Urgent Interventions

India: Open Letter to the India Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Geneva, March 13th 2002

Mr. Prime Minister, The International Secretariat of OMCT, alerted by the India Center for Human Rights and the Law, a member of the SOS-Torture Network, is deeply concerned by the attacks carried out by unknown assailants against the encampment situated in the area of the Khokra over bridge in Ahmedabad on February 28th and March 1st 2002. The encampment contains around 275 slums where approximately 1800 persons live, the overwhelming majority (nearly 90%) of which are Muslims. At about 12 noon on February 28th, a first attack was mounted on the encampment by approximately 500 assailants who began to throw stones at the encampment dwellers. It must be noted that police forces arrived four hours after the attack had begun, took no action to stop the stone throwing or to disperse the marauding crowd. It is reported that at around 5.00 pm, Molotov bombs and other fiery missiles were thrown on the huts from the Khokra over bridge and that the attack went on into the night with episodes of stone throwing. On the following day, between 8.30 and 9.00 am, a crowd of around 600 people gathered on the Khokra over bridge and resumed the stone throwing, forcing women and children to flee and leaving only the men to protect their own homes. During the attack, only one police vehicle came, and the policemen, instead of arresting the assailants, attacked the fleeing encampment dwellers with tear gas shells. Approximately 55 hutment dwellers were rounded up, beaten by the police and taken away. At the end of the attack, almost all the huts were burnt and destroyed. In view of the information received, OMCT is deeply worried about the attitude of the police, who not only passively assisted in committing acts of violence but also actively participated in it. These events occurred against the backdrop of brutal violence that ravaged the State of Gujarat, and especially the city of Ahmedabad, during the six days immediately following the tragedy of Godhra, where 58 karsavak passengers of the Sabarmati Express were brutally killed by a crowd of around 2000 assailants. An estimated 500 deaths are attributed to the above-mentioned unrest, although the number of casualties might be considerably higher. As a result, fifteen makeshift camps, which are populated almost exclusively by Muslims and which are located in different parts of Ahmedabad house at least 35,000 internally displaced people. The survivors and the family members of the victims staying in those relief camps find themselves facing a desperate situation. Most of them are deprived of basic commodities and suffer from burns, other serious injuries and mental trauma. There is also the fear of an epidemic breaking out. Under International Human Rights instruments, and according to the principle of due diligence, the Indian government is obligated to take adequate measures in order to prevent such a violence and the government must intervene, if such violence occurs, in order to stop the violence, guarantee its non-repetition, provide reparation and compensation to the victims and bring those responsible before a competent tribunal. In this regard, OMCT is afraid that the attitude of the police during the violence does not fulfill these basic requirements. The assault against the encampment near the Khokra over bridge, in which the police participated and that the authorities were reluctant to stop, constitutes a serious breach of human rights provisions ratified by India. Moreover, while the Gujarat Government immediately announced that it would compensate the victims of the Godhra tragedy, it has not yet declared that any compensation will be allocated to the victims of the violence who broke out after the Godhra attack. In view of these considerations, OMCT hopes that your Excellency will take all the measures needed in order to prevent new sectarian violence and to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments. OMCT hopes that these measures will also conform to the Programme of Action of the World Conference Against Racism that urges States “ to ensure within their jurisdiction that persons belonging to national or ethnic religious and linguistic minorities can exercise fully and effectively all human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law”. OMCT also urges your Excellency to provide adequate compensation to the victims of the violence that broke out after the Godhra attack, as well as adequate rehabilitation to the victims of violence, without religious, ethnic or linguistic discrimination. In this respect, OMCT notes that the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights defined, in its general Comment No. 4, the right to adequate housing the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity. Finally, OMCT hopes that your government will take the appropriate steps in order to guarantee an immediate investigation into the circumstances of the attack, identify those responsible, bring them before a competent and impartial tribunal, apply the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions provided by law and compensate the victims. We thank you in advance for your careful consideration of this matter, and remain, Sincerely yours, Eric Sottas Director
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