India should also join the UN refugee convention – analysis
Although almost 75% of the world’s countries have adopted a uniform approach to refugees, India privileges people from certain groups and countries over others. Almost 150 countries around the world, including the US USA., Are part of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees or the 1967 Protocol adopted in accordance with the Convention. Signatories to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention may not deport people who fear being persecuted or who have been persecuted for their particular religion, nationality, race, political opinion, or social group. This global consensus on refugees developed in response to the persecution and murder of Jews and other minorities by the Nazis.
India, however, is not a party to or has acceded to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or the Protocol to that 1967 Convention. Consequently, it can choose the types of refugees it will accept or reject. Tibet Buddhists fleeing persecution from China have been well received in India, but Rohingyas fleeing religious persecution in Myanmar are generally denied entry to India. This selective approach that prioritizes certain refugees while rejecting others is reflected in the law, the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which recently led to widespread protests and violence in India. The Indian Parliament amended its nationality law, the Citizenship Act of 1955, to give a quick path to citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parisians, and Christians (but Muslims) who had entered India before 2014 since Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh.
Widespread protests in India erupted immediately after this law was passed. People gathered to read the preamble to the Indian Constitution to suggest that the government had violated the principles of the Constitution requiring that it treat all its residents equally. The CAA was seen to reflect a vision of India as a Hindu nation where Muslims are not welcome. These protests continue across the country. On the other hand, protests arose in favor of the CAA, and shortly before Trump’s visit to India, the violence began. Recent reports suggest that at least 53 people died in the violence in Delhi, most of them Muslims. The Indian government refuses to give persecuted Muslim minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh a path to citizenship.
While objections to the CAA were forceful and from many corners, few people realize that the Indian government had already adopted the same approach to refugees as that found in the CAA with two notifications from the Ministry of Internal Affairs years earlier in 2015. and 2016. In those notifications, the ministry amended the 1950 Passport (Entry to India) Rules to allow “Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parisians and Christians who were forced to seek refuge in India because of the religious persecution or fear of religious persecution and they entered India before December 31, 2014 “to travel without a valid travel document to India. Although the CAA is considered an exceptionally discriminatory law, the reality is that unequal treatment of Refugees and the privilege of a certain group over others is not a new political approach of the Indian government.
On the other hand, if, like most countries in the world, India had signed or acceded to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees or the 1967 Protocol, it would not be allowed to privilege certain types of refugees over others. The 1951 UN Convention on Refugees requires countries to admit and refrain from deporting refugees. To qualify as a refugee, a person must fear or have been subjected to religious persecution (or other forms of persecution) in the country of their residence. If it were a party to the UN Convention or Refugee Protocol, India could not adopt a policy that excluded Muslims or one that allowed refugees only from certain countries. Almost 150 countries in the world follow the same approach towards refugees; India should also adhere to the 1951 UN Convention.
Sital Kalantry is a clinical professor of law, Cornell Law School, has published a book on women’s rights and migration in 2017, is the faculty director of the Cornell India Law Center, and teaches international human rights and immigration law.
The opinions expressed are personal.