The South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre has joined issue with the Supreme Court in this recent EPW article. The comment is regarding the Supreme Court’s anger at Teesta Setalvad forwarding letters written to the Special Investigation Team on the Gujarat killings to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Supreme Court had reportedly said that it will not tolerate ‘foreign interference’ in the riot cases.
The SAHRDC’s rejoinder is welcome. International law obligations have been voluntarily assumed by India, and as a branch of the State, the Supreme Court has an obligation to enforce them. There is a strange touchiness in all organs of the Indian state when an international body takes up any investigative role in a matter relating to human rights. India has refused to sign any optional protocol to human rights conventions (or the Rome Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court) which have international enforcement mechanisms that go beyond mere reporting by the state. Unsurprisingly, a similar touchiness is not visible in trade or intellectual property matters. So the state worries about international enforcement of human rights norms but not trade norms – this cherry-picking makes the postcolonial narrative which highlights the divide between the global North and the global South look like an excuse to avoid human rights scrutiny rather than a principled opposition to an unequal global order. Especially at a time when India is actively seeking greater role in the international order, it must recognise that a position of Indian exceptionalism to international human rights scrutiny will become increasingly untenable.