Hunger strike / Excessive use of force
December 19, 2006
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.
Brief description of the situation :
The Observatory has been informed by the Centre for Organisation Research & Education (CORE) and the South Asia Human Rights, Documentation Centre (SAHRDC) about the deterioration of the state of health of Ms. Irom Sharmila Chanu, a human rights defender in Manipur, northeast India, who has been on hunger strike since 2000.
According to the information received, Ms. Irom Sharmila Chanu has been in hunger strike since 2000, to protest against the 1958 Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which, in order to “maintain public order”, empowers armed forces officers to shoot any person who may be suspected of being insurgent, in so-called “disturbed areas”. Besides, this Act provides that the central government permission is necessary to prosecute any officer, which grant them a nearly-complete immunity from prosecution.
Ms. Sharmila decided to stop to feed herself after the Malom massacre, on November 2, 2000, in which the Assam Rifles shot dead ten civilians at a bus stop near Imphal, including two teenagers and a woman, on suspicion of being insurgents.
First arrested in November 2000 on charges of “attempting suicide” (Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code), Ms. Sharmila has been repeatedly detained in judicial custody. Indeed, under Section 309 of the Penal Code, the maximum sentence is of one year. Therefore, she is released every year, but rearrested the next day.
Recently, in October 2006, at the occasion of her annual release, Ms. Irom Sharmila decided to move her protest from Manipur to the capital, New Delhi. She was immediately arrested and forcibly hospitalised at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), in New Delhi, where she remains. According to information received, Ms. Sharmila is not allowed to move, to talk or to meet with people freely, and she was force-fed through a nasal tube. On November 27, 2006, she was visited at the hospital by Ms. Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate, who gave Ms. Sharmila her support. On November 28, Ms. Sharmila took her nasal tube off her nose, in order to resume her hunger strike.
In 2004, following several weeks of massive public protests in Manipur, after the death in custody of a young woman, the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee was established to make a report reviewing the Act. On June 6, 2005, the report was completed, but since then, the government has refused to make it public. However, on October 8, 2006, an unofficial disclosure of the report in the media revealed that the Committee had found “highly desirable and advisable to repeal the Act altogether”, as it “has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness ...”. Further, the committee holds that the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (ULPA), applicable to the whole country, provides adequate powers to the armed forces to combat insurgency, thereby rendering the AFSPA redundant.
In 1997, during the hearing of India’s Third Periodic Report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the United Nations Human Rights Committee “expressed its concern at the reliance on special powers under legislation such as the AFSPA [...] in areas declared to be disturbed and at serious human rights violations [...] committed by security and armed forces acting under these laws as well as by paramilitary and insurgent groups”. The Committee thus endorsed the views of the National Human Rights Commission that the problems in areas affected by terrorism and armed insurgency are essentially political in character and that the approach to resolving such problems should be essentially political, and emphasized that terrorism should be fight with means that are compatible with the Covenant. For that purpose, the Committee recommended that the application of these emergency powers be closely monitored so as to ensure its strict compliance with the provisions of the Covenant.
The Observatory expresses its deepest concern regarding the state of health of Ms. Irom Sharmila Chanu and urges the Government of India to release her immediately.
Please write to the Indian authorities and ask them to :
- take all necessary measures to guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Mrs. Irom Sharmila Chanu;
- release her immediately, as her detention is arbitrary;
- put an end to any kind of reprisals against human rights defenders in India;
- comply with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or collectively, to promote the protection and fulfilment of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, as well as article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;
- guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments ratified by India.
- Shri Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, Prime Minister’s Office, Room number 152, South Block, New Delhi, Fax: + 91 11 2301 6857
- Shri Shivraj Patil, Union Minister of Home Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, 104-107 North Block, New Delhi 110 001 India, Fax: +91 11 2309 2979
- Justice Mr. Y.K. Sabharwal, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court of India, 1 Tilak Marg, New Delhi, Fax: +91 11 233 83792, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Justice A.S. Anand, Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission of India, Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi 110 001, Tel: +91 11 230 74448, Fax: +91 11 2334 0016, Email: email@example.com
- Mr. Okram Ibobi Singh, Chief Minister of Manipur, Chief Minister’s Secretariat, Babupara, Imphal, Manipur, Fax: +91 385 222 1817, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Justice W. A. Shishak, Chairperson, Manipur State Human Rights Commission, Courts Complex Lamphelpat, Imphal, Manipur, India, Fax: +91 385 410472.
- H.E. Mr. Swashpawan Singh, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Permanent Representative to the United Nations (Geneva), Rue du Valais 9 (6ème étage), 1202 Geneva, Tel: +41 22 906 86 86, Fax: +41 22 906 86 96, Email: email@example.com
- Mr. Dipak Chatterjee, Ambassador, Embassy of India in Brussels, 217 Chaussée de Vleurgat, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 (0)2 6489638 or +32 (0)2 6451869
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of India in your respective countries.
Geneva - Paris, December 19, 2006
Kindly inform the Observatory of any action undertaken quoting the code number of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.
The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
Tel and fax: FIDH : +33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / 33 (0) 1 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT : + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 (0) 22 809 49 29
Email : Appeals@fidh-omct.org
 Manipur was declared a “disturbed area” in 1980, but several parts of the territory have been declared “disturbed” since 1958.
 See Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: India. 04/08/97. CCPR/C/79/Add.81.