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UN expert calls on India to fight impunity for extrajudicial executions

Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns.
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns.

UN expert calls on India to fight impunity for extrajudicial executions

While commending India's generally high level of commitment to human rights, a United Nations expert today urged the Government to continue to fight impunity for extrajudicial executions, and communal and traditional killings.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, said he recognized the size, complexity, security concerns and diversity of India – however, he remains concerned that the challenges with respect to the protection of the right to life in the 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,” he told reporters in New Delhi at the end of a two-week mission to India.

He added, “Moreover, in the north-eastern states, and Jammu and Kashmir, the armed forces have wide powers to employ lethal force.”

This is exacerbated, the expert said, 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, who reports to the UN Human Rights Council in an independent and unpaid capacity.

Mr. Heyns also pointed to other areas of concern. These include 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].

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, as a first step to addressing concerns.

He also recommended the immediate repeal of the laws providing for immunity from prosecution of the police and the armed forces, as well as the ratification of a number of international treaties, including those related to torture and enforced disappearance.

The full report of his visit will be submitted to the Geneva-based Council in 2013.