NEW DELHI (30 March 2012) –– The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, called on the Government of India to continue to take measures to fight impunity in cases of extrajudicial executions, and communal and traditional killings.
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, concluded today his official visit to India, which took place from 19 to 30 March 2012.
Mr. Heyns praised the openness and willingness of the Government of India to engage, shown also by the fact that it was willing to host a mission dealing with the right to life, an area in which issues to be tackled are often complex in various countries.
“This, together with the generally high level of commitment by the Indian Government to human rights and the fact that there have recently been improvements in some respects in the loss of life, could provide a window of opportunity to take decisive steps to ensure the greater realization of the right to life,” stated Christof Heyns.
While recognizing the size, complexity, security concerns and diversity of India, the Special Rapporteur remains concerned that the challenges with respect to the protection of the right to life in this country are still considerable. “Evidence gathered confirmed the use of so-called ‘fake encounters’ in certain parts of the country. Where this happens, a scene of a shoot-out is created, in which people who have been targeted are projected as the aggressors who shot at the police and were then killed in self-defence. Moreover, in the North Eastern States, and Jammu and Kashmir the armed forces have wide powers to employ lethal force.”
The above is exacerbated by the high level of impunity that the police and armed forces enjoy, due to the requirement that any prosecutions require sanction from the central government – something that is rarely granted. “The main difficulty in my view has been these high levels of impunity”, stressed the Special Rapporteur.
Other areas of concern relate to the prevalence of communal violence, and, in some areas, the killing of so-called witches, as well as dowry and so-called “honour” killings, and the plight of dalits (‘untouchables’) and adivasis (‘tribal people’).
Christof Heyns proposed a number of provisional steps to be taken to address these concerns. In the first place, he called for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry, consisting of respected lawyers and other community leaders, to further investigate all aspects of extrajudicial executions. This should entail a form of transitional justice.
“Institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission should establish to what extent the guidelines they provide on matters such as the use of lethal force by the police are in fact observed, as opposed to providing empty promises in practice,” underscored the Special Rapporteur, recommending the immediate repeal of the laws providing for the immunity from prosecution of the police and the armed forces, and in particular the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958.
“India should ratify a number of international treaties, including the Convention Against Torture and the International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearance,” he said. “India should also host missions by other United Nations independent experts, in particular those related to torture, enforced disappearances and counter-terrorism measures.”
The 12-day official mission by the Special Rapporteur was the first visit to India by an independent expert since that country extended an open invitation to UN Special Procedures in 2011, and the first mission to India by an expert mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
The UN Special Rapporteur’s final conclusions and recommendations will be submitted as a comprehensive report to the Human Rights Council at a future session in 2013.
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns (South Africa), is a director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria, where he has also directed the Centre for Human Rights, and has engaged in wide-reaching initiatives on human rights in Africa. He has advised a number of international, regional and national entities on human rights issues. Mr. Heyns’ research interests include international human rights law and human rights law in Africa.
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