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18 June, 2014

PUCL seeks end to persecution of human rights defenders

PUCL seeks an independent review and intervention by NHRC in order to stop the continuing persecution and prosecution of human rights defenders, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand of Citizens for Peace and Justice and others.

People's Union for Civil Liberties today filed a petition with the National Human Rights Commission seekingan independent review and intervention in respect of continuing persecution and prosecution of human rights defenders, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand of Citizens for Peace and Justice and others

The petition stressed that CJP and its office bearers Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand and their team are human rights defenders. They have, despite threats of grave risk to their personal safety, ensured that the rule of law prevailed in the state of Gujarat at a time when the entire state machinery was subverted and all public officials either abdicated their constitutional and statutory functions or worse connived / actively participated with the perpetrators of terror and violence. PUCL believes that the repeated complaints that are being filed against these human rights defenders are only a consequence of their success in upholding the rule of law in Gujarat and ensuring multiple convictions, including that of Minister Maya Kodnani .

National and International Human Rights Obligations Towards Human Rights Defenders

PUCL in its petition pointed out that under international human rights principles there is a duty cast upon every State to accord adequate protection to human rights defenders. 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” (March, 1999) acknowledges that human rights defenders play a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights and it is the duty of every State and its administrators to avoid criminalisation, stigmatisation, impediments, obstructions or restrictions on the work of human rights defenders. 

Art. 18 of this Declaration stresses that “individuals, groups, institutions and non-governmental organisations have an important role to play and a responsibility in safeguarding democracy, promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms and contributing to the promotion and advancement of democratic societies, institutions and processes”.

Further, in October 2009 the Hon’ble NHRC, recommended that it is the obligation of the State to protect human rights of all. Individuals, groups or associations who work for promotion and protection of human rights, commonly referred to as Human Rights Defenders, should also be provided protection by the State against any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any arbitrary action as a consequence of their activities for promotion & protection of human rights & fundamental freedom.  NHRC and SHRCs can also play an important role in this regard. The  Commission had also recommended that there is a need to set up a Focal Point for human rights defenders, preferably at NHRC, so that human rights defenders can reach out to it for support. 

Contribution of  Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand and CJP

The petition referred to the consistent efforts of Teesta Setalvad and the CJP team which has secured more than 110 convictions so far with many other trials nearing completion.

It states that amongst the numerous cases pursued by Teesta Setalvad and the CJP, one of the most noteworthy cases is the Best Bakery case which initially ended in a total acquittal of all the accused, but got a fresh lease of life when an important eye witness to the incident Ms. Zahira Sheikh approached Teesta Setalvad and the CJP saying she had been coerced to resile on her eye witness testimony. It is the intervention of CJP as well as the NHRC which resulted in the supreme court directing a  fresh trial. During the retrial the CJP also obtained orders  for witness protection and appointment of special public prosecutors and eventually the trial court went on to convict 9 of the accused persons.

It is pertinent to point out that even as CJP and team strived to establish the rule of law and ensured that perpetrators were punished, a slew of complaints and FIRs were foisted against them. Many complaints were later found to be unfounded upon inquiry by the Registrar General of the supreme court and by the various trial courts. . But more cases are being filed and the CJP and team are being hindered in their human rights work and unnecessarily harassed.

In the light of the background and context in which the cases / complaints have been filed against Citizens for Justice and Peace and its Trustees Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand, PUCL requested the NHRC to conduct an independent inquiry and review all the cases filed. It also urged the NHRC to recommend to the State of Gujarat that pending such review the Government of Gujarat should refrain from initiating any coercive action such as arrest, freezing of accounts etc or in any manner hindering the work of these human rights defenders.

The PUCL also requested the NHRC to recommend the initiation of criminal and disciplinary action against all policemen, prosecutors and government officials, and individuals against whom there is prima facie evidence of mala fide actions against human rights defenders like Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand and others and to intervene in the matters/cases referred above, going on against human rights defenders Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand so as to protect their rights as human rights defenders.

Prof. Prabhakar Sinha  National President, PUCL              
Dr. V. Suresh, National General Secretary, PUCL 

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