In an unprecedented intervention, the United Nations Human Rights chief has moved the Supreme Court against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, drawing a strong condemnation from India on Tuesday that no foreign party has "any locus standi" on matters relating to its sovereignty.
The apex court is currently hearing a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the amended citizenship law and had on December 18 sought the response of the Centre.
In its 12-page intervention application, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights sought to "assist the court, in examining the compatibility of the CAA with India's Constitution, in light of India's obligations under the international human rights law".
The OHCHR welcomed as commendable the "stated purpose of the CAA" to protect "some persons from persecution on religious grounds", but raised the issue of exclusion of various sects of persecuted Muslims.
Asked whether the OHCHR can approach the Supreme Court, a government official familiar with the matter said it was for the apex court to take a decision.
In response to queries, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India's Permanent Mission in Geneva was informed on Monday evening by Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, that her office has filed an intervention application in the Supreme Court on the CAA.
"The CAA is an internal matter of India and concerns the sovereign right of the Indian Parliament to make laws. We strongly believe that no foreign party has any locus standi on issues pertaining to India's sovereignty," Kumar said.
India is clear that the CAA is constitutionally valid and complies with all requirements of its constitutional values, he said.
"It is reflective of our long standing national commitment in respect of human rights issues arising from the tragedy of the Partition of India," he added.
"India is a democratic country governed by the rule of law. We all have utmost respect for and full trust in our independent judiciary. We are confident that our sound and legally sustainable position will be vindicated by the Supreme Court," he said.
The CAA, which was notified on January 10, grants Indian citizenship to non-Muslim minorities -- Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian -- who migrated to India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh till December 31, 2014, following persecution over their faith.
The country has witnessed protests in the last two months over the new law with the opposition parties and rights groups terming it as violative of founding principles of the Constitution.
Rejecting the criticism, the government has been accusing the opposition parties of misleading people on the law for political gains.
Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Baijayant Panda slammed the UN body for its move. In a tweet, Panda said the OHCHR has "no shame" in opposing the CAA when it was aimed at providing help to persecuted minorities.
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel attacked the Modi government over the move by the OHCHR, saying it is an "unwarranted interference", but it is the Centre that is to be blamed for the "mess".
"No doubt that UN's intervening application is a case of unwarranted interference in our matters," Patel said in
"But who is to blame for this mess? The Government of India for creating a window for such interference by enacting a law which breaches global standards on human rights," the Congress treasurer said.
In its application, the OHCHR said, "The CAA can potentially benefit thousands of migrants in an irregular situation, including refugees, who might otherwise face obstacles in obtaining protection from persecution in their countries of origin including through the grant of citizenship. This is a commendable purpose."
It added however that there exist "religious minorities in these countries, especially of the Muslim faith, including Ahmadia, Hazara and Shia Muslims whose situations would warrant protection on the same basis as that provided in the preferential treatment proposed by the CAA".
The plea maintained that all migrants regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, nationality or immigration status enjoy human rights and are entitled to protection.
The OHCHR said the CAA raised important issues with respect to international human rights law and its application to migrants, including refugees.
The CAA also raises other issues "including its compatibility in relation to the right to equality before the law and non discrimination on nationality grounds under India's human rights obligations", the plea said.
Referring to several international covenants, it said India has "championed the right to equal protection of the law" and the right to equality before the law.
"Without prejudice to the power of States to establish migration policies as a manifestation of their sovereignty, including measures in favour of migrants that may be subject to persecution and other serious human rights violations/irreparable harm in their countries of origin or previous residence, States must ensure migration governance measures are in accordance with international human rights law, including the right to equality before the law, equal protection of the law ...," it said.
The plea urged the top court to take into account the international human rights law, norms and standards, in the proceedings related to CAA and termed it "important" for India and its diverse communities which have been welcomed by the State.