Sunday, February 17, 2008

Gujarat: Three tribal men killed in police firing

Shri Justice S. Rajendra Babu
ChairpersonNational Human Rights Commission,
Faridkot House,Copernicus Marg,
New Delhi, PIN 110001

Subject: Complaint against the killing of three tribal men in police firing in the Vijaynagar block of Sabarkantha district, Gujarat on 13 Feb 2008.14 February 2008

Dear Justice Rajendra Babu,

I am writing to seek immediate intervention of National Human Rights Commission against the killing of three tribal men in police firing in Antarsumba village in Vijaynagar block of Sabarkantha district, Gujarat on 13 Feb 2008.The source revealed that three tribal residents of the Dholwani forest range, including Sanja Rupji Balat (31) and Shailesh Rathod (27), were killed in police firing at Antarsuba police station on 13 Feb 2008. The police refused to show the dead body of another tribal person, not yet identified. Another 3 tribal persons were injured by police firing and struggling in the local hospital.

It is reported that a group of over 500 peaceful tribal protesters were making a demonstration against the brutality of police and forest officers who illegally arrested and tortured 15 tribals in the Antarsuba police station of Sabarkantha District, accusing them of inciting others to claim forest land.Further, tribal activist Kajal Ninama alleged they were treated as lesser humans by forest and police officials. Fifteen of their men had been taken away by police on 12 and 13 Feb saying they incited others to claim forest land.

They appealed for their release, and as the police didn’t respond, they decided to make peaceful demonstration.The source also revealed that when the local people came forward to help the injured persons, the police prevented them from carrying the injured tribal persons into the hospitals. The local people were also tortured brutally by the police.The media persons, who were present to report the incident, were also attacked and police snatched and destroyed their cameras.

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression. It is not only legally guaranteed in the Indian Constitution, but India also has its obligations to international human rights treaties and commitment to UN General Assembly.The Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy has no hesitation to claim that India has failed its commitment to the resolution of UN General Assembly (A/RES/53/144, articles 1, 5 and 6 b-c) which states, "Everyone has the right,... to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms" through peaceful meetings, advocacy, campaigning, etc. and to "discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms,... to draw public attention to those matters" and "freely to publish, impart or disseminate ... views,... and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms". Therefore, the police firing on peaceful protesters is condemned.The police firing of 13.02.2008 against peaceful protesters directly violates the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials which states, ‘No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. The police and paramilitary violated this Code by interfering with the peaceful assembly.

Also, such situations prohibit the use of firearms. The intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life, which in this situation was not adhered to by the police. The police authorities failed to carry out their duties using non-violent means and did not exercise restraint with the legitimate objective to minimize damage and injury to the protestors. The Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy requests you to intervene by taking the following measures:

Direct the State government of Gujarat to investigate the matter by an independent authority and report to NHRC within 15 days;

Direct the State government of Gujarat to pay interim compensation of 10 lakh rupees to the family of the deceased, and 1 lakh rupees to each injured indigenous persons with free medical treatment;

Direct the State government of Gujarat to withdraw all false charges made against the tribes, and release them immediately;
Direct the State government of Gujarat to suspend the police officers involved in firing to prevent further malpractice during investigation and bring them into court of justice;

Direct the State government of Gujurat to stop eviction of the tribals from the forest and provide their land rights under recently enacted Forest Rights Act; and

Take any other measures that NHRC deems fit.

Looking forward your kind intervention.

Subash Mohapatra
Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy

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