Amnesty International Report 2000:

INDIA: Human Rights Defenders

Human rights defenders working on a range of issues including caste discrimination, domestic violence and trade union rights came under attack from both the state and other powerful interests throughout 1999.

In July, 17 people, including two women and a child, died following police action to suppress a protest march in connection with a wage dispute between tea estate workers and their employers in Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. Although the demonstrators had obtained official permission for the March, police reportedly charged the protesters with lathis ( long wooden sticks), used tear gas and finally fired shots into the air to disperse them. Many of the protesters were chased by police into a nearby river. Eyewitness reports indicated that police continued to beat protesters when they were in the river and prevented them from getting out of the water. The Government ordered a commission of inquiry, which was continuing at the end of the year.

Methods of harassment included the firing of apparently false criminal cases. Section 151 of the Criminal Code of Procedures, which allows police it preventively detail people they suspect may commit a crime was regularly used to detain Human Right defenders and suppress peaceful protests. Several activists were detained under the 1980 National Security Act (NSA).

Ashish Gupta, Secretary General of the North East Co-ordinations Committee on Human Rights, was arrested in June in Assam. The official grounds for his detention under the N.S.A. included reference to a press release issued by the Co-ordination Committee condemning the conflict between India and Pakistan appealing to the UN and the international community to intervene to allow the Kashmiri people to decide their own future. He was finally released on the orders of the Guwahati High court on 16 December.

The government imposed increased administrative restrictions on human rights organizations. Several organizations, including those involved in an advertisement campaign at the time of the elections to raise concerns about the gender policies of the BJP, were threatened with having their extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and by the UN Working Group on enforced or Involuntary Disappearances were not taken up by the authorities. Impunity: There were continued concerns about the government's failure to implement recommendations made by various commissions of inquiry, by the National Human Rights Commission ( N H R C), by state human rights commissions and by other statutory commissions.

In August the NHRC filed a petition in the Supreme Court indicating that government was hindering its five-year-long investigation into the shooting of 37 people in October 1993 in Bijbenhara, Jammu and Kashmir, by members of the Border Security Forces. The shootings took place during an apparently peaceful protest against an army siege of the Hazratbal shrine. The NHRC asked the Court to order the authorities to hand over certain files, which they had refused to release.

The new state government in Maharashtra announced its intention to reconsider the recommendations of the Srikrishna Commission of inquiry. The Commission had been set up in 1993 to investigate the circumstances surrounding riots between members of the Hindu and Muslim communities in Mumbai in December 1992 and January 1993 in which 1,788 people died. There had been reports that police had sided with Hindu mobs in the riots, which followed the destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya. The Commission's report had pointed to communalism in the police force, which led to discrimination against Muslim communities, and incitement to riot by members of the Shiv Sena party. The Commission's recommendations had been rejected by the former Shiv Sena-B J P alliance in the state.

Human Rights Commission: In January the N H R C clarified its role with reference to a 1996 Supreme Court order that the NHRC should investigate human rights violations in Punjab following allegations that hundreds of bodies had been illegally concerned by Punjab police. The NHRC stated that it would restrict itself to awarding monetary compensation only to those families who could prove that their relatives were illegally cremated by police in Amritsar district between 1984 and 1994. In September a petition challenging this - on the grounds that it ignored the wider pattern of "disappearances" and extrajudicial executions in Punjab and the need to provide full redress to victims and their relatives - was dismissed by the Supreme Court. By the end of 1999 the NHRC had reportedly received around 80 claims from individuals in Punjab.

In October an Advisory Committee, established in 1998 by the NHRC to review the 1993 Protection of Human Rights Act finalized its recommendations. These included amendments to the composition of the NHRC and a proposal that the NHRC should be able to independently investigate allegations of human rights violations by members of the paramilitary forces, but not the armed forces. The NHRC was still considering these recommendations at the end of the year.

In November Justice J.S. Verma took over as Chair of the NHRC, which continued to monitor abuses and make recommendations for the promotion and pretension of human rights.

No further state human rights commissions were established during 1999. Special legislation: In December it was learned that the Law commission of India was considering draft anti-terrorism legislation at the request of the Home Ministry. The Criminal Law Amendment Bill, as recommended by the Law Commission, retained many of the features of the 1987 Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) which lapsed in 1995 and which had been used to detain thousands if political suspects without charge or trial. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act - which gives the security forces powers to shoot to kill and grants them virtual immunity from prosecution - remained in force in areas of the northeast and in Jammu and Kashmir. Human rights organizations in the northeast marked the second anniversary of a Supreme Court judgement upholding the constitutionality of the Act as a "Black Day". Although activities were prevented by police in Manipur.

In February the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Ordinance was enacted. This gives the police widespread powers to intercept communications and allows for arrest, detention and trial procedures which do not conform fully to international standards.

In May the Tamil Nadu state government withdrew the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Bill. There had been strong objections to the legislation, which bore many similarities to the TADA. The authorities continued to use the lapsed TADA to detain people in Jammu and Kashmir by linking them to ongoing cases filed before 1995. Hundreds of people remained in detention under the TADA despite Supreme Court orders fir the review of all cases.

Fifty people, including 12 women, were awaiting trial under the TADA in Karnataka at the end of the year. They had been arrested between 1993 and 1995 by members of the Special Task Force established by the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu state governments to apprehend a notorious smuggler. Almost all testified that they had been tortured after arrest. Many individuals were detained under the 1978 Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, which allows for widespread preventive detention.

In September and October, 25 members of the All Parties Hurriyat conference, including its chairman, Syed Ali Gilani; senior members Mohammad Yasin Malik, Javed Ahmed Mir and Abdul Gani Bhatt; and their associates were detained under the Act after they peacefully called for a boycott of elections. Their detention appeared to be punitive in character, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir publicly stated that he intended to "let them rot in jail". Petitions challenging the legality of their indefinite detention were before the High Court in Srinagar at the end of the year.

Torture: Deaths in custody continued to be widespread throughout all states. Various forms of torture, including rape, continued to be used by the police and security forces. This was acknowledged by government officials, including the Attorney General; senior members of the judiciary; and NHRC officials, at an international symposium on torture held in New Delhi in September.

In September, 21-year-old Devinder Singh died in custody in Punjab, reportedly after being tortured by police. His brother, Sapinder Singh, and fellow villagers Karnal Singh and Inderjit Singh were also tortured. Police claimed they were attempting to locate a rifle belonging to Devinder Singh and that he died of a heart attack on the way to hospital after falling ill while in detention. Doctors failed to record injuries on the bodies of Sapinder Singh, Karnal Singh and Inderjit Singh when they were brought before them. The magistrate also reportedly failed to note their injuries when remanding them to further police custody. A case of murder was subsequently filed against a police sub-inspector in connection with the death of Devinder Singh.

"Disappearances": Reports of "disappearances" were received from Jammu and Kashmir and from Assam. Attempts by relatives in Jammu and Kashmir to establish the fate of individuals continued to be obstructed by the state, the security forces and an inadequate legal system. No substantive response was received from the government to an Al report on "disappearances" published in February, which referred to between 700 and 800 people whose fate remained unknown. In Manipur the report of an investigation by a district judge into the "disappearance" of 15-year-old Yumlembam Sanamacha following his arrest by members of 17th Raj Putana Rifles in February 1998 was published. The report found clear evidence that Yumlembam Sanamacha had been arrested by the armed forces and that he had not escaped as they claimed. An official Commission of Inquiry into the "disappearance" also submitted its report to the Manipur state government, but this had not been published by the end of 1999.

Death penalty: At least 18 people were sentenced to death in 1999. At least 35 people remained on death row. It was not known if any executions were carried out. Human rights organizations throughout the country joined in a campaign against the death penalty. However, the Home Minister continued to refer to government plans to extend the use of the death penalty for crimes including rape.

In May the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence against four people tried in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. The four had been sentenced after what appeared to be unfair trials under the TADA. A clemency petition was under consideration at the end of the year.

Abuses by armed groups: Armed groups operating in many states continued to violate international humanitarian law. Human rights abuses reported included torture, hostage taking and killings of civilians. In Tripura hostage taking continued at an alarming level; several children were among those taken hostage. In Jammu and Kashmir armed groups continued to kill civilians; Hindus were particularly targeted for attack.

Home | Index

(PUCL Bulletin, Aug 2000)