New Delhi: US President Barack Obama criticised India on Monday for failing to condemn rights abuses in Myanmar, saying democracies with global aspirations could not ignore “gross violations” in other countries.
“When peaceful democratic movements are suppressed, as they have been in Burma (Myanmar), then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent,” Obama said in an address to the Indian parliament.
“Faced with such gross violations of human rights, it is the responsibility of the international community, especially leaders like the United States and India, to condemn it,” he said.
“If I can be frank, in international fora, India has often shied away from these issues,” he added.
Earlier in his speech, Obama had, to sustained applause, given his backing to India’s push for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
But he also made clear that a place at the the top table of international decision-making would require India to promote and defend its values abroad as well as at home.
“With increased power comes increased responsibility,” he said, adding that he looked forward to working with India, “and other nations that aspire to Security Council membership,” to ensure that Security Council resolutions are implemented and sanctions enforced.
“Speaking up for those who cannot do so for themselves is not interfering in the affairs of other countries. It’s not violating the rights of sovereign nations,” Obama said, in a clear reference to India’s non-aligned foreign policy tradition.
“It’s staying true to our democratic principles. It’s giving meaning to the human rights that we say are universal,” he added.
Once a staunch supporter of Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, India began engaging the junta in the mid-1990s as security, energy and strategic priorities came to the fore.
As well as needing the military regime’s help to counter the separatists along their common border, India is eyeing oil and gas fields in Myanmar and is eager to counter China’s growing influence there.
India in July welcomed Myanmar’s reclusive military leader Than Shwe for a state visit, outraging human rights groups who said it was reneging on its principles due to competition with China.
Obama devoted a section of his parliamentary address Monday to rights abuses in Myanmar, and accused its military rulers of stealing Sunday’s election there - the first in the Southeast Asian nation for 20 years.
“It is unacceptable to gun down peaceful protestors and incarcerate political prisoners decade after decade.
“It is unacceptable to steal an election, as the regime in Burma has done again for all the world to see,” he said.