Amnesty on Citizenship (Amendment) Bill: ‘Repeal Bigoted Law Immediately’

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Activists of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) hold placards during a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

Abdul Bari Masoud | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI — Condemning the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, global rights defender Amnesty International on Thursday demanded that the law should be repealed immediately. Amnesty described the bill as “a piece of bigoted law which legitimises discrimination on the basis of religion and stands in clear violation of the Constitution of India and international human rights laws.”

The contentious bill, passed by the both houses of Parliament, has triggered widespread and violent protests and resentment in several parts of the country particularly in the North East and mainly in Assam.  Amnesty India also dubbed it as an “exclusionary piece of law”.

“The bill, while inclusionary in its stated objective, is exclusionary in its structure and intent.”

Amnesty India’s new executive director Avinash Kumar said, “Welcoming asylum-seekers is a positive step, but in a secular country like India, slamming the door on persecuted Muslims and other communities merely for their faith reeks of fear-mongering and bigotry.”

On the amendments in the bill, he said these were completely oblivious of the nature and scale of persecution faced by the minorities in the neighbouring nations. He reminded India of its international obligation as regards the universal charter of rights. “They (amendments) also run absolutely foul of India’s international obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The amendments also run counter to Article 14 of the Constitution of India.”

In addition, the amendments exempt particular communities from the application of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946 that provide for prosecution and detention of irregular migrants and foreigners, he noted.

In a reference to the detention camps in Assam, the Amnesty official said, subjecting one set of asylum-seekers to detention and exempting others contravened Article 21 which protected every person from arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Furthermore, in addition to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, India also shares its borders with Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Highlighting the discriminatory nature of the amended law, the official pointed out that the amendments did not bring Sri Lankan Tamils under its purview, even as they formed the largest refugee group in India and have been living in the country for over three decades.

“The amendments also do not include the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, who have been described as the ‘world’s most persecuted minority’ by the UN. It further ignores the plight of the Ahmadiyyas of Pakistan, the Bihari Muslims of Bangladesh and the Hazaras of Pakistan who have suffered systematic persecution over the years. The exclusion of these communities showed the bias of the (Indian) government.”

Besides adversely impacting the refugees and asylum-seekers, the amendments also impinged on the human rights of Indian citizens, particularly Muslims, Avinash Kumar said.

He said the Indian government is all set to start a nation-wide National Register of Citizens (NRC) which will document the citizenship of more than 1.3 billion people in the country. The Amnesty also took note of Union home minister Amit Shah’s  statements in this regard.

Referring to the recently concluded NRC exercise in Assam which resulted in the exclusion of more than 1.9 million people, Kumar said India denied any form of discrimination but the amendments clearly weaponised the NRC process against Muslims.

“It is difficult to view the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in isolation and not look at the larger picture where both the amendments and the NRC may deprive minorities of their citizenship in India. The amendments also set a dangerous shift in the way citizenship will be determined in India. Worryingly, they also stand to create the biggest statelessness crisis of the world, causing immense human sufferings,” said Avinash Kumar.

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