New Delhi: The European Parliament on Thursday adopted a resolution on the violence in Manipur, asking the Indian government to protect religious minorities. A day earlier, the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) expressed their view on the violence and also flagged the alleged deterioration of human rights and freedoms in India.
The resolution was brought forth by five parliamentary factions: the left Greens-European Free Alliance, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the liberal Renew group and the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group. Together, they account for around 80% of the MEPs in the 705-member parliament.
The following is a transcript of the debate of the European parliament’s plenary Session on Manipur on July 12, 2023.
Chair: We can move on in the agenda, the next debate is on India and the situation in Manipur. First of all, I give the floor to Sven Simon as one of the authors.
MEP Sven Simon: Madam President and colleagues. The situation in the state of Manipur in the northeast of India is serious. Since May, in demonstrations between two population groups the mainly Hindu Meitei and the mainly Christian Kuki, over 120 people were killed, over 50,000 people are fleeing, over 250 churches, theological institutions, Christian schools and hospitals have been burnt down without the perpetrators being prevented by the local authorities. We call on the Indian government to do everything to restore order, to bring the perpetrators to Justice, and to stop excessive violence. We wouldn’t like to wag fingers at anybody from here, but with this resolution from the European Parliament, we call on the most populous democracy to do what it is duty-bound to do in its Constitution: to maintain religious freedom also for Christians in Manipur. One thing, colleagues, has irritated me with the negotiations with other groups. How difficult it is for the Greens and colleagues and those on the Left to say that it’s Christians who are affected. They wriggle with platitudes about discrimination and religious intolerance and they can’t state what is obvious – persecutions of Christians are real, and it is our duty to make sure that they stop, also in Manipur.
Chair: Thank you, Mr Zeman. Pierre Larrouturou is the next speaker.
MEP Pierre Larrouturou: Friends, in Manipur in Northeast India, violence has claimed more than 120 victims over two months. 120 people killed, 1,700 houses have been destroyed, 250 churches – not just one or two churches, 250 churches – and 40 000 people are displaced because they’ve run away from the violence to save their skins. This is a dramatic situation, we have to do everything possible to end violence. Since he entered power in 2014, Narendra Modi, the prime minister, has been implementing a radical nationalist Hindu policy which has had terrible consequences [for] journalists, religious minorities, and human rights fighters. He always says that he is an heir to Mahatma Gandhi. We all admire [him,] he takes meditation time, he created a world yoga day. He seems kind and well-meaning. But in India, millions of Muslims and Christians suffer every single day because the government violates their most fundamental rights. The situation is serious. That’s why the European Parliament must vote tomorrow on a very clear resolution. It has to be clear in denouncing the nationalist discourse of Mr Modi.
The government has to fully respect fundamental freedoms, freedom of expression, and religious freedoms for everyone. The resolution has to call for the violence to end immediately and to authorise humanitarian aid [in] the presence of observers and journalists wherever necessary. They have to accept democratic functioning, no longer criminalise anyone who criticises government policy. That’s what democracy is about. The number of NGOs that are authorised to operate in India has been cut by three [times] in just a few years. They are trying to suffocate the NGOs, they are trying to suffocate democracy in civil society. There is no economic development without democracy. The European Parliament has to demand that respect for human rights is fully included in the EU-India partnership, including trade relations. That is in black and white in our text. We need to ensure that all our leaders talk about human rights when they visit India, publicly and systematically. Nobody is proposing breaking off relations with India. It is a great democracy but it has to be a better democracy and that’s why we support dialogue between India and Europe.
Chair: Thank you. The next author on our list is Madame Alviina Alametsä. One and a half minutes.
MEP Alviina Alametsä: Honourable chair and colleagues. My deepest condolences to the families of the 140 people that have died in Manipur. This violence has led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people and I think that the Indian authorities must take action. There cannot be any more victims. Access to humanitarian aid and impartial observers to the area must be allowed. We should all be worried about the worsening human rights situation in India. Freedom of press has narrowed. Journalists and activists have been arrested for false reasons. Discrimination and hate have increased. And this is also what I saw personally when I visited India in December . This saddens me as India is a very important partner for us. Even India has to make human rights and democracy a fundamental part of their partnership in all regards, including trade. The situation in Manipur needs all of us to commit to open, transparent, and accountable ways to address conflict peacefully. The goal must be to end this violence and to bring about a peaceful resolution for the situation in Manipur and for India to truly address all the root causes that are at the heart of these conflicts. I thank you, my colleagues, for cooperating on this and I send my deepest condolences to those who are suffering because of the human rights situation and the violence. Thank you.
Chair: Thank you and now I give the floor to the next author, Mr Bert-Jan Ruissen for one minute.
MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen: Thank you, president, commissioner, honourable members. When we discuss India, often we are talking about trade opportunities. Unfortunately, today we’re here to talk about human rights, about the situation in Manipur, where we have seen ethnic clashes taking on an increasing religious dimension. The events of the last 10 weeks are tragic. 120 lives lost, 50,000 people displaced, 250 churches destroyed.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Across India, those who are not Hindu, in particular Christians, are facing growing intolerance, violence, humiliation, discrimination. We’re seeing this in anti-conversion laws in different federal states. Our joint resolution is crystal clear – we are calling on India to do everything within its power to end ethnic and religious violence, to punish perpetrators, and end Hindu extremism. Without iron-clad guarantees in this area, we cannot talk about a new trade agreement with India. Thank you.
Chair: Thank you and now I give the floor to the next author, Mr Miguel Urbán Crespo for one minute.
MEP Miguel Urbán Crespo: Thank you very much, president. Ethnic minorities and religious minorities in India are systematically discriminated against. They are stigmatised and persecuted by the extreme right of Modi. This same applies to those who level criticism at the government. There are dozens of human rights defenders who’ve been put in prison, even though this parliament hasn’t mentioned them. What happens in Manipur is also the upshot of the xenophobic policies of the Indian government, the very same government which issues veiled threats so that the kinds of debates we are having do not occur. Now, enough silent diplomacy. We must outright condemn the systematic abuses perpetrated by the Indian government, and we must clamour for the release of all political prisoners. Trade relations are political relations and must be tied to compliance with human rights. It’s high time to send a crystal clear message of support for the Indian people.
Chair: Thank you, and now I give the floor to our next speaker on behalf of the EPP, Madame Michaela Šojdrová for one minute.
MEP Michaela Šojdrová: Thank you, dear colleagues, Commissioner. The recent violent clashes between the Meitei and Kuki have caused widespread devastation. Over 50,000 people, including a significant number of Christians, have been displaced and lives have been lost. Numerous religious symbols and places of worship have been targeted with more than 220 churches burnt or damaged. We urge Indian authorities to take immediate action to stop the violence and protect religious minorities – particularly the Christian community in Manipur. We call on all sides to exercise restraint, and for political leaders to refrain from making inflammatory statements. They should impartially mediate tensions and reject any nationalistic rhetoric. Today, let us send a clear message: the EU holds a powerful tool in trade policy, and we demand the integration of human rights into our EU-India partnership. We also urge the reinforcement of EU-India human rights dialogue. Thank you for your support.
Chair: Thank you, and now I give the floor to the representative of the Green Alliance, Mr Bütikofer for one minute.
MEP Reinhard Bütikofer: Assistant commissioner, colleagues. This human rights urgency should not be used as an occasion to insult India or to voice threats with regards to the trade negotiations that we’re trying to bring to a successful end as soon as possible. This is about specific human rights issues and I think it is right to say that we have common ground with India in that regard and that we should reinforce as the resolution says, the EU-India human rights dialogue, And in particular, I would underscore the sentence that says ‘there should be regular dialogue organised between the European Parliament and the Parliament of India.’ My colleague, Simon, has said he doesn’t want to wag his finger at India. He couldn’t do without wagging though, so he wagged his finger at the Greens. I will not retaliate. I will just say, we will defend religious freedom wherever it is endangered, be it Christians or otherwise. Thank you.
Chair: Thank you and now on behalf of the ECR group, Mr Adam Bielan.
MEP Adam Bielan: Thank you very much, Mr President. The situation in Manipur is deeply concerning. Since May, tensions between the mainly Hindu Meitei and mainly Christian Kuki communities have escalated to the most violent clashes in decades. Over 140 people have lost their lives, tens of thousands are displaced, and private and public property has been destroyed. Despite the gravity of the situation, authorities are not taking sufficient action and fostering peace dialogues. While the Manipur Tribal Forum’s plea for protection of the Kuki tribe by the Indian army has been rejected by the Supreme Court. We, therefore, urge all parties to cease hostilities and resolve the underlying regional and religious issues. The EU and its member states should collaborate with like-minded countries and organisations to assess possible further steps and continue to raise human rights, and especially religious freedom, concerns with the Indian authorities. Thank you.
Chair: Thank you, and now on behalf of the EPP group, Mr Jiří Pospíšil for one minute.
MEP Jiří Pospíšil: Thank you, Mr President. Like my colleagues, I would like to support the draft resolution that, in my view, very much goes to the point. It’s up to date. India is the largest democracy in the world, a key partner of the EU in business. Democracy in recent years has worked in India, but democracy is also about human rights protection, and certainly there have been cases where human rights failed to be protected, especially those of religious minorities. We mentioned the Christian religious minority in the resolution, not only in one federal state of India but throughout the whole country. We must appeal to the central Indian government, to Prime Minister Modi, that it’s impossible that a key partner of the EU not guarantee key human rights of anybody, whether they are of Christian religion or anybody else.
Chair: Thank you, and now I give the floor to Mr Ilčić for one minute.
MEP Ladislav Ilčić: Ladies and gentlemen. Although dramatic violence in India in Manipur began because of land ownership, it seems that very quickly it also became religiously conditioned violence. Over 250 churches were attacked, numerous cemeteries and parish houses. India is an important partner to the European Union. But if we as a Christian community can respect other faiths and identities, we must ask our partners to do the same. I propose an urgent visit by the European Special Envoy for Religious Freedoms to India. And the way the Indian government will treat this proposal will show whether the authorities there are for the time being only powerless in such cases, or whether they knowingly allow the persecution of religious minorities by radical groups. Our message must be clear we will not turn our heads away from violence and we will not turn our backs on persecuted Christians.
Chair: Thank you, and now I give the floor to Madame Miriam Lexmann for one minute.
MEP Miriam Lexmann: Thank you chair, colleagues. The state of freedom of religion and belief in a society is an important litmus test to the state of other fundamental freedoms. Therefore, while Indian officials often like to boast that the country is the world’s largest democracy, intolerance and violence against religious minorities paint a different picture. In the state of Manipur at least 100 people are dead, tens of thousands displaced, hundreds of houses belonging to Christians destroyed, along with 250 churches, theological institutions, schools and hospitals, as well as several temples. These attacks against Christians are not isolated incidents. They are organised, leaving behind destruction and shattered lives. The EU cannot close its eyes to these crimes. That’s why I call on our Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and the EES to communicate clearly to the Indian authorities the need to stop this violence and to provide the necessary support to the victims immediately. Thank you.
Chair: Thank you very much, now colleagues start the [unclear] procedure. I have one speaker on the [unclear] procedure, and I will give a floor to Eugen Tomac.
MEP Eugen Tomac: Thank you very much. We do have to show our solidarity to people who find themselves in such a difficult situation. What is happening in Manipur is reflecting the reality that very often member states won’t look at, and won’t look at in depth and I think the European Commission has the obligation now to act more strongly in its relations with the Indian government. They have to ask the Indian government to protect all Indian citizens, including Christians because more than 50,000 Indians are displaced, more than 250 churches have been destroyed, and all of this does mean that the European Commission has to act they have to act to protect. It is not the fault of these people that the Government is not in a position to protect the Constitution. Thank you.
Commissioner Mairead McGuinness: Thank you President, Honourable Members. I really would like to reassure you that the European Union is following the situation in the state of Manipur closely, and we are very saddened, deeply saddened, by the large number of deaths and of injured and displaced persons since violence erupted in Manipur at the beginning of May. The Indian authorities have taken a number of measures to address this very tense situation. A commission of inquiry has been set up to investigate instance of violence. A peace committee has been established with broad participation to facilitate peace negotiations and dialogue between the conflicting groups. We hope that these measures will very soon bring results so that this wave of violence and the profound mistrust between the communities comes to an end. India is a strategic partner of the EU. Our relations are based on mutual respect, and the protection and promotion of Human Rights and fundamental freedoms are at the core of our partnership. We discuss regularly with India the challenges and best approaches on human rights in both Europe and India. The annual EU-India Human Rights dialogue provides a good platform for frank and open discussion between us. The last meeting took place in July of last year, and the next one should happen by the end of the year. The EU is ready to support our Indian friends if requested in their efforts towards rebuilding peace and trust between the different groups in Manipur. Thank you.