EU must demand respect for human rights in trade talks with India

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Narendra Modi addresses the UN. [Narendra Modi/Flickr]

The Indian government must guarantee the security of religious minorities if it wants to conclude trade deals with the EU, writes Lars Adaktusson.

Lars Adaktusson is a Swedish centre-right MEP and a member of the Foreign Affairs committee. Together with 17 colleagues of the International Trade and Foreign Affairs committees, representing six political groups, he has sent a letter to EU leaders to ask them to address the growing concerns of persecution of religious minorities in India during the EU-India summit this week (6 October) in New Delhi.

Freedom of conscience is a human right enshrined in the Indian Constitution. However, this constitutional provision is often ignored and six Indian states, including Gujarat during the tenure of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the time Chief Minister, have enacted laws that severely restrict or prevent the exercise of freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

This legislative trend continues as most recently the media reported that the Jharkhand assembly plans to table yet another anti-conversion law. These laws, misleadingly named ‘Freedom of Religion Acts’, effectively prevent people from having the freedom to live according to their conscience in choosing a religion and stipulate a punishment of imprisonment and/or a fine.

The European Union is built on a set of values among which rule of law and human rights has a central place. The EU thus has a moral obligation to speak out against violations of basic human rights. Institutions such as the EU cannot ignore the gross violations of basic human rights without becoming complicit in those actions.

In its report on the upcoming EU-India summit, the European Parliament adopted clear wording that highlights the need to protect religious and ethnic minorities from the wrath of the masses by promoting tolerance for diversity.

However, the main question is this: Can the EU conclude a free trade agreement with a government that condones violent persecution against religious minorities? The EU cannot ignore the existing anti-conversion laws and the alarming level of resulting violence against Christians and Muslims, and increasing instances of denial of visas on religious grounds by the Indian government.

The Indian government must guarantee the security of religious minorities if it wants to conclude trade deals with the EU. However, so far, the EU does not make this a condition. It is hard to defend our commitment to human rights in the world if we are confronted with such incoherence. Without the repeal of discriminatory laws, such as the Freedom of Religion Acts, the 1950 Presidential Order, which bar Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin from accessing reservations for members of the scheduled caste community India, will never have a tolerant democracy.

Because the EU is in a prime position in regards to global trade, it cannot condone these restrictions for the sake of advancing economic collaboration. Both – economic collaboration and compliance with international human rights obligations – need to be advanced. The openness of the European single market has made it the biggest player on the global scene in regards to trade.

Finding itself in such a position of strength and leverage, the EU has a moral obligation to promote its values as part of the economic privilege to trade with the single market. What has made the Union a force to be dealt in international trade has also made it one on the political stage as well. The 28 states, which together advocate and promote trade and market economy should also advocate and promote human rights and individual dignity with trade partners. One cannot go before the other.

Therefore, it is imperative that the leaders of the Union, Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and Federica Mogherini, who will visit New Delhi this Friday for the EU-India summit, put these questions on the agenda.

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