INDIA: Open letter to Josep Borrell, EU Vice-President, on his visit to India
Open letter on human rights and religious freedom to High Representative/Vice-President of the European Union Josep Borrell on his visit to India. Human Rights Without Frontiers signed it
March 2, 2023
Mr Josep Borrell
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission (HR/VP)
Rue de la Loi 200
Open letter on human rights to High Representative/Vice-President of the European Union Josep Borrell on his visit to India
Dear Mr Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission
As you visit India from 1 to 4 March, we call upon you to publicly raise concerns about the EU and India’s joint commitment to human rights in your engagements. The strategic partnership between the EU and India is rooted in joint values of human rights, as both partners recall their obligation to respect, protect and fulfil human rights of all people. As you work with the international community to promote international security, peace and prosperity, we urge you to recall that this cannot succeed without a firm commitment to human rights.
You are visiting India in the midst of ongoing assaults on human rights, which stand as the “elephant in the room” and must urgently be addressed. Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2020 report ranked India as one of the ‘Countries in the Spotlight’ for the “deterioration of basic freedoms”. Human rights defenders are systematically persecuted, most notably through use of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, India’s prime counter-terrorism law which allows the executive to designate individuals as terrorists without due process, and through planted evidence. Religious freedoms are systematically curtailed, and senior members of the ruling BJP have engaged in hate speech and legitimation of violence against religious minorities. This includes sitting Members of Parliament and Ministers, such as Pragya Thakur, Anurag Thakur, Raja Singh, Yogi Adityanath, and Amit Shah.
In 2021, the European Parliament expressed concern at these developments in European Parliament Recommendation 2021/2023(INI), and drew the attention of the European Commission towards the crumbling rule of law and human rights situation in India. Additionally, the European Parliament has recently called on the European External Action Service to prioritise public statements about human rights over diplomacy behind closed doors.
Yet, neither you nor the executive bodies of the EU’s foreign policy – the European Commission, the European External Action Service – have publicly condemned or expressed concern about human rights violations in India. Now again, the agenda made public for your visit does not contain a single mention of human rights, and instead notes that you will discuss “the bilateral aspects of the strategic partnership and a range of regional and international security issues,” the “green transition”, and “disinformation and cybersecurity”.
We are alarmed about this lack of commitment to human rights, which constitute a foundational element in the EU’s foreign policy. Your silence on human rights is indicative not only of apathy towards human rights in India, but also a sign of the rule of law crisis that the EU is currently undergoing. The EU cannot be shortsighted and compromise on rule of law, human rights and democracy for the sake of staying relevant.
As the High Representative on Foreign Affairs of the European Union, you are obliged to publicly speak on human rights, a founding pillar of the European Union’s foreign policy. We recall that Article 3(5) TEU reads: “In its relations with the wider world, the Union shall […] contribute to […] the protection of human rights”, and that Article 21(1) TEU reaffirms: “The Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by […] democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity”.
As you attend the G20 Foreign Ministers meetings held in the framework of India’s G20 Presidency, participate in the Raisina Dialogue, and meet with India’s Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, we expect that you will adhere to your legal mandate of promoting human rights. Concretely, it is critical that you publicly express concern about human rights violations in India, and ensure that human rights concerns are discussed in each of your meetings.
Human rights cannot be sacrificed in the name of diplomacy, and the EU must demonstrate an equal commitment to human rights of everyone, everywhere.
Stichting The London Story
Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians
Human Rights Without Frontiers
India Civil Watch International
India Labour Solidarity
India Solidarity Germany
International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India (InSAF India)
Scottish Indians for Justice
South Asia Solidarity Group
The Humanism Project
Photo : Josep Borrell – ec.europa.eu