The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative pointed to a 1996 verdict of the Supreme Court on Chakma refugees to back its plea.
New Delhi: The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has urged the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to consider withdrawing its recent advisory on the deportation of Rohingya to Myanmar by drawing attention to a 1996 verdict of the Supreme Court.
A Muslim ethnic minority, the Rohingya belong to Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Since they do not find mention in Myanmar’s official list of 135 ethnic communities, they are not recognised as citizens. In a bid to drive them out of Myanmar, government agencies reportedly force the Rohingya to take permission for getting married, seek employment, avail health services and even for recording births. These permissions usually cost thousands of Kyat (basic monetary unit of Myanmar) in bribe money. Such measures amounting to ethnic persecution have led thousands of Rohingya to flee to countries like Bangladesh, India and Thailand.
In India, an estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees live in different states. About 10,000 of them reside in Jammu.
On August 8, the MHA had issued an advisory titled Identification of illegal migrants and monitoring thereof, asking states to take “prompt steps in identifying the illegal migrants and initiate deportation processes expeditiously and without delay.”
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In a press note date August 26, the CHRI pointed at the National Human Rights Commission v. State of Arunachal Pradesh case in 1996 wherein the apex court held that state governments are under constitutional obligation to protect threatened groups of foreign nations. The case related to the demands to push out the Chakma tribe who have been living in the north-eastern states since 1964.
The note said, “Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the ‘right to life’ to all persons and not just Indian citizens. This has repeatedly been affirmed by the Supreme Court, most particularly in National Human Rights Commission v State of Arunachal Pradesh. The court also held that state governments are under a constitutional obligation to protect threatened groups of foreign nationals.”
CHRI contended, “The advisory runs contrary to India’s constitutional and international commitments. As far as the latter is concerned, India is a state party to Article 6 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which upholds the right to life. In addition, the deportation of Rohingya Muslims back to Myanmar would also be a violation of Article 7 of the ICCPR in as much as it prohibits states to extradite, deport, expel or otherwise remove a person from their territory, where there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk of irreparable harm.”
Madhurima Dhanuka, coordinator, prison reforms programme, CHRI, said, “While countries have a right to expel foreigners under international law, to deport someone requires another country to acknowledge his/her citizenship. As Myanmar refuses to acknowledge Rohingya Muslims as citizens, it becomes impossible for the Indian government to deport them there, making the advisory infructuous.”
While the MHA advisory lists the Rohingya people’s vulnerability of getting recruited by terrorist organisations as a major security concern, the CHRI underlined that “the mere possibility is not a valid reason to deport them out of the country where they could face severe consequences.”
“Under the principle of non-refoulement, countries are under obligation not to send back refugees to their country of origin should circumstances of grave human rights violations prevail there,” said CHRI director Sanjoy Hazarika.
For some years now, international human rights groups and the United Nations have reported wide-scale human rights violations against the Rohingyas, including extrajudicial killings, gang rapes, arsons and other violence. Yanghee Lee, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, has repeatedly raised her concern on the targeted violence against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine. In March 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Council announced that it would investigate allegations of rights abuses by the Myanmarese army on the Rohingyas. China and India, however, did not back the decision.
In 2016, Myanmar’s state counsellor and celebrated political leader Aung San Suu Kyi appointed former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to head an advisory commission on the issue. In August 2017, Annan submitted his report during a visit to Myanmar where he called for a “calibrated approach”, “one that combines political, developmental, security and human rights responses to ensure that violence does not escalate and inter-communal tensions are kept under control.”
As per media reports, thousands of Rohingyas are now fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh as fresh violence recently erupted between Myanmarese security forces and Rohingya fighters. More than 100 people, mostly insurgents, have been reportedly killed in the continuing violence.