Amnesty International Urges New Gujarat Govt to Prioritise Human Rights

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NEW DELHI —  As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a majority in the Gujarat Assembly elections for the seventh consecutive time, Amnesty International on Thursday said that the new government must pledge to prioritise human rights of all.

New Gujarat government must prioritise and uphold human rights for all including religious minorities and human rights defenders who continue to face escalating repression and persecution in the state, said Amnesty International, reports Muslim Mirror.

“Religious minorities in the state of Gujarat, particularly Muslims have been victimised through discriminatory laws and policies which violate international human rights treaties to which India is a state party. At the same time, human rights defenders who raise their voice to stand up for the rights of marginalised communities have been relentlessly hounded and punished. It’s time that the next government not only roll back these repressive laws and policies but also ensure those responsible for forced eviction and abuse of power are brought to justice. Victims must be provided with access to justice and effective remedies,” said Aakar Patel, chair of board at Amnesty International India.

Amnesty said that the local authorities targeted, and demolished properties owned by Muslims in Khambat town of Gujarat in April 2022, after incidents of communal violence citing that they were built “illegally”, forcibly displacing them and causing terrible trauma and suffering, according to the report.

“Amnesty International investigated the demolitions over a period of two months which included verifying the government notices and hearing the testimonies of those impacted, which suggest that the demolitions were carried out without following due process,” the organisation said in a statement.

The organisation also made a mention of the 1991 Disturbed Areas Act, which was amended in 2019.

The act was “originally intended to prevent distress sale of property in communally sensitive areas of Gujarat.”

According to Amnesty, the Act was amended in 2019 giving wide powers to the executive heads of districts to notify a particular area as “disturbed” where any sale of property can only take place with their prior sanction.

Amnesty cited media reports which said that the discriminatory declaration of large areas as “disturbed” and the subsequent harassment of Muslims wanting to buy residential properties in these areas by Hindu groups has confined the minority Muslim community to separate, densely populated areas often lacking basic civic amenities and minimized their political representation.

“The 2019 amendment violates the right to adequate housing enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to which India is a state party which includes accessibility, affordability, habitability, location, and cultural identity as its key aspects,” the organization said in a statement.

The organization, in it’s statement made a mention of the 2003 Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act which was amended in 2021 “effectively criminalising all inter-faith marriages in the guise of prohibiting forced conversion by ‘allurement’ and ‘temptation’.

“It allowed any blood relative of the ‘victim’, many of whom are largely Hindu women who marry outside their religion, to complain against such a marriage and widened the net of harassment by targeting anyone who aided the marriage or provided advice. Further, in absolute violation of the principles of criminal justice, it reversed the burden of proof by placing it on the persons accused of causing a forced conversion instead of the prosecution. Even though the Gujarat High Court temporarily stayed parts of the legislation, that has not deterred the state from harassing many inter-faith couples and their families in the last one year, according to local media reports,” the organization said in the statement.

Amnesty also said that the “Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continues to discriminate against minorities on religious grounds in Gujarat which has also been governed by the BJP for the last 27 years, by abusing its executive powers.”

“These executive orders are completely oblivious to the nature and scale of persecution faced by minorities in the neighbouring region and run afoul of India’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which India is a state party.” it said.

“The combined impact of all these laws, policies and practices appears to amount to a collective punishment, whereby the Muslim community as a whole is penalised in the state of Gujarat. Such punitive actions are a serious violation of international human rights law and need to be reversed immediately,” said Aakar Patel.

The organization said that on September 25th “the Gujarat Police detained award-winning human rights defender Sandeep Pandey and six others just before they were scheduled to commence a rally to show solidarity with gang-rape survivor Bilkis Bano whose 11 convicted rapists were released prematurely by the government. Five months pregnant at the time of the incident, Bilkis Bano’s seven family members were killed including her three-year-old daughter during the 2002 riots.”

“The next government has a chance to break away from the past and start upholding the rights of religious minorities and human rights defenders and protecting them from years of abuse and demonization. The incoming new leadership must prioritise the human rights of everyone and take steps to reform legislations, policies, and practices to ensure that all the people of Gujarat can freely exercise their human rights,” said Aakar Patel.

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Photo: Aakar Patel, chair of board at Amnesty International India

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