India rejects human rights report on Salwa Judum (Lead)

July 15th, 2008 - 8:55 pm ICT by IANS  


New Delhi, July 15 (IANS) The Indian government Tuesday implicitly criticised a report by Human Rights Watch demanding action against state-backed vigilantes battling Maoist guerrillas in Chhattisgarh. A report brought out by Human Rights Watch called for an end to all government support for unlawful activities by the Salwa Judum vigilantes and urged affected the state governments to take immediate measures to protect the tens of thousands displaced in violence.

“From time to time, reports are brought out by national and international organisations on human rights. India is a thriving democracy and has adequate institutional mechanisms to ensure that human rights of its citizens are protected,” said a statement issued by the home ministry.

Without making a reference to the report that makes a strong case for disbanding the Salwa Judum, the home ministry said that India had an “independent judiciary, free media and commissions at the national and state levels to promote and protect human rights.

“India’s active participation in relevant international inter-governmental fora such as the Commission on Human Rights and organs of the UN is geared to protection and promotion of human rights,” the statement said.

The 182-page report, “‘Being Neutral Is Our Biggest Crime’: Government, Vigilante, and Naxalite Abuses in India’s Chhattisgarh State,” documents human rights abuses against civilians, particularly indigenous tribal communities, caught in a tug-of-war between government forces and the vigilante Salwa Judum and Naxalites.

Human Rights Watch found that since mid-2005, government security forces and members of the Salwa Judum, which it said was falsely described by officials as a spontaneous people’s anti-Naxalite movement, attacked villages, killed and raped villagers, and burned down huts to force people into government camps.

It further asked both the central and Chhattisgarh governments to hold security forces accountable and state-backed vigilantes responsible for “attacking, killing and forcibly displacing” thousands in anti-Maoist operations.

Human Rights Watch collected more than 50 eyewitness accounts of attacks involving government security forces in 18 villages in Dantewada and Bijapur districts in Chhattisgarh.

At the same time, the Naxalites have carried out bombings and have abducted, beaten, and executed civilians, particularly those suspected of supporting the Salwa Judum.

It said that tens of thousands of internally displaced people were stranded in government camps in Chhattisgarh or in the forestlands of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

“The Chhattisgarh government denies supporting Salwa Judum, but dozens of eyewitnesses have described police participating in violent Salwa Judum raids on villages - killing, looting, and burning their hamlets,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and member of the research team.

“Instead of promoting vigilantes, the Chhattisgarh government should be promoting respect for human rights and pursuing accountability.

Naxalites have retaliated in a brutal manner, abducting, assaulting and killing civilians perceived to be Salwa Judum supporters. Even before the conflict escalated in mid-2005 due to Salwa Judum’s operations, the Naxalites have been responsible for widespread human rights abuses including torture, extortion, summary executions and the recruitment of child soldiers.

The conflict has given rise to one of the largest internal displacement crises in India - at least 100,000 people have resettled in camps in southern Chhattisgarh or fled to neighbouring states, principally Andhra Pradesh, according to Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch called on the Maoists to immediately end all attacks against civilians and allow camp residents to return to their home villages without reprisals.

The report highlights the impact of this conflict on children’s lives. The Naxalites have long used children as young as six years old as informers and children from 12 years old in armed operations.

Several human rights organisations and Communist parties have also sought a ban on Salwa Judum, accusing the Chhattisgarh government of arming civilians in thousands in the name of tackling Maoists.

A recent report of the Planning Commission also recommended that the Salwa Judum be disbanded. Salwa Judum was launched in 2005 to fight the Maoists.

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