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India: Carnage in Gujarat Unpunished
New York, HRW:
One year after the beginning of communal violence in Gujarat that claimed over 2,000 lives, there have been no convictions of those responsible and little in the way of promised relief for victims, Human Rights Watch said today.
Although the Indian government initially boasted of thousands of arrests following the attacks, most of those arrested have since been released on bail, acquitted or simply let go. According to local activists, those who remain in jail largely belong to Dalit (so-called untouchable), Muslim or tribal communities. Due to manipulations in the filing of charge sheets, the instigators and ringleaders of the attacks may escape prosecution altogether.
“At this point, the central authorities must step in,” said Smita Narula, senior researcher for South Asia and author of the Human Rights Watch report on the Gujarat violence. “The same state government complicit in the violence cannot be trusted to deliver justice.”
Human Rights Watch said that in large-scale massacre cases, the Central Bureau of Investigation, a federal body, should intervene.
Witnesses who initially came forward to file complaints and identify their attackers have since been harassed, threatened or bribed into turning hostile on the witness stand or simply not showing up when a case goes to trial. Instead of pursuing murder and rape charges, authorities have regularly downgraded charges to rioting.
Last week, the Gujarat state government charged 131 Muslims for the Godhra attack against Hindus that sparked the anti-Muslim violence. All were charged under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). But no Hindus have been charged under POTA in connection with the post-Godhra violence against Muslims.
“The POTA charges show the extent of the bias in the legal system in Gujarat. The rule of law cannot be draconian for some and nonexistent for others,” added Narula.
Recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission and numerous human rights bodies have not been implemented and, as with previous episodes of large-scale communal violence, the government has provided little in the way of promised relief and rehabilitation.
“India cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of its past. Impunity sows the seeds of further violence and undermines the rule of law for all citizens,” Narula said. “Had the recommendations of the Srikrishna Commission inquiry into the Bombay riots in 1992 and 1993 been implemented, we might have been able to avoid last year’s carnage in Gujarat.”
Incidents of communal violence continue to be reported almost on a daily basis in Gujarat. Despite assertions to the contrary by the state government, the situation is far from “normal.” While many families have received monetary compensation for the deaths of their loved ones, few have received funds to adequately compensate for the destruction of their homes and businesses. The onus of providing relief has fallen largely on the Muslim community and non-governmental groups. By the end of October 2002, the government had closed most relief camps even though most families were afraid to return to what was left of their homes.
The violence in Gujarat has proved an efficient catalyst for the ghettoization of the Muslim community. The reconstruction of homes has largely taken place along communal lines. Because of fears for their safety, Muslim families have been unwilling to return to their homes. After the violence, most cannot work, reside or send their children to schools in Hindu-dominated neighborhoods. As the segregation of communities continues, hopes for dialogue and reconciliation are dissipating.
In April 2002, Human Rights Watch released its report, “We Have No Orders to Save You: State Complicity and Participation in Communal Violence in Gujarat,” based on investigations conducted in March 2002. The investigations revealed that the violence against Muslims was planned well in advance of the Godhra massacre and with extensive state participation and support.
In January 2003, Human Rights Watch returned to Gujarat and spoke to eyewitnesses to some of the worst massacres, as well as numerous lawyers, activists and officials involved in the preparation of criminal cases. Human Rights Watch also interviewed eyewitnesses to the September 2002 attack on Akshardham in Gandhinagar. Human Rights Watch called on the government to prosecute those responsible for the deadly attack in which thirty-two people were killed.
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