President Obama Should Raise Human Rights Concerns During Visit to India

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged President Obama to publicly raise the issues of ending modern-day slavery and protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people with Indian Prime Minister Modi during his visit to India next week to commemorate India’s Republic Day. The call came in a letter to the president, asking him to use this trip as an opportunity to ensure that the bilateral relationship is grounded in respect for human dignity and fundamental rights.

“More people are enslaved in India than in any other country in the world… India’s primary trafficking problem is the forced labor of an estimated 20 to 65 million citizens: men, women, and children held in debt bondage—sometimes inherited from previous generations—who are forced to work in brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, embroidery factories, and other industries,” wrote Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “The challenge is to change this calculus—to increase the risk of prosecution and decrease the profits for exploiters. The Indian government needs to strengthen anti-trafficking laws and promote consistent enforcement at all government levels.”

Indian law enforcement tends to focus on victims brought into India from neighboring states, but 90% of slaves in India are Indian citizens. Prosecutions in domestic slavery cases are rare, and when they occur, victims are often vulnerable to intimidation and harassment. In India, as in many countries, perpetrators routinely act with impunity and victims rarely see justice.

In December 2013, India’s Supreme Court reinstated Section 377 of the Penal Code, a colonial era law that criminalizes consensual sexual activity between men. Since then, gay men have once again found themselves vulnerable to prosecution based solely on their sexual orientation. Convictions under Section 377 can carry sentences as harsh as life imprisonment.

“The LGBT community in India is reeling after the re-criminalization of homosexuality just over a year ago,” added Massimino. “I ask that you urge Prime Minster Modi to work towards the repeal of Section 377 and the removal of any law or policy that further marginalizes LGBT Indians.”

Press

Published on January 22, 2015

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