United Nations: Reaffirming the inalienable right of people and groups to peaceful protests, India told the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council that such protests shouldn’t paralyse society or infringe fundamental rights of others.
“The ability to protest peacefully is an essential enabler for other rights and freedoms,” India’s Permanent Representative to the UN at Geneva Ajit Kumar said.
“Peaceful assembly is a crucial tool of public participation.”
But, he added: “The people or the organisations should always be cognisant that in the name of demonstration or protest, the life of a civilised society cannot be allowed to be paralysed.
“In the name of legitimate exercise of one’s right to protest, the fundamental right of others cannot be scuttled.”
He was speaking in Geneva on Thursday before voting for the Council’s resolution on “Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Peaceful Protests”.
While putting on record the “reservations”, he said: “Our support to the resolution is within the framework of our national laws as well as India’s respective obligations under international human rights law.”
India’s statement of reservation, while supporting the resolution, comes amid the debate inside the nation over holding demonstrations and the limits on them.
The Council resolution called upon all nations to promote “a safe environment” for individuals and groups to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and to engage with assembly organisers, human rights defenders, civil society actors, national and regional human rights institutions, and businesses on “the management of assemblies”.
India also supported another resolution that called for protecting all human rights defenders, organisations or groups, working for economic, social and cultural rights.
Laying out the principle behind India’s approach, Kumar said: “In a democratic polity, the fundamental right of each citizen is sacrosanct. However, the collective cannot undermine the same.”
Kumar said that as the largest democracy in the world, India is committed to rule of law and its Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech, expression and peaceful protests.
“No person can be divested of these rights,” he said. “They are incapable of being taken away or abridged.”
“However,” he added, “every right has a corresponding duty. Enjoyment of rights always entails a degree of responsibility. Our Constitution clearly recognises these inherent, reasonable restrictions, clearly related to the purpose enshrined under the right.”
Referring to the recommendations of Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Kumar said they “are highly imbalanced, and, do not recognize, in ample measure, the degree of responsibility of the participants in the assemblies”.
The Council also approved on Thursday four resolutions on Palestine, and India voted for three of them, and abstained on one in a continuing sign of a more nuanced approach to the Israel-Palestine issues.
India supported the resolutions on the rights of Palestinians to self-determination; on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem under Israeli occupation, and on stopping building settlement in those areas and in the Golan Heights and dismantling those there.
But New Delhi abstained on a resolutions calling for independent inquiry into the 2014 Gaza conflict and for cooperation with any preliminary International Criminal Court inquiry. This was also a reflection of India’s reservations about the jurisdiction of the court.