Assam’s Detention Centres Violate Both Indian and International Human Rights Laws: Legal Expert

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Banesa Begum in the detention camp inside Silchar Jail with her daughter, Sanjana. — Photo courtesy: The Telegraph

EXCLUSIVE

Caravan News

NEW DELHI— “Assam’s detention centres violate not just Indian Constitution law related to right to life but also the international human rights laws which are also one of the bases of our Constitution,” says a legal expert who recently visited some detention centres in India’s northeast state of Assam.

There are thousands of people in six detention centres in Assam. On August 31 this year, final list of Assam’s National Register of Citizens or NRC was released, excluding around 19 lakh people. It is feared that many of them could land in detention centres if they could not prove their bona fide citizenship of India before the state-run Foreigners’ Tribunals within next four months.

Dr Mohsin Alam Bhat.

In this backdrop, Dr Mohsin Alam Bhat, who teaches law at Jindal Global University’s Centre for Public Interest Law, talks about how the detention centres have been violating both Indian and international laws.

“Over the last many years, even before the NRC process had started, many of the people were declared to be foreigners by Foreigners’ Tribunals set up by the state government. These Foreigners’ Tribunals sent many of these declared foreigners to the detention centres. There are six detention centres – all of them built within jail premises,” says Mr. Bhat who had assisted Special Monitor of NHRC Harsh Mander when he visited Assam to study these detention centres.

“I got to see the conditions in many of these places first-hand. My conclusion is that these detention centres, and also unfortunately the Supreme Court’s order dealing with the function of these detention centres, violate not just Indian Constitution law that we have of right to life under Article 21 which applies to everybody independent of their citizenship, but also international human rights laws which are also one of the bases of our Constitution,” he said.

Assam’s Detention Centres Violate Both Indian and International Human Rights Laws: Legal Expert"

Posted by Caravandaily on Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Detention should be last resort, not first recourse:

Elaborating about the grounds on which these laws and human rights have been violated, Mr. Bhat said: “International human rights law makes it mandatory that people are not sent to detentions as the first recourse. Detention should always be something which nation state should do after it has exhausted all the recourses. It is, as international human rights law calls it, exception and a last resort. And only when there are conditions in which there are individuals who are declared to be foreigner or migrant and state is convinced that the person has been absconding or he could be a threat to public safety and security.”

“What has happened in the case of detention centres in Assam is that the policy is that detention is not the last but first resort and they are sent to detention centres immediately. After the Supreme Court’s orders of the last few months, it seems that the Indian government and the Assam government have been spending a lot of money on building massive infrastructure for these detention centres. They have been giving an impression that detention will be the first policy and that is extremely dangerous,” says Mr. Bhat.

Detention in Detention Centres for long period is violation of Law:

Mr. Bhat expresses concerns on the way people are kept in detention centres for three, five and more years, clearly violating the international human rights laws.

“Detention for a long period of time is under the international human rights law treated as cool and inhuman treatment which is actually prohibited under the international convention. Even though India has not ratified the convention, it has been part and parcel of right to life. You can’t live with human dignity in a state which tortures you or inhumanly treats you. And under international law, either indefinite or long detention of migrants is inhuman treatment. Numerous people have actually spent three years, five years and sometimes more in these detention centres. When Mr. Harsh Mander went to the Supreme Court demanding that these inhuman conditions from detention centres are removed, the Supreme Court only half-heartedly, it seems, allowed for the upper limit of three years but I would see even three years of detention in these detention centres amounts to inhuman treatment and violates human rights,” said Mr. Bhat.

He asks as to why even those who personally did not cross international borders are being treated as criminals.

“Many of these people have been part of the community, they are not who themselves crossed the international border so they have not violated any laws, they are not criminals, rather they are part of the community. So to put them behind bars is treating them as criminals and this violates the fundamental rights,” he said.

“I would urge the Indian government to be very transparent about what their policy is. They have not created any policy. We know they have formulated some model codes for detention centres but the ministry of home affairs has not released the contents of it. We do not know whether the detainees get any legal aid and facilities for health. And if parents are in jail what is the situation of their children? All of these are necessary human rights of people in detention,” says Bhat.

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