India
26.07.02
Urgent Interventions

Open Letter to the President of India

THE OBSERVATORY for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

OPEN LETTER TO Mr NARAYANAN PRESIDENT OF INDIA

Paris-Geneva, 26h July 2002,

Excellency,

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of their joint programme the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, would like to express their deepest concern regarding the murder of Ms. Navleen Kumar, a human rights activist involved in the defence of Adivasis land rights. She was stabbed 19 times on the terrace of her building at Nallasopora, a distant suburb of Mumbai, during the morning of 19 June 2002.

According to the information received from the Asian Center for the Progress Of People (ACPP), Ms. Navleen Kumar, 54, was well known for fighting, through legal intervention, against unscrupulous builders, bureaucrats, politicians and criminal elements, who, over the last 20-25 years, have been usurping and appropriating tribal landThrough the use of fraud, threats and force, in Thane Disctrict (Mumbai area). Through her dedication she had managed to re-open cases, file affidavits and had won legal battles contributing to restore Adivasis’ land rights. The day before her death, charges were filed against Bhai Thakur, a gangster accused in the murder of a builder, on the basis of Ms. Kumar’s testimony.

Ms. Kumar had already been the subject of grave threats and acts of harassment by this “land mafia” due to her work and commitment. Three months ago, she was threatened at gunpoint at Nallasopara railway station. She had also been threatened while within the premises of the Thane district court.

On 30 June, eleven days after Ms. Kumar's death, four men - Gajanan Patil, Ulhas Rane, Sanjay Kadu and Haji Kuppuswami Naidu - connected to Bhai Thakur were arrested by officers of the crime branch of the Thane rural police in connection with her killing. On 8 July, a local court remanded them to judicial custody. Until now, the Police have been unable to collect material or evidence to show the involvement of the accused in the crime.

The Observatory points out that since Ms. Kumar’s death, several other activists have received death threats for speaking out on the killing and for their continued work in favour of Adivasis’ rights, including Mr. Vivek Pandit, 45, a member of Shramjeevi Sanghathana, an organisation which is closely connected with restoring their land rights. Complaints for these death threats have been filed with the Director General of Police and the Chief Minister of the Maharashtra.

Excellency,

The Observatory urges the highest Indian authorities to :

i. carry out a full, impartial and effective investigation into this murder in order to bring those responsible to trial and apply the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions as provided by law;

ii. guarantee, under all circumstances, the security, the physical and psychological integrity of all activists involved in the defence of Adivasis rights, and more generally in the defence of indigenous rights in India;

iii. conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1998, notably its article 1 which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” and its article 12.2 which states that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, 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.”

We thank you for your careful consideration in this matter.

Sincerely yours, Sidiki KABA
President of the FIDH

Eric SOTTAS
Director of the OMCT
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