International rights body Amnesty International on Wednesday questioned the functioning of Assam’s Foreigners’ Tribunals and called for “a review of the existing legislative regime governing nationality determination in India”.
“The Foreigners Tribunals have been enabled by the Supreme Court of India and the Gauhati High Court to create a statelessness crisis in Assam,” the body said in a press statement on the occasion of the release of its report titled “Designed to Exclude: How India’s courts are allowing Foreigners Tribunal to render people stateless in Assam”.
Aakar Patel, Head of Amnesty International India, said in the press statement, “Holding governments accountable for the human rights abuses they commit has always been difficult. However, in this case, it is the judiciary that has aided the government institutions and Foreigners Tribunals in committing abuses with impunity.”
Over 19 lakh people were excluded from the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on August 31 in Assam. These people can appeal against their exclusions at the state’s existing 100 FTs. To meet the burden of the cases, 200 new FTs will be started soon. Official ‘rejection orders’ required to go to an FT are yet to be released by the NRC authorities.
“Riddled with bias, prejudices and arbitrary decision-making, they pass vague orders rendering people stateless. The judiciary is complicit in perpetuating this exclusion and abuse,” the report says.
It adds, “For the last decade and a half, Foreigners Tribunals have wreaked havoc in Assam. They have not been held accountable by the courts, the Government of India and the Government of Assam. There is a need for a legislative regime that provides all the fair trial guarantees, including the access to a fair hearing before a court or independent body and access to judicial review, the people of Assam and now the rest of India deserve and need.”
The report analyses key court orders related to Assam’s foreigners issue, like the Sarbananda Sonowal v. Union of India, Assam Sanhmilita Mahasangha v. Union of India, and Assam Public Works v. Union of India. It has also quoted legal experts like retired Justice of the Supreme Court of India and former Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court, Madan B. Lokur, Senior Supreme Court Lawyer Sanjay Hegde, advocate and writer, Gautam Bhatia, as well as Sanjoy Hazarika, a senior journalist and International Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. The report also documents 16 case studies to highlight the various problems in citizenship determination mechanisms in Assam.
Amnesty has called on government of Assam to, among other demands, review FT orders “to determine whether fair trial standards enshrined in national and international law were followed in determining their nationality”. The body has also called upon the government of India, among multiple other points, to “Restore citizenship to people where it can be shown that the deprivation of citizenship was done through arbitrary-decision making and constituted a human rights violation”.
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