NEW DELHI: A UN envoy on a human-rights mission this month to India on Friday called for reforms including the repeal of laws giving security forces wide powers of arrest in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Margaret Sekaggya, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, told a news conference in New Delhi that, during her 11-day tour of five Indian states, including Indian-administered Kashmir, she had been told of many abuses.
“I heard numerous testimonies about male and female rights defenders, and their families, who have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained,” she said.
In particular, Sekaggya called for an end to two laws applied in India’s northeast and in troubled Kashmir region that have proved to be a sticking point in New Delhi’s attempts to negotiate with Kashmiri separatists.
“The Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act should be repealed, and application of other security laws which adversely affect the work of human rights defenders should be reviewed,” she said.
Sekaggya urged India to extend a “healing touch” to residents of the strife-torn region, “to end the suffering”.
“I don’t know whether one wants to call rights violations state-sponsored (in Kashmir) but they are there,” she added.
The Muslim-majority Himalayan territory was rocked by violent demonstrations against Indian rule last summer that left 114 people dead — most shot by police and paramilitary forces.
Sekaggya also said that “state agents” were targeting activists opposing giant industrialisation projects elsewhere in India, a fast-growing country of 1.2 billion people.
“In the context of India’s economic policies, defenders engaged in denouncing development projects that threaten or destroy land, natural resources and livelihood of their community or of other communities have been targeted by state agents and private actors,” she said.
Acquisition of farmland for industry is a sensitive topic in India, nearly two-thirds of whose people depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
“I am particularly concerned at the plight of human rights defenders working for the rights of marginalised (low-caste) people, tribals, religious minorities and sexual minorities,” she added.
Sekaggya said she was “troubled by the branding and stigmatization of rights defenders who are labelled ‘Maoists’, ‘militants’, ‘insurgents’, ‘anti-national’ and ‘members of the underground’.”
The senior UN diplomat said she had also met the wife of doctor Binayuk Sen, whose husband has been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of supporting Maoists in the state of Chhattisgarh.
“We at the UN want to see how the case is handled by the court,” Sekaggya, a lawyer, said of Sen, who was jailed after his arrest three years ago on charges of waging war against the state.
Sen’s incarceration has sparked anger across India and drawn international criticism. His sentence is under appeal.
Sekaggya said she would submit her final report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012.