UN Human Rights Experts Express Alarm Over Manipur Violence, India Calls Comments 'Misleading'

The eighteen experts, most of whom are special rapporteurs working with the UN Human Rights Council, noted that fact-finding missions to Manipur are being harassed for their documentary work.

New Delhi: UN human rights experts issued a press release expressing their alarm over the scale of human rights violations involved in the Manipur violence and at the “inadequate humanitarian response” in its wake.

They said the situation was “grave” and pointed out that it has involved alleged acts of “sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, home destruction, forced displacement, torture and ill-treatment”.

Referring to (among other incidents) the video of two Kuki women being sexually assaulted in public, the experts they were “appalled by the reports and images of gender-based violence targeting hundreds of women and girls of all ages, and predominantly of the Kuki ethnic minority.”

Their statement continued: “The alleged violence includes gang rape, parading women naked in the street, severe beatings causing death, and burning them alive or dead.”

“It is particularly concerning that the violence seems to have been preceded and incited by hateful and inflammatory speech that spread online and offline to justify the atrocities committed against the Kuki ethnic minority, particularly women, on account of their ethnicity and religious belief,” it added.

The experts welcomed fact-finding missions conducted by lawyers and human rights activists in Manipur, but noted reports that such initiatives were being responded to with harassment.

One such fact-finding mission, by the Editors’ Guild of India (EGI), submitted its findings three days ago, only for the Manipur police to file an FIR against it soon after.

EGI’s report had criticised the Manipur government’s internet shutdown and said that the media based out of Imphal had turned into “Meitei media”.

Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh responded to the report and accused the EGI of “trying to create more clashes”.

This is the second fact-finding team that has seen legal action after publishing a report on Manipur. In July, a case was registered against Annie Raja, Nisha Siddhu and Deeksha Dwivedi, who were part of the National Federation of Indian Women’s team in Manipur and had said in their report that Manipur was seeing “state-sponsored violence”.

The UN experts also expressed concern over the Union government’s response to the violence, which continues to rage over four months after it began.

“We have serious concerns about the apparent slow and inadequate response by the Government of India, including law enforcement, to stem physical and sexual violence and hate speech in Manipur,” the press release quoted the experts as saying.

Other observers have also criticised the Union government for not doing enough in the wake of the violence.

In an interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, historian Ramachandra Guha said that the “mandatory first step to stop this situation slipping further into civil war” was Biren Singh’s resignation. Singh is viewed by many in the state’s Kuki community as acting in a partisan manner favourable to the Meitei community.

The 18 experts, most of whom are special rapporteurs working with the UN Human Rights Council, concluded their statements by hoping that public officials who may have aided and abetted the incitement of tensions in Manipur will be held to account.

India’s response

India has responded to the UN experts by saying these comments are “unwarranted, presumptive and misleading”, PTI reported.

The Indian permanent mission the UN claimed that the situation in Manipur is now peaceful and stable. “The Government is also committed to protecting the human rights of the people of India, including the people of Manipur,” it said.

“The Permanent Mission of India completely rejects the news release as it is not only unwarranted, presumptive and misleading but also betrays a complete lack of understanding on the situation in Manipur and the steps taken by Government of India to address it,” the Indian permanent mission continued.

The mission also said that the UN expert group should “refrain from commenting on the developments, which have no relevance to the mandate given to them by the Council and abide by the established procedure for issuing news releases and wait for inputs sought from the Government of India before doing so.”

Note: This article was updated to reflect India’s response.