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Repeal AFSPA, PSA, says UN rapporteur

A UN envoy on Friday said Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act should be repealed while continuation of other controversial laws should be reviewed.

New Delhi: Critical of India`s human rights
record, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, North-East and West
Bengal, a UN envoy on Friday said Armed Forces Special Powers Act
and the Public Safety Act should be repealed while
continuation of other controversial laws should be reviewed.

Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation
of Human Rights Defenders after concluding a 10-day visit to
Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, West Bengal, Assam and Orissa said
human rights are being violated both by "state and non-state
actors" in the country.
While acknowledging security concerns in the country, the
UN rapporteur in her preliminary report said, "violation of
human rights" have been taking place in all the five states
and India needs to "do lot more" in preserving human rights.

"Throughout my mission, I heard numerous testimonies
about male and female human rights defenders and their
families, who have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, falsely
charged, disappeared, arbitrarily arrested and detained or
their offices raided and files stolen, because of their
legitimate work in upholding human rights," she said.

Especially expressing concern about the situation in
Jammu and Kashmir and North-Eastern states, she said the AFSPA
and PSA must be repealed.

"The Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public
Safety Act should be repealed and application of other
security laws which adversely affect the work and safety of
human rights defenders should be reviewed," Sekaggya said,
noting that she will file a detailed report to the UN in

Sekaggya met top government officials, including Union
Home Secretary G K Pillai, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao who
told her about government`s strong commitment to upholding
human rights.
Seeking better protection of human rights defenders, she
said she was "troubled by the "branding and stigmatisation of
human rights defenders who are labelled as `Naxalites`,
`militants`, `insurgents` and `anti-nationals`."

Asked whether there is any scope for UN intervention in
Jammu and Kashmir, she only said, "I do not know what do you
mean by UN intervention" but hoped that her recommendation in
the full report would be implemented by the authorities.

About Jammu and Kashmir, she said, "The issue in Kashmir
is about people. It is important to address the real issues of
people there. There should be efforts heal their wounds."

She also welcomed appointment of interlocutors by the
government and termed it as a "good process."

Asked specifically about human rights violations in West
Bengal, the official said she found violations of human rights
by both security forces and armed groups.

"I am particularly concerned at the plight of human
rights defenders working for the rights of marginalised people
that is Dalits, adivasis, religious minorities and sexual
minorities who face particular risks and ostracism because of
their activities," she added.

"In the context of India`s economic policies, defenders
engaged in denouncing development projects that threaten or
destroy the land, natural resources and livelihood of their
community have been targeted by state agents and private
actors, and are particularly vulnerable," Sekaggya said.
Asked about her assessment about the situation in
Gujarat, she said the state is fast developing but while ensuring
development the government must look into human rights issues
like displacements.

The UN Special Rapporteur in her preliminary report,
however, expressed satisfaction over India`s "comprehensive
and progressive legal framework" which guarantees human rights
and fundamental freedom as enshrined in the Constitution.

"I welcome the commitment expressed by Indian authorities
to uphold human rights. I further welcome the draft bill on
the Prevention of Torture with a view to ratify the Convention
Against Torture in the near future," Sekaggya said.

She said although India has various mechanisms to ensure
protection of human rights, their implementation at state as
well as central level was not very satisfactory.

Calling for broadening the scope and functioning of
National Human Rights Commission, Sekaggya said there is a
need to bringing in "more diversity" in the institution so
that it can handle difficult issues.

"The functioning of the NHRC should be reviewed with a
view to strengthening the Commission by, inter alia broadening
the selection criteria for appointment of the chairperson;
diversifying the composition of the composition of the
Commission etc," she added.

In her recommendations, she said the Prime Minister and
the Chief Secretaries should publicly acknowledge the
importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights
defenders and security forces should be clearly instructed to
respect their work and rights.

The rapporteur said the Supreme Court judgement on police
reform should be fully implemented in line with international
standards, in particular at the state level.
Commenting on the judicial system in the India, she said
in the absence of witness and victims protection Act, the
judiciary should take measures to ensure the protection of
human rights defenders at risk, witnesses and victims.

"The judiciary should ensure better utilisation of suo
motu whenever cases of violations against human rights
defenders arise," she said.

Sekaggya said she wanted permission for at least 14
days to visit the country but the government had allowed her
only 10 days.


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