India: Terrorism charges are pretext to silence human rights defenders, say UN experts
India: HRDs “silenced”
05 October 2018
GENEVA (5 October 2018) – UN human rights experts* have expressed concerns about terrorism charges laid against 10 human rights defenders working with India’s poorest and most marginalised communities, including the Dalits, and urged authorities to ensure their cases are promptly heard in line with international law.
All were arrested in connection with investigations into a public meeting organised a day before the 200th anniversary of the commemoration of a battle at Bhima-Koregaon, an important cultural event and a symbol of Dalit empowerment. Police subsequently claimed that the human rights defenders had links with ‘unlawful organisations’.
“We are concerned that terrorism charges brought in connection with the commemoration of Bhima-Koregaon are being used to silence human rights defenders who promote and protect the rights of India’s Dalit, indigenous, and tribal communities,” the UN experts said.
Mr. Surendra Gadling, Mr. Rona Wilson, Ms. Shoma Sen, Mr. Sudhir Dhawale and Mr. Mahesh Raut were taken to the city of Pune on 6 June, where they remain imprisoned in Yerwada Central Jail, following repeated extensions of their detention periods. Ms. Sudha Bharadwaj, Mr. Vernon Gonsalves, Mr. Arun Ferreira, Mr. Varavara Rao remain under house arrest. The UN experts welcomed Mr. Gautam Navlakha’s release from house arrest on 1 October 2018, but expressed dismay at the Maharashtra Government’s subsequent appeal of the court’s decision to grant his release.
“We are very concerned about the charges against the human rights defenders and the continuing detention of nine of them,” the UN experts said. “All have been active in peacefully defending human rights, including those of marginalised and minority communities, political prisoners, and women, and their arrests appear to be directly related to their human rights work.
“We appeal to the Indian authorities to ensure that due process, including the right to a fair trial, is provided to all detained human rights defenders, with a view to their prompt release. We urge the Government to refrain from engaging in the criminalisation of human rights defenders in general, including through the use of overly broad national security legislation,” the experts said.
“We wish to remind the Indian Government of its obligation to protect and promote the rights of all human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, as they peacefully carry out their legitimate work.”
The 10 activists were arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) during two nationwide crackdowns: the first on 6 June 2018 and the second on 28 August 2018. “The UAPA’s vague definition of ‘unlawful activities’ and ‘membership of terrorist organisations’ confers discretionary powers upon State agencies, which weakens judicial oversight and diminishes civil liberties in the process,” the UN experts said.
The experts are in contact with Indian authorities about this case.
In 2016, the former Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Ms. Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, issued a thematic report to the Human Rights Council, on discrimination based on caste and analogous systems of inherited status, see: A/HRC/31/56.
The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as 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.
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This year is the 70th anniversaryof the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Upfor Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.