Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thanks to NHRC for respect to Irom Sharmila

Case Details of File Number: 67/14/0/2013
Diary Number :10156/13/JR

On the 23rd October, 2013, during the visit of the National Human Rights Commission to Manipur, two of its Members, accompanied by senior officers, met Ms Irom Sharmila, who, having declared that she will fast until the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is repealed, is under trial for charges under Section 309 IPC, since in the view of the State Government, her sustained refusal to eat is an attempt to commit suicide. The Commission met her in the government hospital where she is held in judicial custody, kept alive with nutrients administered to her through a tube. Ms Sharmila is a person of concern to the Commission on three counts. She is, firstly, a person in custody, on the terms of whose imprisonment the Commission has received some complaints. Secondly, it has been represented to the Commission, and to UN Special Rapporteurs who have visited India, that the terms of her imprisonment have deliberately been made harsh because she is a human rights defender. Lastly, in so far as she is held in conditions that are onerous because of her peaceful opposition to an aspect of government policy, a law whose repeal she seeks, she is a prisoner of conscience. The Commission found Ms Irom Sharmila frail, but alert. The doctor in attendance confirmed that her health was monitored and there was no cause for concern. She herself seemed resigned to the fact that, though she will not voluntarily accept any nourishment, it will be administered to her, and did not complain of any physical ill-treatment. However, Ms Irom Sharmila complained repeatedly that she was rarely allowed visitors, whereas all others in the custody of the Manipur Government routinely received visits from family and friends. Even her fiancé, who lives abroad, had been refused permission to meet her during his last visit to India in 2011. It was clear that her enforced separation from those on whose support and affection she leans, and whose visits she has a right to expect, is a source of considerable anguish to her. Though a person still under trial, she is in effect kept in a solitary confinement which places her under enormous stress. The Commission considered this unconscionable and asked the officials in whose immediate custody she is why, for her, this egregious exception is made to the practice that permits and regulates visits to persons in custody. It received no satisfactory reply, but was informed that permission to meet Ms Irom Sharmila must be issued by either the Chief Minister or the Deputy Chief Minister. The Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur, has since informed the Commission that access to Ms Irom Sharmila was regulated for two reasons: to guard against dangers to her life and to insulate her from individuals and ideologies acting against the State. The fact that the State Government had permitted the Commission to meet her showed that it did not keep her in isolation. The Commission has pointed out to the Chief Secretary that it did not need the permission of the Government of Manipur to visit Ms Irom Sharmila. Section 12 (c) of the Protection of Human Rights Act lays down that the Commission may: "visit, notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, any jail or other institution under the control of the State Government, where persons are detained or lodged for purposes of treatment, reformation or protection, for the study of the living conditions of the inmates thereof and make recommendations thereon to the Government" The Commission has met Ms Sharmila and is issuing these proceedings under the terms of Section 12 (c) of the Protection of Human Rights Act. The Commission also pointed out to the Chief Secretary that the Special Rapporteur it has appointed for the North-East, a retired Director General of Police, was refused permission to meet Ms Irom Sharmila during his visit to Manipur in August, 2013. He too was told that permission would have to come from the Chief Minister, and was rarely forthcoming. The Commission has explained to the Chief Secretary that, under the terms of access that he outlined, the denial of permission to its Special Rapporteur could only mean that the Government of Manipur considered the National Human Rights Commission inimical to it, and one of its most senior representatives a threat to Ms Sharmila. The Commission understands that two Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council, on visits to Manipur, had expressed an interest in meeting her, but had also been told that this would not be possible. The Commission believes that if the Government of Manipur could deny permission to its Special Rapporteur, and to Special Rapporteurs of the UN, to visit Ms Irom Sharmila, it is unlikely that it gives others access to her. It would appear that, while keeping her alive, since her death would create problems for the State Government, it is trying to break her spirit through this enforced isolation, for which there is no judicial mandate, though she is in judicial custody. The Commission reminds the Government of Manipur that its treatment of Ms Irom Sharmila is in breach of several international human rights standards. Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil, Political and Cultural Rights, to which India is a Party, stipulates that: "All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person." Article 1 of the Convention against Torture states: "For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity..." The "Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment", adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1988, stipulates in Principle 6 that "No person under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. No circumstance whatever may be invoked as a justification for torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Principle 19 stipulates that "A detained or imprisoned person shall have the right to be visited by and to correspond with, in particular, members of his family and shall be given adequate opportunity to communicate with the outside world, subject to reasonable conditions and restrictions as specified by law or lawful regulations. These "conditions and restrictions" are laid down in Principles 16 and 18, but Principle 15 lays down that Notwithstanding the exceptions contained in principle 16, paragraph 4, and principle 18, paragraph 3, communication of the detained or imprisoned person with the outside world, and in particular his family or counsel, shall not be denied for more than a matter of days. The UN Commission on Human Rights has held that a person in custody in whose case these principles are not honoured is kept in "arbitrary detention". The Commission therefore strongly recommends to the Government of Manipur that it immediately remove the arbitrary restrictions imposed on access to Ms Irom Sharmila, which are in breach of India's obligations under international human rights standards and principles, and a grave violation of human rights. She must be permitted to receive visitors under the regime that governs all persons in judicial custody. The Commission shall expect the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur, to report to it by December 6, 2013, on the steps it has taken in response to this recommendation.
Action Taken
Notice Issued
Status on 10/30/2013
Response from concerned authority is awaited.

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