India: Repression of a peaceful protest, resulting in the death of 13 protesters

25/05/2018
Urgent Appeal

IND 005 / 0518 / OBS 076
Obstacles to freedom of peaceful assembly /
Killings
India
May 25, 2018

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.

Brief description of the information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the repression of a peaceful protest against environmental pollution, which resulted in the death of 13 protesters [1] in Thoothukudi District, Tamil Nadu State.

According to the information received, on May 22, 2018, a large and diverse group of protesters gathered to peacefully march towards the Thoothukudi District Collectorate (the District Head Office), demanding the closure of the Sterlite Copper smelting plant, over concerns regarding the impact of the plant’s operations, including environmental pollution and groundwater contamination, as well as on the health of the local population. The march marked 100 continuous days of peaceful protests since February 22, 2018, which included a peacefully assembly of over 200,000 people on March 24, 2018.

During the protest, police attempted to disperse protesters several times, by charging them with batons (lahti). However, this had little impact in dispersing the crowd, and consequently heightened tensions between police and protesters.

Following these failed attempts to disperse the protesters, the police used assault rifles to fire indiscriminately and without warning on protesters, against standard operating procedures under relevant international standards [2]. This resulted in further shooting at different locations along the route to the District Collectorate, including by individuals who were not wearing police uniforms, and from the top of moving vehicles. The crackdown resulted in the death of the above-mentioned 13 protesters, including three women, and the injury of many others.

Following the events, the Government of Tamil Nadu hurriedly announced the formation of a commission of inquiry to investigate events during the protest and appointed a former judge to preside the commission.

Moreover, on May 22, 2018, the District Collector ordered the enforcement of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits an assembly of more than four people in an area. The Chief Secretary also issued a directive ordering an Internet shutdown in Thoothukudi and in the nearby districts of Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli from May 23 to May 27, 2018, in the “interest of maintaining public order” [3]. The directive further stated that it was “necessary that services of Internet should be stopped/curtailed to prevent spreading of (…) rumours with half-truth”.

The Observatory condemns the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters who exercised their rights to peaceful assembly in the defence of environmental rights. The Observatory urges the authorities and the National Human Rights Commission of India to carry out a prompt, thorough, impartial and transparent investigation into the above-mentioned events without undue delay and hold those responsible accountable.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in India, urging them to:

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in India;

ii. Carry out an immediate, thorough, impartial, and transparent investigation into the use of lethal force by law enforcement personnel in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment human rights defenders in India, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. Comply with all their international obligations to respect the exercise of the citizens’ right to freedom of association and assembly, as established in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular its Articles 21 and 22;

v. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular with Articles 1, 12.1, and 12.2;

vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by India.

Please also write to the National Human Rights Commission of India, urging it to:

vii. Exercise its powers under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, and immediately intervene in this case of killing of protestors through an independent, impartial and time-bound investigation undertake by its own investigation wing along with its Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders;

Addresses:

· Mr. Shri Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, Fax: + 91 11 2301 6857. E-mail: pmosb@pmo.nic.in / manmo@sansad.in
· Mr. Raj Nath Singh, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, Fax: +91 11 2309 2979. Email: dirfcra-mha@gov.in
· Mr. Rajiv Gauba, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs of India, Email: hshso@nic.in
· Justice Dipak Misra, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court, of India, Fax: +91 11 233 83792, Email: supremecourt@nic.in
· Justice Shri H.L. Dattu, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Fax +91 11 2465 1329. Email: chairnhrc@nic.in
· Mr. Srinivasa Kammath, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: hrd-nhrc@nic.in
· H.E. Mr. Rajiv Kumar Chander, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 906 86 96, Email: mission.india@ties.itu.int
· H.E. Mr. Manjeev Singh Puri, Embassy of India to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 6489638 / +32 2 6451869

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of India located in your country.

***
Geneva-Paris, May 25, 2018

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
• Tel and fax FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

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