India struggles on human rights

Chairwoman Hautala sent on 22 June 2011 a letter to the Ambassador of India concerning reports that the Rapid Action Force are reporte to have used excessive force towards a peaceful gathering in Delhi on 4th of June as well as the case of Mr Devender Pal Singh, who has been sentenced to death. Hautala noted that the European Parliament must see improvements in the human rights record of India in order to give its approval to the Free trade agreement that is under negotiations.

Your Excellency, Mr Jaimini Bhagwati,

I am writing to you concerning the events in Delhi on 4th of June where the police officers from the Rapid Action Force (RAF) have reportedly used excessive force towards a peaceful gathering of yoga exponent Baba Ramdev and his followers. It would seem that the authorities ordered the police action after the failure of talks on ending Mr Ramdev’s fast, and they attempted to arrest him. According to the reports, the RAF used baton charge and later teargas to disperse the protesters when they tried to stop the arrest. I am deeply alarmed by the information that during the events the police injured about 70 persons, leading to at least 60 of them being hospitalized.

I recall that it is the view of many observers of the case that any arrest of Mr Ramdev cannot be upon any legal bases justified and that therefore his right to liberty and assembly was unlawfully violated. Furthermore, I am deeply concerned over the use of the RAF as an anti-riot force aimed in responding to public disorders. I am strongly of the view that its deployment was wholly disproportionate in comparison to the peaceful nature of the demonstration, evidenced also by the high number of civilian demonstrators inured due to this operation. I furthermore recall that the use of police force must be in all cases proportionate according to the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

Moreover, I find it necessary to express my dismay over the fact that it would appear that none of the victims of this excessive use of force seem to have been granted effective judicial remedy. Neither would this seem likely to be necessarily forthcoming since according to relevant national legislation concerning armed forces, no investigations can be carried out against members of security forces unless permission by the central government is granted. That hampers de facto the right of the victims to have a prompt, effective and impartial investigation and along this line, I would like to reiterate the request by the UN High Commissioner for human Rights to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 and review the relevant national legislation.

Additionally, I would like to draw your attention on the case of Mr Devender Pal Singh, who was sentenced to death and is now at risk of imminent execution after his mercy petition was rejected in May. He was arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (TADA), recognized as containing provisions incompatible with international standards for fair trial. I am concerned that he was found guilty solely on the basis of an unsubstantiated confession he made to the police, allegedly made under duress which he later retracted. Furthermore, despite the offenses

any person could have committed, being held on death row for 8 years arguably constitutes gravely inhumane treatment. At this point it is most important to note the staunch position against the death penalty by the EU and reiterate that it is a human rights policy priority for the EU to call all states sill applying this inhumane punishment to abolish it immediately. For these reasons, I urge your authorities to commute the death sentence of Mr Devender Pal Singh and to accept his mercy petition, in light of the fear that his trial might not have met international fair trial standards and that he has been waiting on death row for an unjustified long period, that can amount to cruel and inhuman treatment. I would also recall the dangers that the TADA contains, in terms of restriction of fundamental rights, a revision would be highly recommended.

It is of a paramount importance that the Government of India shows its commitment in human rights while the negotiations concerning the new Free Trade Agreement will be had, in order to facilitate its approval by the European Parliament, which is entitled, according to the Lisbon Treaty, to have a final say on its adoption.

I am looking forward to your reply.

Respectfully yours,

Heidi Hautala

Chairwoman of European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights