MUMBAI — United Nations (UN) chief Antonio Guterres chastised India during a visit on Wednesday for its human rights record, which critics say has declined under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Since Modi came to power in the Hindu-majority country of 1.4 billion people in 2014, activists say persecution and hate speech against religious minorities has increased, particularly for India’s Muslim minority of 200 million.
This is particularly the case in Indian-administered Kashmir since the Modi government directly ruled the troubled Muslim-majority region in 2019, which has half a million troops stationed there, activists say.
The pressure on government critics and journalists, especially female reporters, has also increased – some have suffered relentless campaigns of online abuse, including death threats and rape.
“As an elected member of the Human Rights Council, India has a responsibility to shape human rights globally and to protect and promote the rights of all, including members of minorities,” Guterres said in a speech in Mumbai.
While praising India’s achievements 75 years after leaving British rule, Guterres also made it clear that understanding that “diversity is wealth…is no guarantee”.
“It needs to be nurtured, strengthened and renewed every day,” he said.
Quoting independence hero Mahatma Gandhi and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru – both of whom have become figures of hatred for some members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party – António Guterres said their values must be protected by “an unequivocal condemnation of hate speech”.
India must do so “by protecting the rights and freedoms of journalists, human rights defenders, students and scholars and ensuring the continued independence of the Indian judiciary”, he said.
“India’s voice on the world stage can only gain authority and credibility through a strong commitment to inclusiveness and respect for human rights in her country,” he said, adding that “much more needs to be done to promote gender equality and women’s rights”.
“I urge Indians to be vigilant and increase their investment in inclusive, pluralistic and diverse communities and societies,” said António Guterres.
In February, UN legal experts called for an end to “misogynistic and bigoted” online attacks against a certain Muslim journalist who was a harsh critic of Modi.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks India 142nd in its world press freedom index and says that under the prime minister, “pressure has increased on the media to side with the Hindu nationalist government”.
- Editor/ additional report by AFP