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March 31, 2021

US Country Reports on HR Practices 2020: Societal violence in India a ‘serious concern’

WASHINGTON: The US Secretary of State on Tuesday, releasing the annual '2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices', said in India societal violence based on religion and caste and by religiously associated groups continued to be a serious concern. Muslims and lower-caste Dalit groups continued to be the most vulnerable. The Ministry of Home Affairs data for 2016-17 showed 703 incidents of communal (religious) violence occurred in which 86 persons were killed and 2,321 injured. According to the NHRC, there were 672 cases of discrimination and victimization against Scheduled Castes and 79 cases against minorities in 2018-19.

It said the government continued taking steps to restore normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir by gradually lifting some security and communications restrictions. The government released most political activists from detention. In January the government partially restored internet access; however, high-speed 4G mobile internet remained restricted in most parts of Jammu and Kashmir. The government began a process to redraw electoral constituencies but did not announce a timeline for local assembly elections. Local district development council elections took place in December in which a coalition of Kashmiri opposition parties won the majority of seats, the report said.

The annual report said that separatist insurgents and terrorists in the "Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeast, and Maoist-affected areas committed serious abuses," including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians, and recruitment and use of child soldiers."

The Country Report on Pakistan acknowledged that military, police, and law enforcement agencies continued to carry out significant campaigns against militant and terrorist groups. "Nevertheless, violence, abuse, and social and religious intolerance by militant organizations and other non-state actors, both local and foreign, contributed to a culture of lawlessness," it said. "Terrorist violence and human rights abuses by nonstate actors contributed to human rights problems, although to a lesser extent than in previous years, consistent with an overall decline in terrorist activity."

It also mentioned "unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents", including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance by the government or its agents; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; arbitrary or unlawful government interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence against journalists, unjustified arrests and disappearances of journalists, censorship, and site blocking; government interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

It said that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Actions (In Aid of Civil Power) Ordinance of 2019 gives the authorities power to detain civilians indefinitely without charge in internment camps, occupy property, conduct operations, and convict detainees in the province. "The provincial high court ruled the ordinance unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court suspended this ruling. The appeal remained with the Supreme Court at year’s end. Pending the outcome of this appeal, the military retains control of detention centers and law enforcement activities in much of the former FATA."

It said on July 20, the Supreme Court ruled that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) violated the rights to fair trial and due process in the arrest of two opposition politicians, Khawaja Saad Rafique and Khawaja Salman Rafique, who were detained by the NAB for 15 months “without reasonable grounds.”

It also mentioned that the NAB last year arrested Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the editor-in-chief and owner of the country’s largest media group, the Jang Group in Lahore on charges relating to a 34-year-old property transaction.

The Pakistan section of the report claimed that there was a lack of government accountability, and abuses often went unpunished, fostering a culture of impunity among perpetrators, whether official or unofficial. Authorities seldom punished government officials for human rights abuses, it said.

The report claimed that the Chinese authorities have committed genocide and other crimes against Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups. "In China, government authorities committed genocide against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and crimes against humanity including imprisonment, torture, enforced sterilization, and persecution against Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups."

It added: "Assad’s atrocities against the people of Syria continued unabated, and this year marks ten years of their struggles to live in dignity and freedom. The war in Yemen has driven millions to extreme humanitarian need, preventing them from exercising many of their basic rights. The Russian government has targeted political dissidents and peaceful protesters, while official corruption remained rampant. The corruption of Nicolas Maduro increased the dire humanitarian crisis of the Venezuelan people," adding that Bermese junta should release political leadership.