Posts Tagged ‘Karimganj’

Assam: NHRC asks reports on intimidation of human rights defender

January 16, 2018

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued direction to authorities in Assam calling for a report on allegations of abuse, threats and false case on human rights defender Mr Sishir Dey of Karimganj. The direction of NHRC came on a complaint filed by Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) on 13 December 2017 after the voluntary organization came to know about the abuses and intimidation of the practicing lawyer and rights defender.

Sishir Dey

Sishir Dey

The abuse and intimidation came after Mr Dey posted a short satirical comment on facebook on 8 December 2017 denouncing terrorism in the name of Hindu religion and violent ideas of Hindu political groups. His comment was made in the context of a video of a gruesome murder of a migrant labourer in Rajasmand district of Rajasthan state on 6 December 2017 that was circulating on internet where one Shambu Raigar, the perpetrator, was seen boasting about the murder and claiming that he did it as a warning against inter-religious relationship which he called “love jihad”. For denouncing this heinous crime and display of barbarism, Mr Dey received vulgar abuses and outright threats of physical assaults and murder. A complaint was also filed at the Karimganj Sadar police station against Mr Dey.

It was apparent that Mr Dey was at risk of physical and mental harm from the supporters of concerned political groups as well as of harassment by the police. In the circumstances, BHRPC intervened and filed a complaint at NHRC and informed national and international groups dedicated to protection of human rights defenders including Human Rights Defenders Alert, India and Dublin based Front Line Defenders. BHRPC has also sent a separate communication to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The direction of NHRC asking for reports within four weeks was communicated to BHRPC on 16 January 2018.

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Assam human rights defender Mr Sishir Dey abused, threatened and booked for comment over Rajasthan murder

December 13, 2017

After practising lawyer and human rights defender Mr Sishir Dey of Karimganj district in Assam (India) posted a short satirical comment on facebook on 8 December 2017 denouncing terrorism in the name of Hindu religion and violent ideas of Hindu political groups, he received abusive and intimidating comments and outright threats with physical assaults and murder. The comment was made in the context of video of a gruesome murder of a migrant labourer in Rajasthan state on 6 December 2017 that was circulating on internet where the perpetrator was seen boasting about the murder and claiming that he did it as a warning against inter-religious relationship. A complaint was also filed at the Karimganj Sadar police station against Mr Dey. Mr Dey is at risk of physical and mental harm from the supporters of concerned political groups as well as of harassment by the police.

Sishir Dey

Sishir Dey

Mr Sishir Day is a lawyer practising at the Karimganj district courts. He is a voluntary member of Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (Registered vide no. RS/CA/ 243/B/61 of 2002-03), a voluntary human rights organisation mainly documenting and making legal intervention in cases of violations in Assam. He is responsible for reporting violations of human rights in the district. He is also honorary secretary of the district committee of Assam Mojuri Sramik Union (Registered Vide No. 2287 under the Trade Union Act) a lobour rights defending organisation. He is an active member of Forum for Social Harmony, a platform  fromed collectively by different social activists and human rights defender groups  of south Assam to combat the religious violence and protect peaceful co-existence of communities in the area.

On 6 December 2017 a video was uploaded on internet by one Shambhulal Regar or Shambhu Bhawani, an inhabitant of Rajsamand district in Rajasthan state. In that video it was seen that he was killing a man by hacking him with a hammer like weapon in cold-blood. He then burnt that man pouring some kind of liquid that looked like petrol over the body of that half-dead man. He said that he murdered that person because that person had committed “Love Jihad”, a term used by the Hindhu religious extremists to denote inter-religious marriage or relationship as a form of Islamic terrorism. Later on, the murdered man was identified as Mr. Afrajul Haque (aged 48), a migrant labourer from Maldah in West-Bengal state. That video went viral and created mixed reactions among people. The progressive, humanitarian and human rights defender groups condemned this brutal act and denounced those political and religious groups that support and encourage violence in the name of religion, religious identity and religious sentiments. However, some other people also tried to rationalise and justify this kind of violence and killings on social media platforms and applauded Mr Regar by putting his picture as their profile picture. In that context, Mr Sishir Dey posted a public ‘status’ on his Facebook wall on 8 December 2017 stating in Bengali that “রামভক্ত বাদরের দল ও তাদের পাশবিক সঙ্ঘী ভাবাদর্শ তথা হিন্দু সন্ত্রাশবাদ নিপাত যাক।” which translates as “Down with the Ram devotee apes, their Sanghi brutal ideas and Hindu-terrorism”. After he made the post, abusive and threatening comments started to pour in the comment section of his post. Abuses and threats were also posted by some people in their own facebook pages. They accused him of hurting their religious sentiments and threatened him with assaults and murders. On 10 December a complaint was also filed against him in the  Karimganj Police Station by Mr. Debdulal Das and Mr. Pankaj Das, both identified themselves as the President and Vice-President of Bharatiya Janata Party Yuba Morcha, North Karimhanj Block Mondal, the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP is the political party which is now running governments both at Assam state and Union of India. However, till the time of writing this report it could not be confirmed if the complaint was registered by the police.

After the BJP formed governments both at union in 2014 and in Assam state in 2016, India has been witnessing a rise of religious fundamentalism and politically motivated violence. Before, the perpetrators of violence committed in the name of religions and violations of human rights by state agencies did not enjoy the kind of political support and impunity as they are getting now. Many Muslim youth were killed in the name of cow protection, and protection of women from alleged “love-jihad” and other excuses.  South Assam, also known as Barak valley, is a relatively peaceful area in the state. But now it is evident that to gain political advantage a group of people are trying to flare up communal violence in the valley. Recently a relatively new Kolkata (in West Bengal state) based outfit known as Hindhu Samhati called a conference on 2 December, 2017 at Silchar, the main town in Barak valley, where some of their leaders delivered communally provocative speeches and tried to polarise people in the name of religion. One of their guest speakers Mr. Debatanu Bashu openly asked his followers to go for mass killing of the Muslim people in the valley*. In this connection a first information report (FIR) was registered by police but no further actions were taken. In this background it appears that the abuse, threats and complaint against Mr Dey were an effort to create an environment of fear among the human rights defenders and progressive community workers.

Mr Dey is at risk of getting physically assaulted and even killed by the extremists who issued threats. He is also likely to be harassed by the police in connection with the complaint against him, though it does not attract any penal provisions. There are also concerns about safety and physical and mental wellbeing of his family and friends and other human rights defenders working in Assam.

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* News report can be seen at https://youtu.be/pUTRegymhKs

 

Human rights defenders severely beaten up by a government officer in Karimganj, NHRC moved

December 18, 2015

Press statement

18 December, 2015

Guwahati: Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has today filed a complaint and appeal for urgent actions to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) regarding a case of assault and intimidation of two human rights defenders in Karimganj district of Assam by a government official and his accomplices.

According to information received by BHRPC, anti-corruption and labour rights activist Mr Shyamraj Rajbhor and his wife Ms Aradhana Rajbhor, who is also an activist in her own right, were badly beaten up causing serious injuries on 2 December, 2015 allegedly by Mr P K Roy, Block Development Officer (BDO), Ramkrishna Nagar Block (in Karimganj district of Assam) and his accomplices. It is obvious that the attack was carried out to intimidate them and members of their organisation Mojuri Sramik Union (MSU) into silence on the matter of alleged corruption relating to allotment of a house under Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), a central government flagship programme to provide housing for the rural poor in India. The activists obtained relevant documents under the Right to Information Act, 2005 that showed that funds under the scheme were allotted to a person not eligible for IAY benefits depriving the actual beneficiaries. Their complaints in the matter were ignored by the BDO for a long time. But when they pursued further the BDO tricked them into coming to a house of one Mr Ravi Malakar where he and his other accomplices severely beat them up causing serious injuries. They had to be given treatment as in-patients for seven days in the Santosh Kumar Roy Civil Hospital. They are still recuperating.

Despite filing complaints to the police and district authorities no actions against the alleged perpetrators have been taken. Mr and Ms Rajbhor and members of the MSU are apprehending more such attacks in view of the lack of any deterrent actions and preventive measures.

In its complaint BHRPC urged the NHRC to ensure registration of a case against the attackers, their arrest, prompt and objective investigation, payment of compensation to the victims and arrangement of proper security for members of MSU and other human rights defenders working in the area.

Reports of the case have also been sent to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders for appropriate actions and other national and international organisations that look after the security of human rights defenders including the Human Rights Defenders Alert– India, Asian Human Rights Commission, International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Amnesty International.

For further information you may contact

Mr Nirmal Kumar Das

Mobile: +919435238753

Or BHRPC at bhrpc.ne@gmail.com

Assam: Human rights defenders intimidated and beaten up in Karimganj district allegedly by a government official and his hired goons

December 18, 2015

Anti-corruption and labour rights activist Mr Shyamraj Rajbhor and his wife Ms Aradhana Rajbhor, who is an activist in her own right, were badly beaten up causing serious injuries on 2 December, 2015 allegedly by Mr P K Roy, Block Development Officer (BDO), Ramkrishna Nagar Block (in Karimganj district of Assam) and his accomplices presumably to intimidate them and members of their organisation Mojuri Sramik Union (MSU) into silence on the matter of alleged corruption relating to allotment of a house under Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), a central government flagship programme to provide housing for the rural poor in India. Despite filing complaint to the police and district authorities no actions against the alleged perpetrators have been taken. Mr and Ms Rajbhor and members of the MSU are apprehending more such attacks in view of lack of any deterrent actions and preventive measures.

Background: The MSU is a trade union registered under the Trade Union Act, 1926 vide registration number 2648 dated 29/10/2015. The main office of the union is located at Ratanpur Road, Hailakandi district in Assam. The primary objectives of the union include: 1. Ensuring security and welfare of the labourers of unorganised sectors and the tea garden labourers; 4. Proper implementation of the government schemes and programmes meant for the welfare of the poor people such as (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), IAY etc.; 4. Proper implementation of Public Distribution System etc. They mainly work through peaceful street activism like rally, demonstrations etc.; and also use Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005 to expose and fight corruption whenever necessary and other legal mechanisms including litigation in courts of law, if necessary.

34 year old Mr Shyamraj Rajbhor is the Secretary of Block Committee of the MSU for Ramkrishna Nagar Development Block and Ms Aradhana Rajbhor (32) is his wife and a member of the union. Both of them are residents of village Rajnagar (Post Office: Purva Harinagar) under Ramkrishna Nagar Police Station in Karimganj district, Assam. At the time of attack they were involved in works on alleged corruption relating to allotment of fund for IAY house. At the local level the authority of such allotment rests with the BDO.

According to leaders of the union, documents obtained through application under the RTI Act suggested that there were mis-allocation and misappropriation of fund under IAY scheme. The union members said that it was found that fund for a house had been allotted to a person who did not come under the category specified for the scheme because their name was not there in the lists of Below Poverty Line (BPL) families for whom the scheme is meant. The MSU, therefore, filed a complaint on 16 June, 2015 regarding the matter in the BDO office. The BDO after a long delay conducted a hearing on the case and said that he would inspect all relevant documents and would also conduct a spot verification on 2 December, 2015. But on the stipulated date when Mr Shyamraj Rajbhor went to the BDO office to produce the documents obtained through RTI application as well as the lists of BPL candidates of the area etc., he found that the BDO had already left the office. When Mr Rajbhor called him up he was asked to go to the house of one Mr Ravi Malakar of village Rajnagar in Ramkrishna Nagar area.

The incident: According to Mr Rajbhor, he along with some other union members and the supposed beneficiaries of the IYA in the area who were deprived due to the mis-allocation went to the said house, but the house owner did not permit them to enter his premises. Later on, after further telephonic conversations with the BDO, who was already inside the house, Mr Ravi Malakar informed that he would allow only Mr Rajbhor to come inside and meet the BDO. Accordingly Mr Rajbhor accompanied the house owner and met the BDO.  Mr Rajbhor produced the documents regarding the alleged wrong allocation of IAY housing fund but the BDO claimed that the documents were false and the particular house regarding which the complaint was made was that very house of Mr Ravi Malakar. But when Mr Rajbhor insisted that it was not true, the BDO got furious and started abusing and hitting, punching and kicking him. Then the other eight persons present there, who were allegedly hired by the BDO, namely Mr Shibu Das, Mr Paplu Dev, Mr Jontu Das, Mr Piklu Dev, Mr  Shundangshu Dev, Mr Moni Malakar and Mr Ravi Malakar also started beating him up. They repeatedly punched him on the head, face and other parts of the body. They also kicked him when he fell down on the floor. Hearing hue and cry generated by this Ms Aradhana Rajbhor also entered the premises and came forward to help her husband. She was also assaulted and molested by the perpetrators, according to her. When the other persons along with the driver of their vehicle tried to enter the premises another two persons stopped them in the gate and threatened to beat them up brandishing bamboo sticks. They also snatched the files containing the documents regarding the alleged corruption. When Mr Rajbhor almost became senseless the perpetrators took him aboard a Bollero car and started to move the vehicle but again threw him out a few metres away. Then his companions took him and his wife to the local hospital from where they were referred to the Santosh Kumar Roy Civil Hospital in Hailakandi town. They were admitted there and treated for seven days. Thereafter, they were released with the prescription of one month’s complete bed rest. At the time of filing this report they were still under medications.

Aftermath: A complaint detailing the incident was lodged on 2 December, 2015 at Ramkrishna Nagar Police Station. According to the MSU members, no case was registered till date and the statements of the victims and the witnesses were not recorded. According to Union President Mr Altaf Khan, “the attitude of the police is very questionable as the miscreants are not arrested till now”. Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) is concerned that if no action is immediately taken against the alleged perpetrators the path of justice for the victims may get difficult and such intimidating attacks on human rights defenders working in the area may be repeated.

Recommendations: 1. A case under the appropriate sections of law should immediately be registered against the accused BDO and his accomplices.

  1. All the accused including the BDO should be arrested immediately.
  1. A prompt and objective investigation into the case should be conducted under the supervision of a Deputy Superintendent of Police leading to filing of charge sheets as soon as possible.
  1. Adequate amount of interim compensation as well as ex-gratia for their treatments should be paid to the victims.
  1. The state should provide security to the leading members of the Mojuri Sramik Union and other human rights defenders who are at risk of such attacks.
  1. An additional case of misappropriation of public money by the public servant must be registered regarding the wrong allotment of Indira Awas Yojana.
  1. Any other appropriate actions for creating a safe and friendly environment for those who are defending rights of people guaranteed under the constitution of India and human rights treatises to which India is a state party.

NHRC pulls up Assam over hunger deaths and rights violations

May 29, 2012

Guwahati, 29 May 2012: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) pulled up the government of Assam over hunger deaths of tea labourers and other cases of human rights violations. In its camp sitting in Guwahati held on 28 May 2012 the NHRC heard about 50 pending cases relating to Assam state of North East India.

’Out of 17 cases, which the full commission heard, at least 6 cases were closed after the commission got satisfactory answers from the state authorities. In the other cases, the commission has given time to the authorities to respond to its recommendations. The commission recommended about rupees (Indian currency) 1.8 million (18 lakh) as monetary relief in different cases of human rights violations’, NHRC said in a release to the press.

‘In the matter relating to starvation deaths in the Bhuvan valley tea estate in Cachar district, the commission has asked the state government to pay rupees 0.2 million each to the two tea garden workers and rupees 0.1 million (1 lakh) each to about 13 dependents of the workers who died due to starvation. The Commission has also directed the state government to inquire whether the Tea Association of India (TAI) was distributing the food grains properly among the workers or not’ said the NHRC. The government provides the tea workers with food items from the Public Distribution System (PDS) through the TAI which is not favorably seen by the commission.

The NHRC release further stated that in a case relating to rehabilitation of children rendered orphan or destitute in communal riots in upper Assam districts, the commission asked the state government to identify the child victims without any further delay and give financial assistance to them and sent compliance report along with proof of payment within eight weeks. The Commission observed that it is the negligence of officers that led to orphaned children not getting timely assistance despite the fact that so many years have past since the riots.

In the cases relating to force prostitution of three women in Cachar district, the commission asked the state government to pay rupees one lakh each to the three victims. The government was also asked to inquire whether there was any organized activity going on in the state ofAssamto bring girls from Meghalaya to Cachar and Silchar and forced them into prostitution. The authorities have been asked to take action against the guilty.

On the issue of witch hunting, the state authorities admitted that this practice is prevalent in backward and distantly located places. During last five years, about 88 women and over 40 men  became victims of such incidents. The commission has asked the state authorities to create awareness among people and strive for fast investigation and speedy trial in incidents of witch hunting to at the deterrent.

The commission also heard encounter and custodial death cases in its two division benches and asked the police authorities to scrupulously adhere to its guidelines and submit all the reports to the commission timely for early disposal of such cases.

The Assam based human rights group Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), the group that has been reporting the starvation deaths of tea workers and fighting for their cause and complainant in several other cases, said that this move of the NHRC to dispose of pending cases expediently and to reach out to the remote areas in a bid to sensitize the government officials and talk with the civil society groups are great steps and have been long overdue. This will go a long to protect rights of the people encouraging the independent human rights defenders and the recommendations and observations of the NHRC will work as strong disincentive to the potential violators among the officials.

NHRC to hear starvation deaths and rights violation cases in North East India

May 27, 2012


Guwahati, 27 May 2012: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will hear cases of human rights violations concerning Assam and Meghalaya including the cases of starvation deaths of the tea workers in Cachar district in camp sitting in Guwahati and Shillong from 28 May to 30 May 2012.

In the Assam sitting at North-Eastern Development Finance Corporation (NEDFi) house,G.S. Road, Guwahati on 28 May about 50 pending cases will be heard and disposed of. Alongside the hunger deaths in the Bhuvan valley tea estate, other important cases to be considered include land-grabbing and deprivation of sources of livelihood of 300 families who face eviction in Karimganj district, alleged eviction of about 6000 adivasis by forest officials from Lungsun forest area in Kokrajhar district, rehabilitation of children rendered orphan or destitute in communal riots in upper Assam districts, denial of basic facilities to the residents of 22 villages in Kamrup district, witch hunting, sexual exploitation of women, illegal coal mining in Tinsukia district, deaths in encounter and custody.

The starvation deaths case and the case of land-grabbing have been filed by the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC).

In the former case the BHRPC has alleged that so far 15 people died in the Bhuvan valley tea estate, a tea garden owned by a Kolkata-based private company, due to starvation, malnutrition and lack of proper health care since 8 October 2011.

In the case of land-grabbing it has been alleged that around 300 families of traditional forest dwellers in and around Patharia forest reserve in Karimganj district have forcibly been deprived of their sources of livelihood and now living under severe threat of imminent eviction from their dwelling houses by some businessmen who reportedly grabbed lands measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) allegedly for rubber plantation in a village where the families of the forest dwellers have been living for generations depending on the forest produces for livelihood.

In both the cases the NHRC has already issued notices to the chief secretary ofAssamcalling for action taken reports.

In a release to the press the NHRC said that a delegation headed by its chairperson Mr. Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and comprising of members, director general (nvestigation), registrar (law) and other senior officers will be in Guwahati, Assam from 28 to 29 May, 2012 and on 30 May, 2012 in Shillong, Meghalaya for its camp sittings.

The cases of Assam will be considered for disposal with necessary directions to the public authorities during the camp sitting at in NEDFi house. Out of the 50 cases, 17 cases will be heard at the full commission sitting chaired by Mr. Justice K G Balakrishnan. 12 cases will be taken up by the division bench comprising of Mr. Justice G.P. Mathur and Mr. P.C. Sharma. 21 cases will be taken up by the division bench comprising of Mr. Justice B.C. Patel and Mr. Satyabrata Pal.

The NHRC in the brief further stated that on 29 May, 2012 the commission will hold discussions with the chief secretary, district magistrates and concerned officers on the progress made by the state government on its recommendations relating to different human rights issues. These will include silicosis, mental health, manual scavenging, prison matters, labour issues, child marriage, prenatal sex selection, population policy etc. A meeting with local NGOs on human rights issues will also be held later in the day.

Cases relating to Meghalaya will be heard in the camp sitting at Hotel Pinewood, Shillong from on 30 May, 2012. The commission will take up nine pending cases, which will be heard by the full fommission and the two division benches respectively. These will include issues of child labour in coalmines, dead male foetus found in several parts in the state, deaths in police firing, torture of labourers at West Garo Hills by Border Security Force (BSF) personnel and ostracization of 17 families facing denial of food grains for 72 months.

In the afternoon session the commission will hold discussions, with senior officers on the progress made by the state government on its recommendations relating to different human rights issues. These issues will include mental health, 28 district programmes, labour issues, manual scavenging, child marriage, prenatal sex selection, population policy and custodial death cases among others.

The Assam government’s eviction drive in Karimganj violates human rights

April 5, 2012

Press statement                                                                                                                                                                                       

For Immediate release

The Assam government’s eviction drive in Karimganj violates human rights: BHRPC

The government ofAssamhas sent a 160 member-strong task force of forest officers to forcibly evict both the ‘encroachers’ and ‘other traditional forest dwellers’ living in the reserve forests of Karimganj district. A huge police force from both the state police and the central reserve police force (CRPF) have been placed at their disposal. The BHRPC is deeply concerned about the danger of forcible eviction of an estimated 300 families of forest dwellers living in Patharia reserve forest for generations.

In the course of a fact-finding study conducted by the BHRPC in Patharia reserve forest that has approximately 7647.300 hectares of land it was revealed that some businessmen grabbed lands measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) falling in and around Patharia reserve forest for rubber cultivation allegedly in connivance with the local politician Minister of state for co-operative and border areas development Mr Siddeque Ahmed. The lands provided the residents of Satkoragul, Mokkergul and Bhitorgul villages in Nilambazar with the only means of livelihoods and dwelling places. As the rubber planters grabbed their lands the villagers lost their livelihoods and now living half-starved for months. Although the Minister later denied his involved he maintained that the lands belonged to the land and revenue department and the department has leased the land to a non-government organization called Asalkandi Grameen Bikash Kendra, while the forest department claimed that the lands belong to it. The villagers claim that although the largest part of their land falls in the reserve forest, one part is farag (Zamindari) land and another small part is government khas (unalotted) land.

After the villagers staged several protest demonstrations and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) registered a case (NHRC Case No. 99/3/10/2012) in the matter on a complaint filed by the BHRPC and the matter was brought to the notice of other authorities including the Prime Minister, the government of Assam made some moves, most of which are in not in right intent and directions. Two deputy rangers, one assistant ranger and one beat officer in the forest department were suspended for dereliction in duties. On the other hand, two officials of the revenue department posted at the Nilambazar circle office were also suspended for fabricating false lease documents showing forest land as land under the revenue department as found by an inquiry conducted by Karimganj sub-divisional magistrate N Shanti Singh. Despite a writ petition is pending before the Gauhati High Court in the matter of claim of the forest department that farag title has no validity and the entire plot of land is forest land, the government has started forcible eviction even from these disputed parts of land. The task force has been deployed apparently to recapture the forest land from rubber planters as well as other ‘encroachers’. The operation has been going on since 3 April in Dohalia reserve forest and at any moment they can use force against the inhabitants of Patharia.

When contacted by the BHRPC (on 4 April) the conservator of forest, southern range, Mr. Abdus Shahid Laskar has confirmed that the government does not recognize the forest rights of the traditional and other traditional forest dwellers under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. He warned that the land-grabbers and the forest dwellers would be dealt with similarly. By launching a misinterpretation of law he categorically asserted that anything that has happened after declaring the area as reserve forest in 1920 has no validity implying that any human settlement made after that year can not be considered under the Forest Rights Act in flagrant contradiction to the express provisions of clause (o) of section 2 of Act that defines “other traditional forest dweller” as any member or community who has for at least three generations prior to the 13th day of December, 2005 primarily resided in and who depend on the forest or forests land for bona fide livelihood needs. He also falsely claimed that there was a public hearing held by the British colonialists in 1920s and they did not find any human habitation within the area. Nonetheless, the dwellers claim that they have been living there for generations spanning more than 75 years.

Moreover, the forcible eviction involves violations of a host of fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution ofIndiaas well as basic human rights enshrined in the international human rights instruments such as right to life with dignity, right to livelihood, right to adequate housing, right to freedom of residence etc. Especially for people who settled in reserve forests and eke out a livelihood in connection with their habitat and environment by cultivation or other professional activities are now facing a grave threat to their livelihood, as their access to their forest habitat will predictably be denied to them, in case of the effectuation of the eviction drive.

The BHRPC thinks there are strong reasons to suspect the bona fide of this drive of forced eviction since there are many a cases when forest land has been reclaimed from forest dwellers only to be utilized in the interest of a class of rich businessmen, local mafia and other vested interests. Needless to say, such a powerful lobby of interests is also acting behind this move by the forest department to evict and reclaim the forest land so that they can take over slowly the land recovered. There is no guarantee that the land that is reclaimed by way of eviction today will remain as forest land tomorrow, once there are no forest dwellers. Such a land could be easily utilized by vested interests for their own purposes even while keeping the land under the ownership of the forest department. Reserve forest without dwellers in every part ofAssamis getting denuded in the absence of any accountability of the concerned government and its agencies. Two categories of land could be identified in cases of reclamation: land with unspoilt forest and land with denuded forest. Patahria forest, being of the first category constitutes an easy allurement for vested interests to work through abuse of legal power of forest department and police to deny rights of settlers as per Forest Rights Act. The disused rights of forest settlers of Patahria wields this cruel promise of reclamation, a programme that only marks use of brute force against helpless victim-residents in Pataharia forest.

The BHRPC has filed a supplementary submission at the NHRC in the case that was registered in this regard urging the commission to pass an interim recommendation calling upon the authorities to halt the eviction drive immediately and stop the destruction of vegetables and other crops grown by the villagers; to take urgent actions to restore immediately possession of the land to the villagers and reiterated its earlier demands that the villagers should be provided with adequate monetary compensation for loss of property and mental agony caused by destruction of forest and vegetables and corps grown by them, dispossession of land and threat of imminent danger to life and limb; the victims and witnesses should be provided with adequate security; a prompt, fair and objective inquiry should be conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation particularly into the alleged crimes and involvement of the minister therein; the rights of the other traditional forest dwellers under the FRA, 2006 of the villagers who have been living there for generations should be recognized; the khas lands that are possessed by the villagers uninterruptedly for generations and who are otherwise landless should be settled in their names as per government policy; and all other actions and measures necessary to ensure full enjoyment of the rights to life with dignity under adequate standard of living by the villagers should also be taken.

For more information please contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

wali.laskar@gmail.com

+91 9401942234

5 April 2012

 Guwahati

This statement was also forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission and can be accessed at their website at http://www.humanrights.asia/news/forwarded-news/AHRC-FST-023-2012

UN envoy asks India to repeal AFSPA and other draconian laws

March 30, 2012

Press Statement – Country Mission to India Christof Heyns, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 19 – 30 March 2012

 

At the invitation of the Government of India, I conducted an official visit to this country from 19 to 30 March 2012. I travelled toNew Delhi, as well as to five States, namely: Gujarat; Kerala;Jammu and Kashmir, where I had meetings in the cities ofJammuandSrinagar;Assam; andWest Bengal.

I am grateful to the Government of India for extending an invitation to my mandate. I am further particularly thankful to the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Mr. Patrice Coeur-Bizot, and his team, for having facilitated the preparation and conduct of my mission.

During this country visit, I had the opportunity to meet with Secretaries from the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Law and Justice, officials from the Ministry of Defence and other Ministries at Union level. At State level, I met the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, State Chief Secretaries and other Secretaries; Commissioners, Directors General and other relevant officers of the Police; and other senior officials. I also visited the Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission and the Assam Human Rights Commission. In addition, I held meetings with the United Nations agencies, as well as a wide range of domestic and international non-governmental organisations, lawyers, witnesses, and victims and their families.

My mission focussed in particular on the right to life in the context of the use of force by the police and the armed forces, and on the possible impact on the right to life of cultural practices.

My provisional conclusions are as follows:

A) General comments

India, often described as the world’s largest democracy, has a Constitution that guarantees a wide range of human rights, and is a living document, supported by broad public endorsement and enforced by a strong Supreme Court, whose human rights jurisprudence is respected worldwide. The right to life (article 21 of the Constitution) in particular has been given an extensive interpretation by the courts.

There is a robust press, and a vibrant and engaged human rights civil society.Indiahas ratified a number of international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

At the same timeIndiafaces many challenges to the realisation of human rights, including movements aimed at separation or greater local autonomy, Maoist or Naxalite, insurgency, organised crime, and communal organisations opposed to secularism, plurality and equality.Indiaaccommodates a huge diversity in terms of religion, languages and culture, largely in a remarkably peaceful way.  The state structure is federal in nature.

The challenge to protect, promote and respect the right to life is undeniably a real one. It is of concern however that despite constitutional guarantees and a robust human rights jurisprudence, extrajudicial killings is a matter of serious concern inIndia. However, it is important to emphasise the solution to these issues largely lies within the system itself.

While data available on extrajudicial executions inIndiais not easy to obtain, in some parts, particularly in conflict areas where political dialogue has been initiated by the government, or where there has been a concerted shift to move away from such occurrences, the last couple of years appear to have seen a drop in respect of unlawful killings. This momentum – and the general commitment to human rights in the country – should now be captured to obliterate the unacceptable levels of deadly violence that remain, and assume higher moral ground.

While I will make some concrete proposals about changes to be affected, I will also propose a process to be followed to address this issue.

Indiahas not hosted many Human Rights Council special procedures. In 2011 it extended an open invitation to special procedures, and to its credit it admitted, for the first visit under this open invitation, the mandate on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, a mandate covering an area in which it faces well-documented challenges. This reflects a commendable willingness to engage with the issue of unlawful killings in a constructive manner – giving further credence to the view that there may at the moment be a window of opportunity to take significant and decisive steps forward on this issue.

B) Concerns

I have the following concerns about unlawful killings, both in terms of prevention and accountability:

  1. Use of force by State actors

a) Police

There are complaints of use of excessive force by the police against unarmed demonstrators and protestors, with scant adherence to the principles of proportionality and necessity.

Disproportionate use of force during demonstrations has resulted in over 100 deaths, in 2010 inJammu and Kashmir, while elsewhere, such as inNew Delhi, many demonstrations occur without bloodshed. I have been told by the police of a few states that they have recently started using less lethal weapons and other more modern methods of crowd control.

Salutary guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in the D.K.Basu judgment on arrest, detention and interrogation, many of which have been incorporated through amendments in the Code of Criminal Procedure, are not sufficiently complied with.

Significantly, problems concerning excessive and arbitrary use of force by the police are further aggravated by statutory immunities that restrict accountability.  Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code requires prior sanction from the concerned government before cognizance can be taken of any offence by a public servant for criminal prosecution.

A practice of what is called ‘fake encounters’ has developed in parts of the country. Where this occurs, suspected criminals or those labelled as terrorists or insurgents, and in some cases people on whose head there is a prize, are shot dead by the police, and a scene of a shootout is staged. Those killed are then portrayed as the aggressors who had first opened fire and the police escape legal sanction. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) 2 965 cases of ‘encounters’ have been reported between 1993 and 2010, though there is possibly under-reporting.

While the use of ‘encounters’ to eliminate criminals has decreased since the 1990s, it is nevertheless being deployed to target others.

A seminal case from Andhra Pradesh is currently pending before the Supreme Court wherein the High court had held that in situations where deaths occur at the hands of police in cases of alleged returning fire, a first information report (FIR) must be registered, the case investigated and the claim of self-defence by the police proven in a trial before the court.

In a positive development, the Supreme Court and the NHRC have issued guidelines on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and on encounters.

b) Custodial deaths

There have been a large number of cases recorded on deaths that have occurred in police as well as judicial custody, often in the context of torture.  I have been assured by Government representatives that the process of passing the legislation on torture as proposed by the Select Committee of the Upper House is well under way, which will allow the ratification of the Convention Against Torture. Needless to say this proposed legislation must be compliant with CAT and must include the mandatory provisions of training of police, prison cadre and other forces as well as orientation of the judiciary.

c) Armed Forces

The Armed Forces are deployed in so-called ‘disturbed areas’ in the North East and inJammu and Kashmir.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in effect allows the state to override rights in the ‘disturbed areas’ in a much more intrusive way than would be the case under a state of emergency, since the right to life is in effect suspended, and this is done without the safeguards applicable to states of emergency. ^

AFSPA – continuously in force since 1958 (different states have their own versions as well) in the North East and since 1990 inJammu and Kashmir– has become a symbol of excessive state power. I have heard extensive evidence of action taken under this law that resulted in innocent lives being lost, inJammu and Kashmirand inAssam, where witnesses from neighbouring states also assembled. This law was described to me as ‘hated’ and a member of a state human rights commission called it ‘draconian’.

A law such as AFSPA has no role to play in a democracy and should be scrapped. The repeal of this law will not only bring domestic law more in line with international standards, but also send out a powerful message that instead of a military approach the government is committed to respect for the right to life of all people of the country.

The government-appointed Jeevan Reddy Committee and the Administrative Reform Commission have both called for its repeal; as have political leaders of states where the Act applies. The NHRC told me during our meeting that they are in favour of its repeal and that they have commented in their submission to the 2012 UPR that AFSPA often leads to the violation of human rights. It is therefore difficult to understand how the Supreme Court, which has been so progressive in other areas, also concerning the right to life, could have ruled in 1997 that AFSPA did not violate the Constitution – although they tried, seemingly with little success, to mitigate its impact by issuing guidelines on how it is to be implemented.

AFSPA clearly violates International Law.  A number of UN treaty bodies have pronounced it to be in violation of International Law, namely HRC (1997), CEDAW (2007), CERD (2007) and CESCR (2008). My predecessor has also called for its repeal.

The widespread deployment of the military creates an environment in which the exception becomes the rule, and the use of lethal force is seen as the primary response to conflict with a concomitant permissive approach in respect of the use of lethal force. This is also difficult to reconcile in the long run withIndia’s insistence that it is not engaged in armed conflict.

Accountability is circumvented by invoking AFSPA’s requirement of obtaining prior sanction from the Central government before any civil prosecutions can be initiated against armed forces personnel. The information received through Right to Information applications, shows that this immunity provision effectively blocks any prosecution of members of the armed forces. The Centre has for example never granted sanction for civil prosecution of a member of the armed forces inJammu and Kashmir.

d) Death penalty

Indian law continues to provide for the death penalty, and in around 100 cases per year this sentence is imposed. However, once imposed, there seems to be little appetite to execute. The last execution was in 2004, although another execution has just been stayed at the last minute during the writing of this report.

It is a matter of concern that the death penalty may be imposed for a (seemingly growing) number of crimes that cannot be regarded as ‘the most serious crimes’ referred to in article 6 of the ICCPR  as internationally understood, namely crimes involving intentional killing. For example, the death penalty may be imposed for kidnapping for ransom under Sec. 364A IPC and has also been proposed in the Prevention of Torture Bill and for drug-related offences. I intend to follow up on the concerns expressed that the categories of capital crimes are being expanded.

The phrase ‘rarest of the rare cases’ (taken from Bachan Singh v State of Punjab) is often used to describe the Indian approach to the death penalty. However, this may create the wrong impression, since the list of crimes for which this sentence may be imposed is still much wider than the one provided for under international law. Even if the death penalty is not implemented, those who had been sentenced to death remain on death row for extraordinarily long periods, while, as one interlocutor put it, ‘they remain hanging there’.

My attention was drawn to the case of Ravji alias Ram Chandra v. State of Rajasthan (1996) 2 SCC 175, where the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence and held that circumstances pertaining to the criminal need not be considered, in spite of earlier authority to the contrary. Subsequently, in seven cases, the Supreme Court invoked the precedent of Ravji Rao’s case to foreclose inquiry into the circumstances pertaining to the prisoner. A total of 14 prisoners were sentenced to death by the Supreme Court on the basis of flawed legal reasoning. Out of these 14 prisoners, two – including Ravji – have been executed.

2) Use of force by non-state actors

a) Terrorists, criminals and others

Deadly violence has been used by Maoists, insurgents, and terrorists. The callous nature in which lives, often of innocent civilians, are taken by these non-state actors needs to be condemned strongly. The state has a right to defend itself against such aggression, provided it abides by the international standards in this regard. The state however cannot adopt unlawful or unconstitutional means or create a vigilante force to counter such violence.

b) Communal violence

I have heard evidence regarding a number of instances where inter-community violence has occurred, resulting in large-scale loss of life. In particular I have met with a large number of people who lost relatives during theGujaratkillings of Muslims in 2002 and the Kandhamal killings of Christians in 2007/8, during which between 1200 – 2500 people and between 50 and 100 people, respectively, were reportedly killed. It is a matter of regret that theGujaratauthorities at the last minute cancelled the meetings we had scheduled during the mission.

In these cases grave allegations of direct state involvement in the killings has been made; moreover in all cases the state has the responsibility to protect citizens against such violence.

The phenomenon of mass and targeted communal violence clearly poses a significant threat to the right to life, also because it sets into motion a cycle of violence that stretches over the years. One of the problems here is that the role of the police and other agencies of the state in these situations could involve bias against minorities. I will further examine this issue.

A number of people have proposed the introduction of the doctrine of some form of ‘command responsibility’ and ‘superior responsibility’, in domestic law, to hold culpable persons in positions of political, civil and administrative power and authority, complicit in the communal violence. I will also examine this matter further.

c)  Traditional practices affecting women

‘Honour’ killings occur where a woman is killed by her family or community because she has exercised her right to choose a partner, particularly when the partner belongs to a different community, caste or religion. This crime is reportedly on the ascendance.  It is currently dealt with as murder under the Indian Penal Code.  There have been suggestions that this be dealt with under a separate piece of legislation so as to highlight the unique nature of such killings.

Dowry deaths occur where a husband or his relatives are dissatisfied by the amount of dowry brought by the wife, and cause her death.  Special legal provisions have been enacted to punish this crime in the Indian Evidence Act. The unnatural death of a wife within seven years of marriage, under suspicious circumstances, including burning or other bodily injuries, and where she is known to have been harassed and treated cruelly  by her husband or his relatives on account of dowry,  creates a presumption that a dowry death has been committed by the husband or his relatives.

The branding of elderly and single women as witches, while largely associated with tribal areas is no longer confined to these regions. Property reasons often underlie these killings.

This is a difficult area for any state to address. While accountability and punishment is important in the context of the above gender-based killings, it is not clear that increasing the punishment, however severe, will lead to prevention. Ensuring certainty of conviction and some form of consequence to establish the norm seems to be more important. This is often difficult for a host of reasons, including the fact that there is general social sanction for the crime, and the police often do not address these killings as crimes. The values at stake are often viewed as more important than life itself. A change in the values themselves is therefore required, a task for which an institution such as the NHRC should be eminently suited.

3) Systemic challenges

a) Justice delayed is justice denied

The complaint is widely raised that the wheels of justice, when they turn, often do so too slowly. Legal proceedings drift for years, while the alleged perpetrators are out on bail and back in the community. The Nanavati Commission of Inquiry inGujarathas now taken 10 years without any concrete results. This is exacerbated by the symbolic importance of the events that are being investigated, and inevitably the conclusion will be drawn that this is not a matter of priority. Similarly, the Supreme Court in 2006 issued a directive for the establishment of Police Complaints Authorities, but in many cases this has not been done.

b) Perpetrators receive awards

Many of the people I interviewed whose family members had been killed, pointed out that the alleged perpetrators, belonging to the police or the armed forces, have been awarded out of turn promotions, or have in other ways been rewarded.

c) Compensation instead of prosecution

While in some cases of custodial death and death due to excessive use of force compensation is paid by the state, criminal investigation and prosecution against the perpetrators is rarely initiated. Consequently few if any are punished for violating the right to life. This is also a manifestation of a military as opposed to a rights based approach. It blunts the deterrent effect of the law and encourages impunity.

d) Burden on the victim

The burden of initiating civil, criminal or writ proceedings in cases of custodial deaths or ‘encounter’ killings, for compensation or securing accountability and punishment, is placed on the victim’s family. Their marginalised and vulnerable status cripples their ability to secure accountability for the violation of the right to life.

e) Form over substance  

Standards such as the Supreme Court and NHRC guidelines mentioned above are often not followed in practice. On most occasions, where the alleged accused are men in uniform, belonging to the police or the armed forces, registration of First Information Reports (FIR) is refused, further deterring access to justice. In case of ‘encounter’ killings, the police lodge the FIR under Sec. 301 IPC, for attempt to murder, naming the deceased as the accused and close the case. Families are also unable to access and secure autopsy reports. Laws and policies are mostly in place, but they are not implemented.

f) Statutory immunities and good faith clause

The statutory provisions of requirement of prior sanction, for a Court to take cognizance of offences committed by public servants, including the police and armed forces, while discharging official duty, coupled with the presumption of good faith for acts done, effectively renders them immune from criminal prosecution.

g) Marginalised groups

Groups such as the dalits and the adivasis are particularly vulnerable, also in respect of the right to life. The increased targeting of ‘right to information’ activists and human rights defenders by land, forest and mining interest groups has also been reported to me.

h) Witness and victim protection

The lack of a systematic witness and victim protection system places them at risk, and leads to impunity.

4. The role of the human rights institutions

The National Human Rights Commission has a proud record and has a critical role to play in the protection of the right to life, especially with reference to ensuring strict compliance with its Guidelines on Encounter Killings.

The NHRC presently seems, from my interaction with them, to be taking a largely legalistic and deferential approach. During our discussions the approach on a number of points was that there are laws in place to deal with matters, and nothing more is required.

The state human rights institutions inspire little confidence. The Manipur Human Rights Commission was for all practical purposes closed after it challenged abuse of power by the police. A member of another state commission told me the commission was ‘subordinate’ to the government – there was not even pretence of independence. In West-Bengal, NGOs showed me how the number of cases they refer to the Commission has dropped to zero for 2012, because it serves no purpose.

The fact that lodging a complaint with a state commission blocks access to the NHRC raises the question whether their presence helps or hinders complainants.

C) Conclusions

There is reason for serious concern about extrajudicial executions. The National Human Rights Commission has on occasion said ‘extrajudicial executions have become virtually a part of state policy’. The position may have improved in some respects, but has not been resolved, and the legacy of the past is bound to continue into the future.

To a large extent the required structures to decrease extrajudicial executions are already in place. The steps to be taken have also by and large been identified within the system. What is required is a concerted and systematic effort by the state, civil society and all others concerned to eradicate its occurrence. In this process some of the best practices that are already followed in the country should be used as models for reform elsewhere. I have been impressed, for example, by the measures taken inKeralaStateto make the police force more responsive to the needs of the public.

Impunity for extrajudicial executions is the central problem. This gives perpetrators a free reign, and leaves victims in a situation where they either are left helpless, or have to retaliate. The obstacles to accountability that are in place – in particular the need for prior sanction of prosecutions – should be removed.

Women and minorities – religious minorities, as well as dalits and adivasis – as well as human rights defenders, including right to information activists, are especially at risk, and their protection deserves special measures.

Almost everyone interviewed said that the courts, and the Supreme Court in particular, play a central role in the fight against unlawful killings. The same applies to the role of the media. I was also struck by the level of expertise and responsibility in civil society.

It is evident that the killings of people take place in the context of other abuses, such as torture and enforced disappearances. Preventing these other abuses can under some circumstances prevent the taking of life.

It is clear that in general the underlying causes of some of the violence need to be addressed, including the levels of development of those who are currently using force to oppose state policies. Andhra Pradesh was mentioned to me as an example in this regard.

There is a strong need for victims to speak about their experiences. A large number of the almost 200 victims who made presentations to me emphasised the need to know the truth, and to ‘clear the names’ of their loved ones who had been killed in ‘fake encounters’. However, a credible national process will have far greater legitimacy in this regard than an international one. Some form of – internal – transformative justice is called for. InJammu and Kashmirthe Chief Minister called for a truth and reconciliation commission. It must be underscored that justice for the victims, accountability and punishment of the perpetrators, that is a real end to impunity for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture, are essential elements of any such process.

A public commitment to the eradication of the phenomenon of unlawful killings is needed. In this context it could be valuable to highlight to the public and to those in the structures of the State the historical and global role the country has played in promoting non-violence worldwide, including non-violent demonstrations, and the fact that extrajudicial executions is its opposite. A Commission of Inquiry, drawing on some of the outstanding jurists and other figures that the country has produced, can play this role.

There should be a special focus on the areas of the country where specific forms of unlawful killings take place. In some instances some form of transitional justice may be required, to ensure justice to the victims, break the cycle of violence, and to symbolize a new beginning.

Specific and targeted attention should be given to the following issues: challenging the general culture of impunity; addressing the practice of ‘fake encounters’, to ensure that it is rooted out; and ensuring that swift and decisive action, with concrete outcomes, is taken when there are mass targeted killings. The Commission has to be required to complete its work within a reasonably short period of time, also to demonstrate that a new approach is being followed. In this respect it will be useful to look at possible lessons to be learned from the recent appointment of a judge to investigate extrajudicial executions inGujarat, which at this stage appears to be a positive development.

D) Provisional recommendations

1. A credible Commission of Inquiry that inspires the confidence of the people, into extrajudicial executions inIndiashould be appointed by the Government which also serves a transitional justice role. The Commission should investigate allegations concerning past violations, propose where relevant measures to deal with those, and work out a plan of action for the future to eradicate practices of extrajudicial executions. The Commission must submit recommendations on legal reform, and the reform of state structures, security apparatus and processes that encourage impunity.

Without waiting for the Commission, the following steps should be taken as a matter of priority:

2. Ratification of the following international instruments should take place without further delay: Convention Against Torture; OP-CAT; and the Convention on Enforced Disappearances. Ratification of the following instruments should be considered: The two Optional Protocols to the ICCPR; Optional Protocol to CEDAW; Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; and the two Optional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions.

3. Repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and theJammuandKashmirArmed Forces Special Powers Act, 1990. To tie this to the announcement of the Commission mentioned above will send a powerful signal about the State’s commitment to a new dispensation.

4. Repeal the following laws or bring them otherwise into conformity with the applicable international standards, including the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and the Basic Principles on Extrajudicial Executions: Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act; Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, 2005; Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act; provisions of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967; and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005;

5. Enact the Prevention of Torture Bill, along the lines of the amendments proposed by the Select Committee of the Upper House of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) ensuring its compliance with CAT.

6. There should be regular review and monitoring of the status of implementation of the directives of the Supreme Court and the NHRC guidelines on arrest, custodial violence, encounter killings and custodial death. In particular, the establishment of the independent Police Complaints Authorities by the States should now be made a priority.

7. To counter impunity for extrajudicial executions, where the police cause the death of a person in an ‘encounter’, there must be mandatory registration of FIR under Sec.302 IPC against the police and there must be an independent investigation of the same. Whether the police acted in self-defence or committed culpable homicide is to be decided by the competent court.

8. Families of victims should have full and easy access to autopsy reports, death certificates and other relevant documentation to allow them to proceed with their lives.

9. The practice of inviting UN special procedures should be continued, especially in areas where international concern has been expressed, such as torture, counter-terrorism measures, and minority rights.

10. Increased sensitizations and orientation programmes in respect of gender-based killings, ‘honour’ killings, dowry deaths and witch killings should be undertaken, both for the police, judiciary and public especially in the areas of the country that most affected.

11. An effective witness and victim protection programme should be established.

12. The National Human Rights Commission should be given the mandate to investigate the actions of the Armed Forces, and there should not be a year cut-off date on the cases they can consider. The Commission should develop a strategy to enhance its contribution towards protecting the right to life which goes beyond mere references to laws and procedures, and focuses on actual impact. The NHRC should undertake a review of compliance with its guidelines on ‘encounter’ killings, and whether their guidelines work in practice. They should also issue guidelines on inquests and autopsies. The independence and working of state human rights commissions should be reviewed.

13. Place a moratorium on the death penalty in accordance with General Assembly resolution 65/206.

URL http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12029&LangID=E

NHRC takes up Assam land-grabbing and destruction of forest case

March 30, 2012

Press statement

For Immediate release

30 March 2012

Silchar

NHRC takes up Assam land-grabbing and destruction of forest case

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took up the case of land-grabbing, diversion of forest land in Patharia reserve forest pushing around 300 families of forest dwellers into the condition of starvation and homeless. The human rights watchdog of the nation registered case in the matter as case number 99/3/10/2012 on a complaint filed by the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) after it conducted a fact-finding study of the situation. Along with the NHRC the BHRPC also wrote other authorities including the prime minister,Assamchief minister, union forest and environment minister and others.

The (BHRPC) informed the authorities that around 300 families of traditional forest dwellers in and around Patharia forest reserve in Karimganj district of Assam have forcibly been deprived of their sources of livelihood and now living under severe threat of imminent eviction from their dwelling houses by some businessmen allegedly in connivance with the local politician and minister of state for co-operation and border areas development in the government of Assam Mr Siddeque Ahmed. The accused persons grabbed the land measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) reportedly for rubber plantation in a Pecharpar, Satkorgul, Mokkergul, Bhitorgul and other villages where the families of the forest dwellers have been living for generations depending on the forest produces for livelihood. The forest dwellers were asked to leave the areas soon and threatened with murders, rape and jail.

The BHRPC found that it was prima facie a case of diversion of forest land for non-forest commercial purpose of rubber plantation as well as a case of criminal trespass and taking illegal possession of land held by both the department of environment and forest in Patharia reserve forest and the villagers of Pecharpar under titles of farag and uninterrupted possession for generations that are good against the whole world violating the community rights of protection of environment and ecological balance and individual right to lead a life with dignity. The Silchar-based rights group contended that the activities are in flagrant violations of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 as interpreted and applied by the Supreme Court of India in orders passed from time to time in T N Godavarman Thirumuilpad Vs Union of India and Others (WP (C) No 202 of 1995). The BHRPC further contended that the people who have been living in and holding the forest land for generations are “other traditional forest dwellers” within the meaning of clause (o) of section 2 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (known as Forest Rights Act– FRA) and they are entitled to all the rights enumerated in sub-section (1) of section 3 of the FRA including the right to hold and live in the forest land under the individual or common occupation for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood. It is also alleged that the criminal activities against the villagers with the alleged support of the minister constitute violations of fundamental rights guaranteed in Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the constitution ofIndia and human rights enshrined in many international human rights instrument to whichIndia is a state party.

The BHRPC demanded the authorities to stop immediately felling of trees and destruction of vegetables and other crops grown by the villagers; to take urgent actions to restore immediately possession of the land to the villagers; to provide the villagers with adequate monetary compensation for loss of property and mental agony caused by destruction of forest and vegetables and corps grown by them, dispossession of land and threat of imminent danger to life and limb; to provide adequate security to the victims and witnesses; to conduct promptly a fair and objective inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation particularly into the alleged crimes and involvement of the minister therein; to recognize immediately the rights of the traditional forest dwellers under the FRA, 2006 of the villagers who have been living there for generations; to settle the khas land that are possessed by the villagers uninterruptedly for generations and who are otherwise landless in their names as per government policy; and to take all other actions and measures necessary to ensure full enjoyment of the rights to life with dignity under adequate standard of living by the villagers.

For more information please contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

wali.laskar@gmail.com

+91 9401942234

Submission of BHRPC to the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions

March 28, 2012

The few representative cases submitted here clearly show the abysmal state of lawlessness which people live in.  Life here is virtually “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (as was claimed by Thomas Hobbes in his The Leviathan) for some people, particularly those who belong to the vulnerable groups such as minority communities, working class.

The alleged perpetrators in some of the cases belong to the armed forces ofIndiawhether regular military or para-military operating invariably under the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958. The Act empowers members of the armed forces to use lethal force against civilians even to the causing of death on mere suspicion that they may act in breach of any law or any order along with the power to enter into any doweling places by breaking their entrance and search and seize anything without warrant and arrest any person without warrant and keep the arrestees in custody for unspecified times without charge in the valley along with the rest of Assam and parts of some other North East Indian states and Jammu and Kashmir. The AFSPA also places the army above the law, constitution and judiciary for acts claimed to be done under the Act by barring institution of prosecution, suits or any judicial procedure in any court inIndia.

Some other cases of extra-judicial execution noted above were perpetrated by the state police who operate under a state version of the AFSPA titled the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955. Along with these special security laws with draconian provisions and laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the regular law that governs the policing in Assam is the Assam Police Act, 2007, which was enacted apparently to comply with the requirements of the directives issued by the Supreme Court of India in Prakash Singh and Others vs. Union of India (also known as the police reform case), in essence conform more with the colonial-era Police Act of 1861. The colonial police law was not aimed to provide democratic policing. It meant to create a repressive force subservient to ruling class and devoid of any accountability to the law and people.

After decades of public pressure, lack of political will and continued poor policing, a police reform process is finally underway inIndiaas the apex court stepped in. On 22 September 2006, the Supreme Court delivered a historic judgment in Prakash Singh and Others vs. Union of India and Others instructing central and state governments to comply with a set of seven directives laying down practical mechanisms to kick-start reform.

The directives were aimed to ensure functional autonomy of the police and their accountability to the law. For ensuring functional autonomy the Supreme Court directed 1. to establish a State Security Commission to i. ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police; lay down broad policy guidelines aimed at promoting efficient, effective, responsive and accountable policing, in accordance with the law; give directions for the performance of the preventive tasks and service oriented functions of the police; evaluate the performance of the state police and prepare a report on police performance to be placed before the state legislature.

2. The second directive was aimed at ensuring fair selection of Director General of Police (DGP) and guarantee of his tenure.

3. Security of tenure is similarly important for other police officers on operational duties in the field. In order to help them withstand undue political interference, have time to properly understand the needs of their jurisdictions and do justice to their jobs, the Supreme Court provides for a minimum tenure of two years for the following categories of officers:           – Inspector General of Police (in charge of a Zone)

– Deputy Inspector General of Police (in charge of a Range)

– Superintendent of Police (in charge of a District)

– Station House Officer (in charge of a Police Station)

4. To counter the prevailing practice of subjective appointments, transfers and promotions, the Supreme Court provides for the creation of a Police Establishment Board. In effect, the Board brings these crucial service related matters largely under police control. Notably, a trend in international best practice is that government has a role in appointing and managing senior police leadership, but service related matters of other ranks remain internal matters. Experience inIndiashows that this statutory demarcation is absolutely required in order to decrease corruption and undue patronage, given the prevailing illegitimate political interference in decisions regarding police appointments, transfers and promotions.

5. the Supreme Court directed the Central Government to establish a National Security Commission for Central Police Organisations and Central Cara-Military Forces.

For ensuring accountability the Supreme Court directed the governments to set up:

6. Police Complaints Authority and

7. To separate investigation and law and order function of police.

The Commonwealth Initiative for Human Rights (CHRI), a regional human rights organization which was also one of the interveners in the Prakash Shingh case, after an analysis of the newly enacted Assam Police Act says that the Act only partially complies with the directives:

State Security Commission was established but the composition is not as per the Supreme Court directive. The Act has also weakened the mandate of the commission and has made its recommendation non-binding.

The second directive regarding selection process of the DGP and guarantee of his tenure not complied.

Directive regarding guarantee of tenure of the police officers on the field are also not complied. Only one year of tenure is guaranteed to the Superintendent of Police in charge of a district and Officer-in-Charge of a police station with vague grounds for premature removal.

Police Establishment Board was set up but the mandate was not adhered to. DGP has also been given the power to transfer any officer up to the rank of Inspector “as deemed appropriate to meet any contingency”, contrary to the directive.

The Central Government did not establish National Security Commission in utter contempt of the judgment.

The Assam Police Act, 2007 establishes Police Accountability Commission to enquire into public complaints supported by sworn statement against the police personnel for serious misconduct and perform such other functions. But the Chairperson and members of the Commission are appointed directly by the government. This can, at best, be called partial compliance.

Half hearted attempts can also be seen regarding separation of investigation from law and order function of the police. Special Crime Investigation Unit has been set up in urban police stations but there is no specific section on separation of between law and order and crime investigation.

This deliberate attempt to bypass the Supreme Court directives prompted the petitioner in the case formerAssamdirector-general of police Prakash Singh to describe the Assam Police Act, 2007, as a fraud on the people of the state. He was speaking at a seminar  jointly organised by the commission and the Assam State Legal Services Authority at theAssamAdministrativeStaffCollege, Guwahati. According to him, the government had violated the letter and spirit of the apex court guidelines by passing the act without conforming to these guidelines.

The Act needs drastic amendment to be brought in conformity with the Supreme Court guidelines and to be compatible with International Human Rights Standards. More importantly the role of the police needs to be redefined “taking into account the emerging challenges of policing and security of the State, the imperatives of good governance, and respect for human rights”.

The cases cited also highlight another huge challenge to the civil and political rights inAssamwhich is non-adherence and non-implementation of laws and other instruments that are meant to protect such rights. The Supreme Court guidelines in DK Basu case, and NHRPC guidelines regarding arrest, custodial deaths have the potential to drastically reduce the number of extra-judicial executions if implemented properly. The DK Basu guidelines are only implemented in papers. In rural police stations the guidelines are not even hung in a language eligible to the public at a conspicuous place.

It may be noted that in many of the cases mentioned no magisterial inquiry was conducted in contravention of the statutory mandate of section 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. In the cases where such inquiries are conducted the magistrates employed were not judicial ones as is mandate of the law. Although even the executive magistrates when found in their inquiries the guilt of the accused police personnel established beyond doubt, neither prosecution has been started nor has any compensation been provided to the kin of the deceased. Apart from legal immunity provided by security legislations such as the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958, the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955 there is a regime of de facto impunity guaranteed to the violators which is responsible for the increase of the cases of extrajudicial killings.

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