India and Human Rights Diplomacy at the United Nations: The Discourse on Torture

AuthorHeena Makhija
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
26(2) 208 –226, 2022
© 2022 Jadavpur University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/09735984221120298
India and Human
Rights Diplomacy
at the United
The Discourse
on Torture
Heena Makhija1
Building on the ideals of pacifism, in the early years, India’s foreign
policy posturing at international forums demonstrated its keen interest
in promoting universal human rights. The agenda of eradicating torture
emerged at the United Nations (UN) in 1945 in response to the
state atrocities and war crimes committed during the Second World
War. The UN acted as an arena for diplomatic deliberations between
multifarious actors that led to the emergence and global recognition
of the norm against torture. At the UN, India was ideationally inclined
toward building a robust human rights regime and actively participated
in the making of corresponding international norms. However, India’s
diplomatic zeal toward ‘norm-making’ at the UN was often followed
by a lukewarm approach toward human rights. Taking the case of the
development of the norm against torture, the article aims to evaluate
India’s evolving human rights diplomacy at the UN. By tracing India’s
historical stance on human rights and examining its formal interactions
at the UN on the issue of torture, it seeks to evaluate India’s role in the
1 Centre for International Politics, Organization, and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru
University, New Delhi, Delhi, India
Corresponding author:
Heena Makhija, Centre for International Politics, Organization, and Disarmament, Jawaharlal
Nehru University, Delhi 110067, India.
Makhija 209
formation of an international regime against torture. The article further
seeks to critically analyze India’s evasive response at the UN and the
implications of its failure to ratify the Convention against torture and
other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (1984) or
the Torture Convention.
United Nations, torture, human rights, India’s foreign policy, multilateralism
Trailblazing at the United Nations: India’s
Contribution to Human Rights
Against the backdrop of a devastating world war and its own experience
with colonialism, India showcased deep affliction toward the principle of
sovereignty and civil rights. India was one of the founding members of the
United Nations (UN) and participated in the drafting of the UN Charter.
India’s interest in furthering the cause of universal human rights also
reflected in its statements during the course of the drafting process. At the
San Francisco Conference in 1945, inclusion of ‘promotion of human
rights’ in Article 1 of the Charter was one of the few amendments proposed
by India (Rajan 1973: 445). The normative priorities of a newly independent
India could be clearly understood through its posturing and manner of
engagement with the UN in its formative years—it was orientated toward
upholding the liberal beliefs of freedom, human rights, and democracy.
India, through its representatives at the UN, boldly vocalized its worldview
in the official statements seeking to influence the course of emerging
international norms. Vijayalakshmi Pandit, who led the Indian delegation
to the UN (1946–1948), was able to successfully use the platform of global
conferences to disseminate India’s views on the perils of colonialism and
the need for internationalism. One of the first victories for India at the UN
came back in 1946 when it successfully challenged the ‘sovereignty’
clause of the UN Charter by passing of the resolution aimed at censoring
South Africa for its racist policies (Kothari 2018).
In the field of human rights, the intense post-war discussions at the
UN led to a concrete outcome in the form of an official adoption of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. In the course
of the drafting process, Indian representatives in the Human Rights
Commission were keenly involved in shaping the discourse on human
rights within the commission. Bhagavan’s (2010: 313) work demonstrates

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT