Recalling mass killings during the Partition, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the 1993 Mumbai riots, the 2002 Gujarat riots, the 2008 Kandhamal riots and the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, the Delhi High Court Monday said common to these was the “targeting of minorities and attacks spearheaded by the dominant political actors being facilitated by the law enforcement agencies”.
Devoting an entire section of the judgment in the Sajjan Kumar case to crimes against humanity, the bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel said it was a challenge to bring criminals in such cases to justice.
Demanding a stronger legal system, they said, “Neither ‘crimes against humanity’ nor ‘genocide’ is part of our domestic law of crime. This loophole Gujarat 2002 to Muzaffarnagar 2013: ‘Political patronage to mass killings’ needs to be addressed urgently.”
“There has been a familiar pattern of mass killings in Mumbai in 1993, in Gujarat in 2002, in Kandhamal, Odisha in 2008, in Muzaffarnagar in UP in 2013 to name a few… The criminals responsible for the mass crimes have enjoyed political patronage and managed to evade prosecution and punishment,” the bench said.
“The mass killings of Sikhs between 1st and 4th November 1984 in Delhi and the rest of the country, engineered by political actors with the assistance of the law enforcement agencies, answer the description of ‘crimes against humanity’ that was acknowledged for the first time in a joint declaration by the governments of Britain, Russia and France on 28th May 1915 against the government of Turkey following the large-scale killing of Armenians by the Kurds and Turks with the assistance and connivance of the Ottoman administration,” it said.
The bench recalled the Charter which established the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, to try Nazi war criminals after World War II. It used the term ‘crimes against humanity’, and it was the first time that prosecutions were made under it.
The Charter described crimes against humanity as “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or prosecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated”.
After the Nuremberg trials, the International Criminal Tribunal for (former) Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, also held trials for offences including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The judges explained their decision to “digress” into a discussion on crimes against humanity: “…cases like the present are to be viewed in the larger context of mass crimes that require a different approach and much can be learnt from similar experiences elsewhere,” they said, referring to the Supreme Court’s observations in Asha Ranjan vs State of Bihar in 2017 where the apex court said that rights of victims for a fair trial is an inseparable aspect of Article 21 and when this right is asserted individually as well as the part of the collective, “the conception of public interest gets galvanised”.