(Jan 24, 2011)

UN Special Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya
on the situation of human rights defenders in India

"I am particularly concerned at the plight of human rights defenders working for the rights of marginalized people, i.e. Dalits, Adavasis (tribals) religious minorities and sexual minorities, who face particular risks and ostracism because of their activities."

This is one of the observations of Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, at the conclusion of her visit to India. From 10 to 21 January 2011, Sekaggya carried out a fact-finding mission to assess the situation of human rights defenders in India. She travelled to New Delhi, Bhubaneshwar (Orissa), Kolkata (West Bengal), Guwahati (Assam), Ahmedabad (Gujarat), Jammu and Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir). Her press release at the conclusion of her visit gives a six-page account of her preliminary observations and recommendations.

Sekaggya also writes:

"Throughout my mission, I heard numerous testimonies about male and female human rights defenders, and their families, who have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, falsely charged, under surveillance, forcibly displaced, or their offices raided and files stolen, because of their legitimate work in upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms."
"These violations are commonly attributed to law enforcement authorities; however, they have reportedly also shown collusion and/or complaisance with abuses committed by private actors against defenders. Armed groups have also harassed human rights defenders in some instances."
Sekaggya is rather pessimistic about the functioning of the Indian judicial systems in upholding human rights. She writes:
"Although the judiciary is the primary avenue for legal redress, I have observed that its functioning is hampered by backlog and significant delays in administrating cases of human rights violations."
She is also critical of the human rights institutions:
"The National Human Rights Commission and the existing State Human Rights Commissions is an important additional avenue where human rights defenders can seek redress. However, all the defenders I met during the mission voiced their disappointment and mistrust in the current functioning of these institutions. They have submitted complaints related to human rights violations to the Commissions, but reportedly their cases were either hardly taken up, or the investigation, often after a significant period of delay, concluded that no violations occurred. Their main concern lies in the fact that the investigations into their cases are conducted by the police, which in many cases are the perpetrators of the alleged violations. While I welcome the establishment of a human rights defenders focal point within the National Human Rights Commission, I regret that it was not given sufficient prominence within the Commission."
Sekaggya will present her full report with conclusions and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in March 2012.

See the press release of Margaret Sekaggya here.

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