UN representative: India doesn’t properly protect human rights defenders

Mary Lawlor was speaking at an online event marking 100 days of Swamy’s incarceration.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor Friday said India does not “properly protect human rights defenders”.

She also said she had written to the Indian government in November, “raising concerns” over Jesuit priest Stan Swamy’s arrest in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case, but had not yet received a response.

Lawlor was speaking at an online event marking 100 days of Swamy’s incarceration.

“India is a state which doesn’t properly protect human rights defenders. I’m appalled by the treatment of human rights defenders such as Father Stan Swamy who embodies solidarity,” she said.

“It’s clear that there are severe challenges to promoting and protecting human rights in the country. Make no mistake, the state is responsible for protection of human rights defenders,” she added.

Lawlor criticised the UAPA, saying its “definition of a terrorist act is not precise or clear, and fails to provide legal certainty”. She also said the law has lead to a “highly concerning conflation of human rights advocacy with terrorism” and that “defending human rights is not terrorism”.

“In November 2020, I sent a letter to Indian government raising concerns about arrest. Governments are given a 60-day period during which they are expected to reply… But I’m still to receive a response from the Indian authorities,” she said.

Adivasi rights activist Xavier Dias, who had worked closely with Swamy, said what happened was “very unfortunate, unfair and unjust”.

“But if you look at it the way Stan sees it, Stan sees himself making a political statement that if you can take thousands of Adivasis and dump them in jails as undertrials, do it to me also… The important thing is for us to fight it,” he said.

Delhi University professor Apoorvanand, who moderated the discussion, said the occasion should not be seen as a  “celebration of the bravery of Father Stan Swamy”, because “he was not fighting the state; he was not in war with the state”.

“It’s a shame that he has to spend 100 days in the jail of a country that he endeavoured to create… He has obviously been jailed for the crime of defending the liberties of the most oppressed, that is the Adivasis and Dalits and minorities,” he said.

Dancer and activist Mallika Sarabhai performed to Maya Angelou’s poem ‘Still I Rise’ and said Swamy was “a person who has done extraordinary work for the poorest and the most marginalised” and was arrested “for trying to make the idea of India that some of us believe in”.

A customised sipper bearing the photo of Swamy along with the hashtag “releasefrstan” was released on the occasion — Swamy was prohibited from accessing his sipper for a long time by jail authorities.

Lawyer Mihir Desai, who is fighting Swamy’s case in Bombay, spoke at the event. “We should have more and more webinars, but ultimately if we want to succeed, we have to take lessons from the farmers’ struggles which are going on around Delhi,” he said.

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