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#Priorities: Progress in India encouraging but Modi needs to do much more – HRW

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi should bring public officials, police, and military personnel who commit serious rights abuses to justice, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today in the release of its World Report 2015.

The government should act to fulfill its campaign commitments to implement laws promoting women’s rights, improve access to health and sanitation, end discrimination, and ensure development benefits for the poor and marginalized, the New York-based group said.

The report highlights some encouraging progressing on accountability for abuses in 2014 including the sentencing of three soldiers and two officers to life imprisonment for the 2010 extra-judicial killings of three villagers in Kashmir.

However, HRW said this rare success was overshadowed by the government’s failure to repeal or amend India's draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which many activists claim provides immunity from prosecution to military personnel for serious rights abuses.

HRW cites the case of Manorama Devi, a suspected left-wing activist who was raped and murdered by an Indian paramilitary force in July 2004.  A judicial investigation in Ms Devi's killing revealed that the soldiers who murdered her were protected from prosecution by the AFSPA.

“India’s law that protects soldiers from being prosecuted for even the most egregious abuses has no place in a democracy,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The Modi government should seek to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and ensure justice for security force members who commit serious violations.”

In the 25th edition of the World Report, HRW reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries.

In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges.

The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price, he writes.

In 2014, authorities in India tightened restrictions on nongovernmental organizations critical of big development projects that activists say will harm the health and livelihoods of affected populations as well as the environment.

The awarding of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize to Indian children rights activist Kailash Satyarthi put a spotlight on the millions of children in India still engaged in the worst forms of labour while caste-based discrimination and neglect of tribal communities remained a problem.

Despite legal  reforms to better address violence against women and children, there is still no monitoring to ensure proper implementation.

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