that only underscores the deteriorating situation of democracy in India.

"Moreover, in recent years, rising anti-Muslim sentiments and related government actions like the Citizenship Amendment Act, the suppression of political dialogue and arrest of political opponents following the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, and the use of sedition laws to persecute political opponents have resulted in the US human rights group Freedom House stripping India of its ‘Free’ status in its yearly global survey," the letter said.

As the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance states, “democracy is essential to meeting the challenges of our time.” We should seek to partner with India to address challenges from China to the climate change, but in doing so, we cannot let our democratic values fall away, the letter stated and urged Secretary Llyod to raise the importance of democracy and human rights in your meetings with Indian officials to make clear that respect for democratic values is necessary for strong, sustainable US-India relations.

"India’s planned purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system is also a matter of concern," the letter further said, "I recognize that India is not a US treaty ally and has historical ties with the Soviet and Russian militaries.

However, if India chooses to go forward with its purchase of the S-400, that act will clearly constitute a significant, and, therefore, sanctionable, transaction with the Russian defense sector under Section 231 of CAATSA."

The letter warned that the action will also limit India’s ability to work with the US on development and procurement of sensitive military technology.

"Getting the US-India partnership right is critical to addressing the 21st Century challenges and that includes urging the Indian government to uphold democratic values and human rights. In meetings with Indian counterparts during your upcoming visit, I strongly encourage you to make clear that in all areas, including security cooperation, the US-India partnership must rest on adherence to democratic values," the letter concluded.