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India: Failure to Prosecute 1984 Anti Sikh violence Shows Need for Police Reforms, Communal Violence Law - HRW release

29 October 2014

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Human Rights Watch

India: No Justice for 1984 Anti-Sikh Bloodshed
Failure to Prosecute “Organized Carnage” Shows Need for Police Reforms, Communal Violence Law

October 29, 2014

(New York) – Successive Indian governments’ failure to prosecute those most responsible for killings and other abuses during the 1984 anti-Sikh violence highlights India’s weak efforts to combat communal violence. The new Indian government should seek police reforms and to enact a law against communal violence that would hold public officials accountable for complicity and dereliction of duty.

Ten government-appointed commissions and committees have investigated the deadly attacks against thousands of Sikhs in 1984 following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Independent civil society inquiries found complicity by both police and leaders of Gandhi’s Congress Party. Yet, three decades later, only 30 people, mostly low-ranking Congress Party supporters, have been convicted for the attacks that resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries. No police officer has been convicted, and there were no prosecutions for rape, highlighting a comprehensive failure of the justice system.

“India’s failure to prosecute those most responsible for the anti-Sikh violence in 1984 has not only denied justice to Sikhs, but has made all Indians more vulnerable to communal violence,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities repeatedly blocked investigations to protect the perpetrators of atrocities against Sikhs, deepening public distrust in India’s justice system.”

In the early 1980s, Sikh separatists in Punjab committed serious human rights abuses, including the massacre of civilians, attacks on Hindu minorities, and indiscriminate bomb attacks in crowded places. In June 1984, the government deployed troops to remove militants who had occupied the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The military campaign caused serious damage to the shrine and killed hundreds, including pilgrims, militants, and security personnel. On October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi was murdered in an act of revenge by two of her Sikh bodyguards.

Following the assassination, mobs, often instigated by Congress Party leaders, went on a rampage against Sikhs in Delhi and other cities. Over three days, at least 2,733 Sikhs were killed, their property looted and destroyed. Many women were raped in the capital. Hundreds of Sikhs were killed elsewhere in the country. The authorities quickly blamed every incident of mass communal violence on a spontaneous public reaction—Gandhi’s son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, declared at a rally in the capital, “Once a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it shakes.”

Many victims, witnesses, and perpetrators have since died, making hopes for justice and accountability more remote with every passing year. Many legal cases collapsed after powerful suspects allegedly threatened or intimidated witnesses. In other cases, poor investigation and tampering of evidence by the police led to acquittals of the accused.

To address the 1984 abuses and the continuing problem of communal violence, Human Rights Watch urged the authorities in India to:

Establish an independent, time-bound investigation into the 1984 violence cases, including the 237 cases closed by police, with the authority to recommend cases for prosecution.

Implement police reforms to insulate the police from political pressure to protect perpetrators, such as occurred after communal violence in 1984 (Delhi), 1992 (Mumbai), 2002 (Gujarat), and 2013 (Muzaffarnagar).

Create a police complaints authority both at the state and district levels, as recommended by the Supreme Court, that would investigate public complaints of serious police misconduct.

Establish an effective witness protection program to end the intimidation, threats, and harassment of victims and witnesses such as occurred after the 1984 attacks.

Enact pending laws against communal violence, compliant with international human rights standards, that would make state officials liable for failure to act to prevent and stop communal violence, including as a matter of superior responsibility. Adopt measures on nondiscrimination for displaced people, access to relief, and voluntary return and resettlement in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and on the right to redress in line with the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Remedy and Reparation.

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