UN asks top India court to intervene on citizenship law

NEW DELHI (AA): The UN human rights chief’s office has filed an application with India’s Supreme Court over the controversial citizenship amendment law, in a move criticized by the Indian government.

“The High Commissioner seeks to intervene as amicus curiae [third party] in this case, by virtue of her mandate to inter alia protect and promote all human rights and to conduct necessary advocacy in that regard, established pursuant to the United Nations General Assembly resolution 48/141. The,” the application said.

The citizenship amendment act passed by the Indian parliament in December last year has sparked protests and riots in the country.

The law seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains, and Parsis, while leaving out those Muslims, who entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan until December 31, 2014.

The application pointed out that India played a key role in making the right to “equal protection of the law” in 1949.

“It is remarkable that sixty years later, this very issue lies at the heart of this Honourable Court’s deliberations as it examines the Citizenship Amendment Act. This presents the Honourable Court with a historic and unique opportunity to give practical meaning to this fundamental right at the domestic level,” the application concluded.

On Thursday last week, the fifth day of the Delhi riots, the UN High Commissioner had also voiced out “great concern” over India’s amended citizenship law and reports of “police inaction” in the face of communal attacks in Delhi, urging political leaders to prevent violence.

Responding to the UN move, the Ministry of External Affairs in India, issued a statement on Tuesday, calling the issue of citizenship amendment law “an internal matter.

“The Citizenship Amendment Act is an internal matter of India […]. We strongly believe that no foreign party has any locus standi on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty,” said Ravesh Kumar, the ministry’s spokesman.

“We are clear that CAA is constitutionally valid and complies with all requirements of our constitutional values. It is reflective of our long-standing national commitment in respect of human rights issues arising from the tragedy of Partition of India,” he added.

Various states in India including Bengal, Bihar, Punjab, Kerala have passed resolutions against the law.

Violent communal riots over the law also broke out in Delhi last week, killing 47 people and injuring over 250.

Avani Bansal, a human rights lawyer, said even if the Supreme Court does not accept the UN rights chief’s application, the UN agency’s application has sent a strong symbolic message against the discriminatory nature of the citizenship law.

According to local media, the Supreme Court is currently hearing a massive 143 petitions challenging the legal validity of the law. In a January hearing, the court declined to put the law on hold.