In late November, terrorist attacks were responsible for more than 170 deaths in Mumbai, India. Like any other country that has suffered such a malicious assault, India jumped straight into the boxing ring to fight for more competent anti-terrorism laws to protect their people. And, just like most countries that have increased their levels of national security, hisses of disapproval are rolling like waves from human rights supporters.
Amnesty International has stood up to speak out against the proposals and the organization is pressuring the president of India to deny the possible amendments to existing anti-terror laws. Their major concern is that the suggested changes will give the Indian government more power that could be easily abused, as has been showed several times in the past. On Amnesty’s website, the following list of new amendments can be found:
- “Sweeping and overbroad definitions of “acts of terrorism.”
- No clear definition of what constitutes “membership” of a “terrorist gang or organization.”
- Minimum period of detention of persons suspected to be involved in acts of terrorism extended to 30 days from 15 days and the maximum period of detention of such persons to 180 days from 90 days, already far beyond international standards.
- Denial of bail to foreign nationals who may have entered the country in an unauthorized or illegal manner (except in very exceptional circumstances).
- The requirement, in certain circumstances, of accused people to prove their innocence.
- New legislation on the National Investigating Agency authorizes special courts to close hearings to public without defining or limiting the grounds under which they may do so.”
A quick glance at these proposals probably rings a few bells if you’re familiar with President Bush’s national security policies for the war on terror, which have also received a substantial amount of condemnation from a human rights standpoint.
The issue that this whole conflict comes down to is to what extent a government is obligated to uphold individual rights when it comes to protecting the nation as a whole. Now, I am no expert on how to combat terror, but it makes sense to me that anti-terrorism laws and regulations are justified in overlooking particular individual rights for a certain period of time in order to protect the society altogether. After all, the government is essentially fighting for our most important right as a human: the right to life. The catch, however, is whether or not I or anyone else can trust a government to truly enforce laws and regulations in a manner that does not overlook individual rights in cases where it can otherwise be protected.
So this is where comprehensive knowledge of past mistakes and future threats is especially important. Should the Indian government be allowed to have these new powers in order to increase national security, or can they not be trusted with the added control? I cannot answer this question with any sort of authority, but I can say that, should the new legislation pass, serious blunders on the part of the Indian government would come as no surprise, not only for familiarity with previous errors in India but also for mistakes in countries around the world.