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Sunday 22 January 2012

Illegal raid and Intimidation of human rights defender, Seram Herajit Singha by the army in Assam, India

Illegal raid and Intimidation of human rights defender, Seram Herajit Singha by the army in Assam, India

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) received information regarding intimidation of human rights defender, Seram Herajit Singha and harassment of his family by Armed Forces personnel and Assam Police personnel. It is reported that a team of about 20 armed persons raided his house at mid-night on 5 January, 2012 looking for him. But he was not home at that time. There is concern about his and his family’s physical and psychological security.

Seram Herajit Singha, aged about 27 years and son of S. Amuyaima Singh, is a permanent resident of village Serunkhal, Rongpur Pt-II in the district of Cachar, Assam. He is a well-known social activist working in the fields of wild life and environment and issues relating to Manipuri community living in Barak valley of Assam. Currently he works at the Committee on People and Environment (COPE) as Organising Secretary since its establishment in 2009. The COPE has been working for protection of environment and wild life mainly through awareness building among the people by seminar, public meeting etc. At present the activities of COPE is more focused on the campaign against the proposed dam on the river Barak at Tipaimukh for its apprehended devastating affect on the downstream area.

According to the information, in the dead of night at about 1am on 5 January, 2012 about 20 person carrying guns and sticks raided the house S Herajit. Some of them were in uniform and others wore civil dress. After they woke up Herajit’s father, mother and younger brother the soldiers told them that they were looking for Herajit. The family informed them that he was not home, as he had gone to Guwahati for works of his organization. The raiding party asked some questions about the activities of Herajit. On inquiry some of the soldiers informed only that they are from Armed Force but did not tell which regiment they belonged to. One of them was in police uniform and he identified himself as a constable of Assam Police posted at the Rongpur Police Outpost at Madhuramukh under Silchar Sadar Police Station.

The family was shocked and fear-stricken at this mid-night raid. They thought that the soldiers came with malafide intention which might have been even physical termination of Herajit. Because there was no criminal complaint registered with the police against him and he is a responsible and peace loving law abiding citizen. Such a raid at mid night by the army is not warranted for the purpose of law enforcement at any event. Since then he and his family have been living in uncertainty and fear. It is not unreasonable to think this way in this part of the country since many cases have been documented where the worst happened in this way.

When contacted, the district Superintendent of Police (SP) pleaded ignorance of such a raid but assured of an inquiry. The officers of the nearest army camp at Pailapool denied that any such raid was conducted by them. However, the police officers at the Rongpur Outpost said that they were asked by the army the day before to make available one or two constables for a raid in the night and accordingly they delegated a constable. They refused to say anything more abut the identity of the army personnel or the purpose of the raid. As still no visible steps have been taken by the SP, Herajit, his family and his organization lost faith in his assurance. 

BHRPC thinks that the raid was conducted to intimidate and harass Herajit and his family for his legitimate works relating to human rights of the people to clean environment and particularly his works in the campaign against the proposed dam at Tapaimukh in Manipur launched by the COPE.  

Human rights works including environmental rights by peaceful and democratic means is both duty and rights of every individual as spelt out in the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (also known as The Declaration on human rights defenders. Particularly Article 12 of the Declaration imposes duty on the State to “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or dejure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

Under Article 20 f the Universal Declaration of Human Rights everyone is given the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association which includes forming and working in non-governmental organizations. The UDHR also provides in Article 12 that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

The conduct of the soldiers also amounts to interference in due process rights laid down in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which India is a state party including Article 17 that states that “1. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.” and “2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” and Article 22 which provides that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

Further more, the right to form association and unions is also guaranteed in Article (c) (1) 19 of the Constitution of India. 

Clause (d) of sub-section (1) of section 2 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 defines human rights as "the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India." The Act also mandates the National Human Rights Commission to inquire, suo motu or on a petition presented to it by a victim or any person on his behalf, into complaint of (i) violation of human rights or abetment thereof or (ii) negligence in the prevention of such violation, by a public servant; under section (a) 12 and to encourage the efforts of non-governmental organisations and institutions working in the field of human rights under clause (i) of the same section.

In the circumstances of the facts of the case and the human rights laws and norms it is imperative that the authorities in India should:

1. Initiate an immediate, impartial and exhaustive investigation into the reports of illegal raid and harassment of family of human rights defender and COPE member Herajit Shingh;

2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological security and integrity of S. Herajit Shingh and his family and all members of COPE and their families;

3. Guarantee that human rights defenders in Assam are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including police harassment.

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