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UN experts: Risk of statelessness for millions and instability in Assam, India

GENEVA (3 July 2019) – UN experts* today expressed their grave concern over the ongoing update of the National Register of Citizens in Assam, India, and its potential to harm millions of people, most of whom belong to minorities.
The experts also issued warnings on the rise of hate speech directed against these minorities in social media, and the potential destabilising effects of the marginalisation and uncertainties facing millions in this part of the country.

“This process may exacerbate the xenophobic climate while fuelling religious intolerance and discrimination in the country,” warned the experts.

In June 2018, more than 4 million people in Assam were excluded from the amended draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) list, in particular Muslims and Hindus of Bengali descent. Since then, more than 3 million revision claims have been filed by those excluded, while an additional 200,000 objections have been added against individuals previously included.
The deadline for the publication of the final NRC list is set for 31 July 2019. It is reported that those excluded from that list will be referred to the Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam, where, according to Section 9 of the 1946 Foreigners Act, they will have to prove that they are not “irregular foreigners”. 

“We are seriously concerned over the current implementation of the NRC update in Assam and its potentially far-reaching consequences for millions of people, in particular persons belonging to minorities who risk statelessness, deportation or prolonged detention,” the experts said.

“In nationality determination processes, the burden of proof should lie with the State and not with the individual,” said the experts, noting the discriminative and arbitrary nature of the current legal system.

“It is regrettable that the deadline for the publication of the final NRC list remains the 31 July 2019, despite the significant number of pending revision claims and objections, the complex NRC modalities, uncertainties about the membership of Foreign Tribunals and their procedures, as well as the reported inconsistencies and errors.”

The experts also highlighted the lack of clarity in the link between the NRC process, electoral roll information and the separate judicial processes of citizenship determination before the Assam Foreigners’ Tribunals. “This adds to the complexity of the whole process and opens the door to arbitrariness and bias.” 

Serious concerns were also raised over the reported intention of the Indian authorities to replicate the NRC model in other parts of the country, in particular following the adoption by the Mizoram state legislature, in March this year, of a bill aiming at creating separate registers for “residents” and “non-residents”.

The experts said they had not received any response from the Indian Government over their concerns and repeated calls for clarification on the NRC process. 

“We call on the Indian authorities to take resolute action to review the implementation of the NRC and other similar processes in Assam and in other states, and to ensure that they do not result in statelessness, discriminatory or arbitrary deprivation or denial of nationality, mass expulsion, and arbitrary detention,” the experts said. 

ENDS 

* The experts: Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or beliefMr. Fernand de VarennesSpecial Rapporteur on minority issuesMs E. Tendayi AchiumeSpecial Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

For further details on the concerns of Special Procedures with the NRC, see also previous communications by Special Procedures to the Government of India: OL IND 11/2019 of 27 May 2019, OL IND 29/2018 of 13 December 2018 and IND 13/2018 of 11 June 2018. 

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.  

For more information and media requests please contact: Mr. Damianos Serefidis (+41 22 917 94 88 / dserefidis@ohchr.org) or write to minorityissues@ohchr.org.