India: Serious concerns over violence against student protesters in Manipur

Security forces, including the Army, responded violently to student protesters in the State of Manipur on 26 and 27 September 2023, leaving 170 people injured © Shutterstock

Geneva, 4 October 2023 - The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is extremely concerned about credible reports of excessive use of force and use of pellet guns by security forces, including the Army, during student protests in the State of Manipur on 26 and 27 September 2023, which left 170 people injured. The demonstrators, mostly girls and young women, were protesting against the enforced disappearance and murder of two classmates.

This incident is the latest escalation of the ethnic conflict between the mainly Hindu Meitei and the Christian Kuki communities, which killed more than 175 people and displaced over 60,000 people. Human rights groups have accused Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also rules in majority in the State of Manipur, of implementing nationalistic policies, laws, and rhetoric targeting religious minorities and fueling tensions between the communities.

Civil society organisations have expressed concern at the local government’s accusations against Kuki tribal groups, alleging that they are involved in drug trafficking and support large-scale illegal immigration of people from Myanmar. This behavior is emblematic of the systematic targeting of Christians and Muslims since Modi took power in 2014.

Adding to this crisis, the government extended the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to Manipur. This law grants broad impunity to security forces. Several governments, UN experts, and most recently the European Parliament in a Resolution, have called on India to repeal the bill.

The OMCT is further concerned about the shrinking space for civil society organisations, human rights defenders, and citizens who want to exercise their legitimate rights. Over the last decade, the government of India has enacted and implemented laws that severely restrict the activities and funding of civil society groups.

The State of Manipur has a history of secessionist insurgencies in which serious human rights violations have been committed, including extrajudicial killings that remain unsolved. Between 1979 and 2012, more than 1,500 people were allegedly killed in extrajudicial executions by police and security forces. In 2016, India’s Supreme Court took the historic step of ordering a probe into 98 killings. Seven years later, the victims are still waiting for justice as officials try to stall investigations, and the victims’ families are harassed and humiliated.

We call on the government of India to:

  • guarantee basic human rights for everyone in Manipur;
  • ensure freedom of assembly and expression by protecting peaceful demonstrations and issuing clear instructions to the security forces to refrain from using excessive force against protesters in accordance with international standards, including the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms and the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials;
  • carry out prompt, effective, thorough, independent, and impartial investigations into the security forces' abuses and violence;
  • protect human rights defenders, particularly in Manipur, who monitor the situation and support victims of violence;
  • and repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).