image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE

Rule of Law, Human Rights and Western Trade Deals With India

Earlier this month, the impression gained was that India, show-cased by the G20 Summit and having made it to the moon, was beginning to justify its front-line position in the global order of progressive nations. Regrettably, following the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar on 18 June 2023 and the allegation by Canadian PM Justin Trudeau on 18 September that credible evidence pointed towards Indian involvement, the global spotlight now is on the state of the rule of law and human rights record of India. That has consequences for international trade deals.

Trudeau made it clear that the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil was an unacceptable violation of Canadian sovereignty. Later, UN special rapporteur on minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, speaking at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom function at Washington DC, expressed concern about the human rights record of India. This was due to (quote) the massive scale and gravity of the violations and abuses targeting mainly religious and other minorities such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and others. It is not just individual or local, it is systematic and a reflection of religious nationalism.

It is now becoming clear that on the sidelines of the G20 on 9-10 September, Canada, US, Australia and possibly others nations like New Zealand had raised the issue of targeted shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar allegedly by Indian agents, with PM Modi. With pending major trade deals in mind, they would have raised similar concerns with reference to the importance of respecting the rule of law, democratic principles, and national sovereignty.

According to the Irish Times, several members of the Five Eyes - an intelligence-sharing network that includes the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand &ndash raised the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar with Mr Modi. The US President, Mr Biden felt it was important to address the issue directly with his Indian counterpart.

Other reports and investigations have expressed concern. For example, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum also warned about the rising risks of mass atrocities in India against religious minorities.

The impression gained from the events that followed G20 is that India remained defiant and did not give satisfactory assurance sought by Western leaders. Otherwise, these countries fully recognise the geo-political and international trade related importance of India and would have preferred to gloss over such issues.

Criticism that PM Trudeau should not have made the announcement before completion of the police investigation needs to take into account the security aspect and why intelligence gathering arrangements and processes cannot be shared openly. Important long-term trade deals are nearing completion and need to address these issues urgently. On the other hand, police collation of admissible evidence in Western courts, takes time.

Related to this discussion is the observation by Hartosh Bal, executive editor of The Caravan magazine in India. He told Al Jazeera that the Modi government has consistently hyped up the Khalistani threat to India&hellip because it suits them domestically to talk about security threats to the Indian nation, rather than the actual measure of threat on the ground from the movement.

Finally, these issues are awkward for the U.K as a member, together with Canada, of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance. The trade deal with India could have a price tag regarding intelligence sharing, rule of law and human rights issues.

Gurmukh Singh OBE

Principal Civil Servant retd (UK)