Anti-CAB protest
Anti-CAB protest. Image credit - Twitter@NilakshiTalukdr

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has termed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 passed by the Parliament in India as ‘fundamentally discriminatory in nature’.

The statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights came after President Ram Nath Kovind gave the assent to the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2019 amid protests.

The Amendment Act seeks to grant Indian citizenship to persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have migrated to India after facing persecution on grounds of religion in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh if they fulfil conditions for grant of citizenship.

The spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jeremy Laurence, in a press briefing in Geneva on Friday said: “We are concerned that India’s new Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 is fundamentally discriminatory in nature.”

Laurence also said: “The amended legislation seeks to expedite citizenship for religious minorities – naming specifically only Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians – fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have been resident before 2014.”

“But it does not extend the same protection to Muslims, including minority sects,” he said.

The CAB, 2019 was opposed by the Congress in the Parliament while massive protests against the new law continue to hit many parts of Northeast, mainly Assam.

Also read: CAB becomes Act, gets President Kovind’s assent

Apart from Assam, various organizations in Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh have also launched protests against the new law.

Protests turned violent in Assam and three protestors lost their lives in police firing in Guwahati, the state capital of Assam and another protestor died in Dibrugarh as he was mercilessly assaulted by security personnel.

“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,” said Laurence.

Also read: WB, Punjab & Kerala CMs not to implement CAB

Despite the fact that India’s broader naturalization laws remain in place, “these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality”.

“All migrants, regardless of their migration status, are entitled to respect, protection and fulfilment of their human rights.”

“Just 12 months ago India endorsed the Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration, which commits States to respond to the needs of migrants in situations of vulnerability, avoiding arbitrary detention and collective expulsions and ensuring that all migration governance measures are human rights-based,” added Laurence.

While the goal of protecting persecuted groups is welcome, this should be done through a robust national asylum system that is premised on the principle of equality and non-discrimination, and which applies to all people in need of protection from persecution and other human rights violations, he said.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson said there should not be any “distinction as to race, religion, national origin or other prohibited grounds”.

Laurence hoped that the new law will be reviewed by the Supreme Court of India.

He also said they hope that the Supreme Court of India “will consider carefully the compatibility of the law with India’s international human rights obligations”.

Laurence also expressed concern over the reports of the people died in police firing in Assam during protests against the new Act.

“In the meantime, we are concerned at reports that two people (the toll touched three) have died and many including police officers have been injured in the Indian states of Assam and Tripura as people protest against the Act,” said Laurence.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the authorities to respect the right to peaceful assembly and to abide by international norms and standards on the use of force when responding to protests.

“All sides should refrain from resorting to violence,” added Laurence.

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