Kochi: The European Union has refused to make its reports – one in part and another in full – on the 2002 Gujarat violence public, stating that it could affect relations between India and the EU.
An official of the European Union’s European External Action Service shared this information with Dutch human rights activist Gerard Oonk, when the latter wrote to the agency asking for a copy of the EU mission reports on the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002.
However, it has been 20 years now; the reports are an important part of the history of EU-India relations and cannot be kept under wraps indefinitely, Oonk told The Wire.
Reports on the Gujarat violence
The government of the United Kingdom had conducted an inquiry into the violence that erupted in Gujarat in 2002, which claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people over a span of three days in February that year.
Details from the report have been included in the recent BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, titled ‘India: The Modi Question’. Read the full text of the report at The Wire. (The Indian government banned the documentary, and screenings of the documentary were not permitted. However the documentary popped up on several platforms including Telegram, per news reports.)
“The VHP and its allies acted with the support of the state government,” the UK government report read. “They could not have inflicted so much damage without the climate of impunity created by the state Government. Chief Minister Narendra Modi is directly responsible.”
Like the UK, the European Union too had conducted an inquiry into the Gujarat violence. Oonk, an activist who focuses on human rights in India, wrote to the European External Action Service (EEAS) – the EU’s diplomatic service which implements their Common Foreign and Security Policy – in June last year asking for a copy of the EU mission reports on the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002 after a journalist from the BBC approached him for it.
“This is because of an article we published in 2003 referring to statements in the magazine The Week which quotes from the report,” Oonk told The Wire.
Oonk also wanted the information from the EEAS because he was writing a book about his work for the India Committee of the Netherlands, in which their work on what happened in Gujarat also quite prominently figured, he wrote in an email to The Wire.
In reply, the EEAS shared information on two reports on the matter, Scroll reported. One – a joint report dated April 18, 2002 – was an assessment by the EU delegation in India at the time. The EEAS shared some parts of this joint report with Oonk.
The joint report
The details in this joint report were obtained based on information gathered from reports of “Indian origin” – of governmental, quasi-governmental organisations such as the National Human Rights Commission and the National Minorities Commission – as well as private and media sources, local and foreign non-governmental organisations, and fact-finding teams sent to Gujarat.
It found that the attack on a train at Godhra “carrying Hindu militants who were supporting the building of a temple in Ayodhya” which claimed 58 lives “served as a pretext to trigger the violence that followed”. While official accounts claim that 850 people died in the violence, “reliable human rights contacts” put that number at “at least 2000”, the report said.
“There was widespread rape of Muslim women. Violence is ongoing,” it noted.
Muslim businesses “were systematically targeted and destroyed”, per the report; this was followed by calls for an “economic boycott” of such businesses. The state government’s initial compensation offer was “discriminatory” because while Hindu victims were given Rs. 2,00,000, all other victims – mostly Muslim – were given only Rs. 1,00,000. On the behest of the Union government, the state government later made it a uniform Rs. 50,000, the report said. Of the 1,40,000 people displaced due to the violence, 1,00,000 were Muslim, it added.
These are but excerpts from the report; the report could not be shared in full, EEAS authorities said, since that would undermine the protection of international relations as per Article 4 (1)(a), third indent, of the Regulation No. 1049/2001 which pertains to public access to the European Parliament, Council and Commission documents.
“In our assessment, the public disclosure of this document in full would risk prejudicing the international relations between the EU and India,” Nereo Penalver Garcia, head of the division for parliamentary affairs at the European External Action Service, wrote to Oonk. The Wire has viewed a copy of the correspondence.
The report would “erode” the trust between counterparts in India and the EU, and affect their capacity to follow through with agreed actions and strategic objectives across a range of fields, including security and foreign agenda, Garcia wrote in his letter to Oonk.
‘Will affect India-EU relations’
The other report, titled “Common report on the March/April 2002 events”, could not be shared even in part, the EEAS told Oonk.
According to a letter from Gianmarco Di Vita, Director-General of EEAS, to Oonk, the EEAS’s analysis concluded that this report contained “sensitive elements and assessments of the events in Gujarat that took place in 2002”.
“Indeed, as already explained to you, this document contains sensitive elements and assessments of the events in Gujarat that took place in 2002, Thus, disclosure of this document to the public would harm the relations between the EU and India, by undermining the confidence and trust in EU-India partnership, thus prejudicing EU’s capacity to protect and promote its interests in this contexts well as an updated proposal for terms of reference for a demarche by the Indian authorities,” Di Vita’s letter, which Oonk shared with The Wire, reads.
Though Oonk filed an appeal to get full access to both documents, the EEAS refused, per Scroll. The contents of both documents in full would “hamper the on-going cooperation with India, both at political and operational level”, Di Vita wrote to Oonk. According to Scroll, a spokesperson of EEAS also confirmed the authenticity of the correspondence between Oonk and officials at the EEAS.
It has been 20 years now since the event and the EEAS should share those initial internal reports, Oonk told The Wire.
“They are an important part of the history of EU-India relations which cannot be kept under wraps indefinitely,” he wrote. “Especially now that the EU and India are on a crucial trajectory negotiating on a wide-ranging trade and investment agreement based on ‘shared values’, I think there should also be a frank discussion on past and present issues regarding democracy and human rights,” he added.