Over two years after a UN human rights expert raised serious concerns about unlawful killings and excessive use of force, India is yet to take concrete steps to address these violations and deliver justice, Amnesty International India said today.
On 19 June, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions will submit a follow-up report before the UN Human Rights Council, analysing the steps taken by India to implement the recommendations he made in May 2013 in a country visit report.
The follow-up report states that while some steps have been taken, “much remains to be done to address and prevent extrajudicial killings and to ensure accountability”. It says that guidelines provided by courts and the National Human Rights Commission, and recommendations by inquiry commissions, often “remain on paper with little or no implementation on the ground”.
“The Special Rapporteur’s report is another grim reminder that India needs to do a lot more to prevent extrajudicial executions, and end the impunity that continues to deny justice to victims,” said Raghu Menon, Advocacy Coordinator at Amnesty International India. “Authorities need to urgently implement the recommendations of this report.”
The UN Special Rapporteur noted that some positive steps have been taken to prevent unlawful killings, including Supreme Court rulings on ‘fake encounters’ (staged extrajudicial executions) and the death penalty, and the setting up of commissions which have made important recommendations on ending sexual violence against women and extrajudicial executions.
However, he also points out that unlawful killings by state and non-state actors continue to be reported. According to the Special Rapporteur, “impunity remains a serious problem and the lack of accountability in the majority of instances of state actors is a principal concern”.
The Special Rapporteur reiterated his call for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, saying that such legislation “remain a real impediment to proper accountability”. Pending repeal or amendment, the status of a ‘disturbed area’ under the Act must be regularly reviewed, and justified decisions made on its extension. The Special Rapporteur noted that the conviction of five security force personnel in the Machil fake encounter case of 2010 was “a welcome instance of accountability”.
Observing that various legislative provisions and practices continue to hinder accountability, the Special Rapporteur again urged the government to remove legal barriers for the prosecution of public servants, including the requirement for ‘prior sanction’ from the government which “continues to be a major hurdle for victims in securing remedies for human rights violations.”
Calling on the government to withhold granting promotions and other awards to security force personnel suspected of carrying out unlawful killings, the Special Rapporteur noted with concern that police officials facing prosecution in the Ishrat Jahan and Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter cases had been reinstated in senior positions. He said he was concerned “that this will encourage impunity and impede the criminal trials against the reinstated officers”.
The UN Special Rapporteur also called on India to urgently address barriers faced by vulnerable and marginalized groups in accessing justice. He welcomed the introduction of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill of 2014, and recommended that the law’s scope be extended to include Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.
The UN Special Rapporteur reiterated his call for the Indian government to promptly ratify the UN Convention Against Torture and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons From Enforced Disappearances. He also recommended that the government set up a mechanism to regularly review and monitor the implementation of the directives of the Supreme Court and NHRC guidelines on arrests, encounter killings, and custodial violence and death.
Other recommendations covered issues related to the excessive use of force, deaths in custody, attacks by armed groups, communal violence, dowry deaths and ‘honour’ and witch killings, and the strengthening of human rights commissions.
“When the 2013 report was tabled in the UN Human Rights Council, India dismissed the findings of the Special Rapporteur instead of engaging with his observations, which are based on the work of several Indian activists, victims’ groups, and state-appointed commissions,” said Raghu Menon.
“Hopefully, this time, authorities will be more willing to act on the recommendations, which will go a long way in improving the human rights situation in India.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, visited India on mission in March 2012. His full country report was tabled at the UN Human Rights Council on 29 May 2013. Two years after the country report, the Special Rapporteur will now table a follow-up report where he analyses the steps taken by India to implement the recommendations made in 2013. His follow up report is available here. The 2013 country report is available here.