(June 27, 2013)

Answers Minister Timmermans to follow-up parliamentary questions on (Dalit) women and human rights in India

Written questions of the member Voordewind (ChristianUnion) to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade & Development Co-operation about sexual violence against women in India and constraints for human rights organizations. Submitted May 6, 2013.
The follow-up questions also dealt with the following issues:
- the parliamentary motion on priority for Dalits in Dutch Human rights policy
- the Indian (Dalit) winner of the Human Rights Tulip 2012
- meeting of the EU Delegation with India on the ‘watchlist’ of organizations
- constraints for women and human rights organizations
- problems of Dutch organizations in getting visa for India

See the full questions and answers by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs (June 10, 2013).

(India Committee of the Netherlands, March 28, 2013)

Answers Dutch Minister Timmermans to parliamentary questions on sexual violence against women in India and constraints for human rights organizations

Reaction by the India Committee of the Netherlands

Minister Frans Timmermans

  • Dalit issues should stay on agenda EU and UN - but it is not clear how
  • The Netherlands supports European Parliament resolution on violence against women in India
  • Violence against women to be discussed at the EU-India human rights dialogue
  • No political support for winner Human Rights Tulip 2012
  • EU Delegation wants discussion with Indian authorities on list 'suspicious organizations'
  • Minister evades question about visa problems of Dutch citizens

An almost two-third majority of the Dutch Parliament did ask the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Timmermans and the Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Ploumen to undertake more action against (sexual) violence against women, especially Dalit women who frequently are victims. The Parliament was also very concerned about the fact that the Indian government put a large number of Indian and international organizations on a 'suspect list' and imposed visa restrictions on the latter.

Timmermans: Dalits should be on EU and UN agenda
The Dutch Parliament referred in her questions to the resolution on sexual violence against women in India that the European Parliament has recently adopted and also linked to the statements of Minister Timmermans on 'strengthening the position of Dalits' during the debate on his 2013 budget in the Parliament in December 2012. Seven parties (Christian Union, Christian Democrats, Labour Party, Green Left, Socialist Party, Democrats 66 and Reformed Political party) are now asking 'how the Dutch government intends to contribute to the improvement of the position of 100 million Dalit women in India?'

Minister Timmermans replied that the government is making efforts to keep the issue on the agenda of the EU and UN and supports the resolution of the European Parliament on violence against women in India. The issue is on the agenda of the EU-India human rights dialogue and The Netherlands supports a number of women's organizations, Timmermans says. That is certainly a positive signal. But it remains to be seen what the Dutch government is doing to keep the topic on the agenda of EU and UN.

The European Parliament speaks of an ‘the extraordinary high level of impunity’ when it comes to sexual violence against Dalit women and girls, and the Parliament asks Mr. Timmermans how he will act on this. His answer however is relatively non-committal. His mentioning of a 'lack of local implementation’ of the laws, 'especially in rural areas', is an enormous euphemism for the wide-ranging injustice affecting the 200 million Dalits in India. This injustice and lack of rights is the reality in urban areas as well.

No political support for winner Human Rights Tulip 2012
The Parliament also wants to know what the Dutch government will do to support the winner of the Dutch Human Rights Tulip 2012, the Dalit activist Marimuthu Bharathan, in his struggle for the human rights of Dalits. The Parliament is particularly focusing on the criminal proceedings against him and 23 other Dalit suspects because of a - according to human rights organizations - false accusation of murder. But it also relates to the obstruction Bharathan’s work by the Indian government, including the prohibition to organize demonstrations.

Minister Timmermans bypasses this issue quite formally by stating: "The Netherlands respects the Indian legal system and thus does not interfere in this current case." When asked whether he will raise the problems Bharathan experiences from the Indian government, the Minister does not answer at all. This is all the more disappointing given the priority Timmermans recently gave in his speech to the Human Rights Council of the UN in Geneva to supporting human rights defenders and organizations in their struggle for respect for human rights.

EU delegation in discussion with Indian authorities on list of 'suspect organizations'
The Parliament is also very concerned about the fact that the Indian government has - in January 2013 - put 103 Indian NGOs and 24 international donors on a 'suspect list', following the creation of a similar list in March 2012. In both cases, the NGOs are not mentioned by name. There are also visa restrictions for international organizations. Besides that the legal registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) of over 4,000 Indian NGOs was withdrawn, without any explanation. That list however is public, but does give the reason of deregistration.

The Parliament wants the Dutch government to urge India to publish the names 'suspicious organizations' by name. The members are afraid that the measures of the Indian government severely limit the effectiveness and scope of private organizations operating in India. As a result many of these organizations may not receive money anymore from abroad. Indian civil society organizations are of the opinion that these 'suspect lists' are primarily intended to silence critical movements and organizations, for example women’s or Dalit's organizations. Therefore the Parliament would like to know if there are concrete indications that the support to women's organizations is hindered or blocked.

Minister Timmermans answered that the EU delegation has requested a meeting with the Indian authorities about the list of 'suspicious organizations', among them international donors. But the Minister has 'no concrete evidence that there is an approach [by the Indian government] focused on the functioning of women's organizations as such.'

Timmermans evades question about visa problems of Dutch citizens
The Parliament also asked the government to give its opinion on the issue of visa granting by India to Dutch citizens. Timmermans replied that it occasionally occurs that people who have a visa to India are still not admitted. But that was not the question. Regularly Dutch organizations, including the India Committee of the Netherlands, but also journalists do not get visa from the Indian Embassy at all, especially if they are dealing with human rights in India. It is absolutely unclear why this fact should remain hidden for the Parliament.

No concrete answer about freedom Indian organizations
Finally the Parliament would like the Dutch government to raise the issue of the restrictions on freedom of association and expression of Indian organizations working for human rights in the European context, in order to jointly raise the issue with the Indian government.
The answer given by the Minister is very general with the observation that this is the problem in several countries. The Netherlands has raised this problem in general during the OSCE meeting in December 2012 in Dublin and will continue to do so 'using the most effective channels', according to Minister Timmermans in conclusion.

See the questions by the Dutch Parliament (and answers by Minister of Foreign Affairs):

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