By Arul Louis
United Nations, Dec. Dec 21 (IANS) The UN will get involved in a referendum only at the request of a national government, according to the world organisation’s spokesperson.
Asked at the Friday briefing about West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee’s call for a UN-conducted referendum on citizenship issues, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the “standard policy for UN involvement in any electoral effort, any referendum, is for request from a national government; that is our standard policy.”
He said that it was not specific to Banerjee’s call, but a statement of the standard by which the UN operates.
Banerjee said on Thursday the UN should conduct a referendum on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and challenged the central government to go for it.
However, she changed her position a day later, saying, “I meant an opinion poll overseen by experts like the Human Rights Commission. I have full faith in my country and its people.”
Asked about the protests against the CAA, Dujarric said the UN was “closely following it” and “we are concerned by the violence that we see, the fatalities.”
“What is very important and this applies across the board is that the people need to be able to protest peacefully and security forces always need to show restraint,” he added.
General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande’s Spokesperson Reem Abaza emphasised “peaceful protests” when talking about the right to protest in the context of the upheaval in India.
She said Muhammad-Bande’s “position regarding protests is that the right to protest, the peaceful protest, should be respected; peacefully, of course.”
She added, “He also supports the UN entitites like the Human Rights (High Commissioner), for example, in all their efforts to reach out in different issues regarding human rights in multiple situations around the world.”
Reflecting the common misperception of the CAA, the reporter erroneously phrased the question as discriminatory to all Muslims, while the law applies only to those from the officially Islamic Pakistan and Afghanistan and Muslim-majority Bangladesh and seeks to provide refuge for not only Hindus but also Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains fleeing religious persecutions in those countries by fast-tracking their citizenship eligibility.
The law also does not give preferential treatment to Hindus or the other five minorities from other countries seeking Indian citizenship.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)