Ilhan Omar urges US to confront India on human rights

Ilhan Omar urges US to confront India on human rights
As the US tries to convince India to distance itself from Russia, some believe India's human rights shortfalls should not be ignored for the sake of politics.
3 min read
Washington, D.C.
12 April, 2022
Ilhan Omar is urging the Biden administration to not ignore India's human rights record. [Getty]

US Member of Congress, Ilhan Omar, is pushing the Biden administration to do more to confront Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with whom Biden met virtually on Monday, about his country's human rights record.

In a session in which Omar questioned Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Omar raised concerns about the United States's history of getting close to undemocratic leaders as a strategy to show strength in numbers against an adversary.

President Joe Biden is currently trying to gather international support in its efforts to isolate Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine. This includes India.

"The Biden administration's Indo-Pacific strategy says that the United States has, for a long time, seen Asia merely as an arena for geopolitical competition. I'm grateful to see that framing. I agree. One of the things I think was a profound, moral, and strategic mistake in the last Cold War was our support for brutal dictators in the name of having a common enemy," Omar said.

"I would hope that most Americans look back at our long relationship with Pinochet in Chile, Suharto in Indonesia, Rios Montt in Guatemala, and feel the same determination. I do not want to repeat those historical injustices. What worries me is that this time we seem willing to let Modi be our new Pinochet," the Congresswoman said.

“Some in the foreign policy world seem eager to let Duterte or Marcos be our new Suharto. In the whole Indo-Pacific strategy, there are only two references to human rights. One of those is a reference to how China is undermining them. Nobody doubts that. China's human rights record is atrocious and that is well known,” she added.

"But I ask, what about Modi in India? How are we promoting a free and open region by supporting Modi? So, I ask you, why has the Biden administration been so reluctant to criticize Modi's government on human rights?" Omar added.

Sherman responded by pointing out Biden's campaign pledge to put human rights at the centre of his foreign policy.

"I can assure you, in every interaction I have had with any government where we have concerns about their human rights record, it has been a part of that dialogue," Sherman said. She went on to highlight the US's growing dialogues with India's LGBTQ NGOs, which might not have been possible several years ago.

What Sherman did not voluntarily address in the tense exchange with the Minnesota congresswoman is the Modi government's treatment of its Muslim population.

Over the past several years, Muslims in India have been subjected to mass violence, unsubstantiated inflammatory rumours that endanger their safety, and discriminatory government policies.

"The Biden administration should absolutely do more to confront India’s fascist far-right extremism," Edward Mitch, deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The New Arab. "India is on a clear path towards genocide under Modi. The US shouldn't wait."

Mitch believes that all it would take for genocide to happen in this climate in India would be one spark – something negative that is blamed on the Muslim community.

"I think everyone's got to raise their voice," he said. "Ilhan Omar did the right thing. Raising her voice moves things in the right direction. Everyone has to do more."