UN chief voices concern over police action against Citizenship Act protests

UN Secretary General António Guterres (above) has invited world leaders to a Climate Action Summit on September 23 in New York

Urging respect for the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has voiced concern over the violence and alleged use of excessive force by security personnel in India against the amended Citizenship Act.

According to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 and facing religious persecution there will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.

Protests are being held across the country ever since a bill was introduced in Parliament earlier this month for this law. The agitators claim that the legislation is "unconstitutional and divisive".

"We are concerned about the violence and alleged use of excessive force by security forces that we've seen that have been taking place in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. We very much call for restraint and urge full respect for the rights of freedom of opinion and expression and peaceful assembly," Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric told a daily press briefing here on Tuesday.

Dujarric was asked if the Secretary General has any comment on the protests in India over the CAA.

Dujarric said he would also refer to the comments of High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the Act.

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had said in Geneva that it is "concerned" that the CAA is "fundamentally discriminatory in nature".

"The amended law would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India's constitution and India's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to which Indian is a State party, which prohibit discrimination based on racial, ethnic or religious grounds.

"Although India's broader naturalisation laws remain in place, these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people's access to nationality," the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

India has said the Citizenship Amendment Act provides expedited consideration for Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities already in India from certain contiguous countries.

"It seeks to address their current difficulties and meet their basic human rights. Such an initiative should be welcomed, not criticised by those who are genuinely committed to religious freedom," the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.

The law "does not affect the existing avenues available to all communities interested in seeking citizenship from doing so", it said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday termed violent protests across the country against the CAA as "unfortunate and deeply distressing", and appealed to people to stay away from rumour-mongering and not let "vested interests" divide the society.

In a series of tweets, Modi also assured that the amended citizenship law does not affect any Indian of any religion.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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