India urged to address human rights in Burma

Oct 16, 2009 (DVB), The Indian government should pay closer attention to human rights abuses in its foreign policy towards Burma, an international watchdog urged this week.

The call was made as directors of the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) met in New Delhi on Wednesday for the organisation's quarterly meeting.

India has become less inclined to challenge Burma's abject human rights record as relations between the two countries have steadily warmed over the past decade.

"India has been very silent about what's going on next door," said HRW Burma researcher, David Mathieson. "They are playing it low key for their own self interest; it's got nothing to with the people of Burma."

Alongside the foreign policy plea were calls for India to improve on its own internal human rights record, notably towards minority groups such as the lower-caste Dalits.

The two countries recently ended high-level talks focused on greater military cooperation, with little discussion on human rights reportedly taking place.

According to Mathieson, it was a "very ominous sign" that the two militaries were apparently so close. "[India] should be ashamed of themselves, trying to help this very brutal, nasty army," he said.

India was also urged by HRW to raise human rights issues at "multilateral forums such as the United Nations, both at the General Assembly in New York and the Human Rights Council in Geneva".

According to Kim from the Delhi-based Burma Centre, India's former president, A P J Kalam, in 2006 agreed not to bring up Burma's human rights record at international forums during an official visit to Burma.

India has repeatedly said that it needs to cooperate with the junta over border-based Indian and Burmese insurgents who utilise one another's territory.

The Burmese junta's plan to create border security forces out of ceasefire groups has also raised concern in India.

Delhi is said to be concerned that these groups, many of them ethnic insurgents themselves, will not be able to contain India's northeastern rebels.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin

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