UN special rapporteurs dash off letter to Sushma on NRC

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HT Bureau

GUWAHATI, June 22: Asking for a report over the fate of Bengali Muslim minority in Assam in 60 days, four special rapporteurs of the United Nations (UN) have jointly dashed a letter to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on June 11.

The UN’s special rapporteurs on minority issues in their letter have also appealed the government to take all steps necessary to conduct a comprehensive review of the NRC update, ensuring that its implementation process is compliant with relevant international human rights standards.

“While awaiting your response, we would like to call on your Government to take all steps necessary to conduct a comprehensive review of the NRC update, ensuring that its implementation process is compliant with relevant international human rights standards,” the letter said.

The letter was signed by UN’s special rapporteur on minority issues Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance E Tendayi Achiume, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of right to freedom of opinion and expression Daid Kaye and special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed based in UN’s Human Rights Geneva headquarter.

In their letter, the special rapporteurs said, “There is no official policy outlining the implications for those who will be excluded from the final NRC. It is reported that they will be treated as foreigners and that their citizenship rights may be revoked in the absence of a prior trial. They may subsequently be asked to prove their citizenship before so-called Foreigners’ Tribunals.”

In this context, the NRC update has generated increased anxiety and concerns among the Bengali Muslim minority in Assam, who have long been discriminated against due to their perceived status as foreigners, despite possessing the necessary documents to prove their citizenship. While it is acknowledged that the updating process is generally committed to retaining Indian citizens on the NRC, concerns have been raised that local authorities in Assam, which are deemed to be particularly hostile towards Muslims and people of Bengali descent, may manipulate the verification system in an attempt to exclude many genuine Indian citizens from the updated NRC, the special rapporteurs pointed out.

It is alleged that these orders may lead to the wrongful exclusion of close to two million names from the NRC, without a prior investigation and trial. In addition, it is alleged that the orders contravene a High Court judgement of January 3, 2013 (Gauhati High Court, State of Assam vs. Moslem Mondal and Others), which stipulates that automatic referrals to Foreigners’ Tribunals are not permissible as a fair and proper investigation is required prior to the referral of a case. The orders may also contravene section 3 (1) (a) of the Citizenship Act 1955, which grants citizenship at birth to anyone born in India on/after January 26 , 1950, but prior to July 1, 1987.

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