U.N. rights body to move Supreme Court on Citizenship Amendment Act

U.N. rights body to move Supreme Court on Citizenship Amendment Act

MEA says the world body has no right to file plea.

In an unprecedented and rare move, the Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has announced that it plans to file an application in the Indian Supreme Court, asking to be impleaded in the petitions challenging the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). 

And the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the United Nations body had no right to file a petition that will ask the court to appoint the Commissioner for Human Rights as an assistant or ‘amicus curiae’ in the case.

Watch | All about the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019

The OHCHR plan has been criticised by diplomatic and legal experts here, including one of the 22 petitioners in the case, as an “overreach” by it.

“The High Commissioner [Michelle Bachelet] intends to submit an ‘amicus curiae’ brief shortly on the Citizenship [Amendment] Act [CAA] in the Indian Supreme Court, in accordance with the Court’s established procedures, and she has informed the Indian Permanent Mission in Geneva of her intention,” Rupert Colville, OHCHR spokesperson based in Geneva, confirmed to The Hindu

“The amicus curiae will focus on providing an overview of relevant and applicable international human rights standards and norms to support the Court’s deliberations in the context of its review of the CAA,” the spokesperson said.

Last week, Ms. Bachelet informed the Human Rights Council that the UN body had “great concerns over the CAA”. She had also met with MEA Secretary (West) Vikas Swarup, who had travelled to Geneva to represent India at the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council last Thursday. On Monday, the Indian Mission in Geneva was formally informed of the OHCHR’s plans to file the petition.

‘Internal matter’

MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Tuesday, “The Citizenship Amendment Act is an internal matter of India and concerns the sovereign right of the Indian Parliament to make laws. We strongly believe that no foreign party has any locus standi on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty. We are confident that our sound and legally sustainable position would be vindicated by the Honourable Supreme Court”.

Former Solicitor-General Mohan Parasaran said that in his opinion, the U.N. official could not be impleaded on international law in a domestic matter. “The CAA has to be tested on the touchstone of the Indian Constitution and not some U.N. Convention. If such interventions as ‘amicus curiae‘ are allowed, it will set a wrong precedent,” he observed.

U.N. rights body to move Supreme Court on Citizenship Amendment Act

Last month, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde took “note” of a plea made by a U.N. Special Rapporteur in a case related to the rights of Rohingya refugees, but forwarded it to the government for a response without ruling on it.

Former Indian Foreign Service officer Deb Mukherji, who is a petitioner in the original case filed in December, said the U.N. move would not change their case against the CAA. “I am not aware that international bodies can implead themselves in our courts, that is for the honourable Supreme Court to decide. We have been waiting for weeks to be heard, and hope our petition will be taken up soon,” he told The Hindu.

Former External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh described the U.N. rights body’s move as “absolutely unprecedented in the diplomatic history of India”.

Agreeing, former envoy to the U.N. Chinmaya Gharekhan said the move was “objectionable”, as the U.N. was an inter-governmental body and “they are not supposed to approach the Supreme Court of India.”

In her address to the Human Rights Council on February 27, Ms. Bachelet expressed “great concern” over the CAA.

Earlier, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres had spoken of worries over the “risk of statelessness” that arose from the CAA being used as a discriminatory measure.

The Government of India has denied and rejected both the comments.

The citizenship bill enacted on December 12, 2019 after it was cleared by Parliament, promises to fast-track citizenship for undocumented migrants belonging to six faiths not including Islam and Judaism, who fled from religious persecution in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan before December 21, 2014.

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