UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for respect for the rights of freedom of opinion and expression as he voiced concern over the violence and alleged use of excessive force by security personnel in India during protests against the Citizenship Act.
According to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 following religious persecution there will get Indian citizenship.
Protests are being held across India ever since a bill was introduced in Parliament earlier this month. The bill was passed by the Parliament and signed into law by the President.
The protesters claim that the legislation is "unconstitutional and divisive" as it excludes Muslims.
"We are concerned about the violence and alleged use of excessive force by security forces that we've seen that have been taking place in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. We very much call for restraint and urge full respect for the rights of freedom of opinion and expression and peaceful assembly," Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric told a daily press briefing here on Tuesday.
Dujarric was asked if the Secretary General has any comment on the protests in India over the CAA.
Dujarric said he would also refer to the comments of High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the Act.
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had said in Geneva that it is "concerned" that the CAA is "fundamentally discriminatory in nature".
"The amended law would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India's constitution and India's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to which India is a State party, which prohibit discrimination based on racial, ethnic or religious grounds.
"Although India's broader naturalisation laws remain in place, these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people's access to nationality," the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.
India has said the Citizenship Act provides expedited consideration for Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities already in India from certain contiguous countries.
"It seeks to address their current difficulties and meet their basic human rights. Such an initiative should be welcomed, not criticised by those who are genuinely committed to religious freedom," the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.
The law "does not affect the existing avenues available to all communities interested in seeking citizenship from doing so", it said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday termed violent protests across the country against the CAA as "unfortunate and deeply distressing", and appealed to people to stay away from rumour-mongering and not let "vested interests" divide the society.
In a series of tweets, Modi also assured that the amended citizenship law does not affect any Indian of any religion.