Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September 2014, 16:29 GMT

Amnesty International Report 2003 - India

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 28 May 2003
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2003 - India , 28 May 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3edb47d714.html [accessed 23 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Covering events from January - December 2002

REPUBLIC OF INDIA
Head of state: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
Head of government: Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: not signed

The right of minorities to live in the country as equals was increasingly undermined by both state and non-state actors, despite it being clearly asserted in the Constitution. Religious minorities, particularly Muslims, were increasingly targeted for abuse. In Gujarat, Muslims were victims of massacres allegedly masterminded by nationalist groups with the connivance of state agencies. New and stringent security legislation, which gives wide powers of arrest and detention to the police, was misused to target political dissent in areas of armed conflict and elsewhere. Human rights defenders were frequently harassed by state and private actors, and their activities labelled as "anti-national". The criminal justice system remained extremely slow, under-resourced and difficult to access for people from socially and economically marginalized sections of society, including lower castes and women. Security agencies continued to enjoy virtual impunity for past abuses, thanks to specific provisions contained in security legislation and to political protection. International human rights monitors, including UN independent experts and international human rights organizations, were de facto denied access to areas of armed conflict and were granted only very limited access to the rest of the country.


Background

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance remained in power in the central government throughout the year. State elections in February saw a further weakening of the BJP and a re-emergence of the Congress party at state level. In December, however, the BJP won state elections in Gujarat on a communal platform. The victory strengthened the position of Hindu hardliners within the party nationwide. In Jammu and Kashmir, a coalition government of the People's Democratic Party and the Congress party took office in November; the election ended decades of domination of state politics by the National Conference party.

Ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan – both nuclear powers – were heightened by renewed claims by the Indian government that armed opposition groups active in Kashmir were enjoying Pakistan's support. This claim received international legitimization in the context of the campaign against "terrorism" led by the USA and supported by the Indian government. The result was a military stand-off on the India-Pakistan border, which started de-escalating only in October.

Hindu nationalist groups continued to push their communal agenda – particularly the issue of the reconstruction of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya at the site where a mosque was destroyed in 1992 – through violence and the penetration of institutions, leading to an increasing fragmentation of society on religious lines. The peace process between the central government and Naga armed groups in the northeast of the country made further progress. Talks between the Andhra Pradesh government and naxalite (armed left-wing) groups failed to materialize in July.

In the context of the liberalization of the economy, economic development projects continued to infringe the right of local communities to have access to natural resources and led to large-scale internal displacement.

Massacres in Gujarat

On 27 February a train in Godhra, Gujarat, was attacked and 59 passengers believed to be Hindus were killed. Violence of unprecedented brutality targeting the Muslim community then spread in the state and continued in the following three months. Hindu nationalist groups reportedly had a role in masterminding the violence. Reports also indicated that the state government, administration and police took insufficient action to protect civilians and in many cases may have colluded with the attackers and actively participated in the violence. Human rights groups estimated the death toll was between 2,000 and 2,500. The destruction of homes, places of worship and means of livelihood of thousands of civilians also took place. About 140,000 people fled their homes in the aftermath of the massacres and many remained homeless at the end of the year. The Gujarat government did not actively fulfil its duty to provide appropriate relief and rehabilitation to the survivors. Following the violence, the same police force that was accused of colluding with the attackers was put in charge of the investigations into the massacres, undermining the process of delivery of justice to the victims. A commission of inquiry was appointed to investigate responsibilities in the violence, but its progress was extremely slow. When AI sought permission to visit Gujarat in July to investigate the violence, its delegates were effectively denied access to the state.

Security legislation

The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), operative as an ordinance since October 2001, was passed by parliament in March. It gave the police wide powers of arrest and provided for up to six months' detention without charge or trial for political suspects. POTA de facto legislates for a level of political scrutiny in the judicial process, and undermines the rules of evidence set by Indian statutory law. It was used during the year to detain political opponents, especially in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and was implemented in other states, including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jarkhand, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, and in the New Delhi Union Territory. New security legislation similar to POTA was enacted at state level in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Karnataka and in the New Delhi Union Territory. The lapsed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act continued to be used to arrest people in Jammu and Kashmir by linking them to cases filed before 1995; hundreds of people were believed to be in detention under the Act. Preventive arrest and detention provisions contained in security laws as well as in the Code of Criminal Procedure were also misused against political and human rights activists.

Impunity

Security forces continued to enjoy virtual impunity for human rights abuses as a result of provisions contained in special security laws, including POTA, as well as in the Protection of Human Rights Act. Political protection, as well as the frequent non-implementation of recommendations issued by various commissions of inquiry, strengthened this trend. In Punjab, investigations entrusted to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in relation to the "disappearance" and possible extrajudicial execution by security forces of thousands of people in the 1980s and early 1990s did not make any significant progress. This indicated that accountability for security forces in areas of armed conflict was not a priority.

Ten years after widespread communal riots in Bombay claimed 1,788 lives and five years after the Shrikrishna Commission of Inquiry indicted several police officers for having actively sided with violent Hindu groups during the riots, no significant progress had been made to prosecute the alleged perpetrators.

The new government in Jammu and Kashmir, in its Common Minimum Program issued in October, promised that all reports of human rights abuses would be investigated. AI reminded the state government of the large number of past abuses that had never been independently investigated and asked it to make public and act on findings of commissions of inquiry set up under the previous government, such as the Pandian Commission on unlawful killings in April 2000.

Both the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions had pending requests to visit India. Neither had been invited to visit the country by the end of the year.

Discrimination

Socially and economically marginalized sections of society, such as dalits, adivasis (tribal people), women and religious minorities, including Muslims, continued to be discriminated against by the police, the criminal justice system and non-state actors, despite legislation aimed at protecting some of these groups. They continued to be particularly vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment, which remained widespread across the country. The ongoing international campaign against "terrorism", as well as the heightened tensions with Pakistan, contributed to the giving of undue legitimacy to various forms of discrimination against the Muslim minority, including violence and the denial of access to justice.

A pattern persisted of excessive use of force by police against adivasi communities protesting against their displacement in the context of the construction of large dams or of industrial projects. Dalit human rights continued to receive international attention, particularly from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which held a thematic discussion on descent-based discrimination in August. However, dalit communities continued to be victims of violent backlash when asserting their rights, and to have problems accessing the criminal justice system when seeking redress for abuses.

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders suffered increased isolation as their activities were frequently branded as "anti-national" by state and non-state actors. This happened in particular when they sought to raise human rights concerns in debates about the security of the country. Harassment of human rights activists by both state and private actors continued throughout the year, with many cases of undue interference with their legitimate activities, verbal and physical threats, filing of false cases by police in order to intimidate or detain them, use of preventive arrest and detention, and violence, including isolated killings.

  • On 19 June Navleen Kumar, a social activist working to protect the land rights of tribal communities, was stabbed to death in her home in Nallasopara, Thane district, Maharashtra. Police arrested four people believed to have links with the local builders and land mafia that were operating in the area with the support of sections of the local administration. The prosecution of the accused appeared to have come to a standstill after the four were released on bail.
Both the UN Special Representative on human rights defenders and the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression had pending requests to visit India. Neither had received an invitation by the end of the year.

Abuses by armed opposition groups

Armed opposition groups in Jammu and Kashmir and in the states of the northeast continued to target civilians, subjecting them to torture and deliberate killings. In the pre-election period in Jammu and Kashmir, such groups intensified their operations resulting in scores of killings, including of the state law minister and several election candidates. A total of 830 killings by state agents and opposition groups was recorded between early August and mid-October when the elections were completed. Civilians were also victims of human rights abuses by armed naxalite groups in areas of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal.

Human rights commissions

The NHRC took an independent position in the aftermath of the violence in Gujarat, recommending that the state government take proactive steps to protect the minorities in the state, to ensure that justice was delivered and that relief and rehabilitation were provided to the victims of the violence and their families. However, the NHRC's recommendations were largely ignored by the Gujarat government. Amendments to the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 – under which the NHRC operates – recommended in 2000 by the NHRC itself, were not considered by the government during the year. As a result, the NHRC was unable to investigate allegations of human rights violations committed by the army or paramilitary forces, or incidents that took place more than a year before the complaint was made. Its recommendations continued not to be binding and were poorly implemented by the governments to which they were addressed. State human rights commissions, existing in 13 of the 28 states, continued to suffer from lack of resources and expertise.

Death penalty

At least 29 people were sentenced to death. The exact numbers of death sentences passed and executions carried out were not known as the government does not release the relevant information. In November the parliament and the central government stated that they favoured the extension of the death penalty to crimes of rape. The majority of women's groups, however, affirmed that a higher conviction rate of rapists, rather than the use of the death penalty, was needed. The enactment of POTA in March extended the use of the death penalty to "terrorist" offences resulting in death. Concerns about the use of the death penalty under POTA were heightened because the Act provides for the possibility of unfair trials and because the necessity of fighting "terrorism" was occasionally taken as a sufficient justification for imposing the death penalty in the absence of solid evidence.
  • In December 2001 Davinder Pal Singh Bhuller appealed to the Supreme Court against the death sentence he received for "terrorist" offences allegedly committed by him in 1993. The appeal was rejected by two of the three judges, who found Davinder Pal Singh Bhuller guilty on the basis of a confession. The confession, which Davinder Pal Singh Bhuller said was extracted by police under torture, was later retracted and was not corroborated by any other evidence. Unusually, the third judge found the accused innocent. A petition questioning the controversial appeal decision was upheld by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in mid-December.
Visits

AI delegates visited India in April and met government and other officials as well as human rights groups. Access to the country for a research visit to Gujarat in the aftermath of the massacres was de facto denied by the government in July.
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