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Alleging "reprisal" of Gujarat tribal rights activist, Human Rights Defenders Alert seeks urgent NHRC intervetion

By Our Representative
In an important twist to South Gujarat police questioning well-known tribal farmers rights activist Romel Sutariya following his complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) about police-politician-contractor nexus into “illegal” sand mining, a top advocacy group, Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA), India, has sought urgent NHRC intervention, asking it to carry out an “an independent investigation” into the “reprisal for approaching NHRC”.
A HRDA letter by its convener Henri Tiphagne asks the NHRC to institute “an immediate, thorough, transparent, effective, independent and impartial investigation into the harassment of Sutariya”, and take “immediate action on the perpetrators, in this case police personnel of Chhotaudepur police station of Chhotaudepur district, Gujarat, for harassing him.”
Calling Sutariya a foremost human rights defender, Tiphagne, who has addressed his letter to AK Parashar, National Focal Point, Human Rights Defenders and Joint Registrar, NHRC, has said that Sutariya “is still under risk of further reprisals from the perpetrators”, hence it take an assurance in writing from the authorities that he would not be harassed any further.
The letter follows Gujarat police pressure on Sutariya, 25, who leads the Adivasi Kisan Sangharsh Morcha (AKSM), an upcoming tribal farmers’ organization, to provide “proof” of his complaint to the NHRC about police-politician-contractor nexus, lest he would face consequences.
Giving instances of constant harassment ever since he sent his complaint to the NHRC in December 2014, Tiphagne says, the last time the police asked Sutariya to “clarify” about his complaint was in early September 2015, when he was sought to be intimidated for providing “proof” of the nexus or ready to be declared as an “accused.” Sutariya has named a top South Gujarat police official in his NHRC complaint.
“The defender has been targeted in the past also”, Tiphagne points in his letter. “Police have filed cases against him on February 16, 2015 under sections 143, 144, 147, 106, 332, 337, 120 B, 506 (2) and 504 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).” And on February 18, 2015 “he was booked under section 506 and 12 of IPC”.
Then, he adds, on April 28, 2015 morning, Sutariya was “picked from his office in Vyara by a police team without citing any reason”, only to be released after Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel ended her function in the region. The chief minister was in the region for Gujarat foundation day celebrations, had the establishment had expected protests.
“AKSM and Sutariya are being dubbed as Naxalites and they are being targeted for their human rights activities especially for defending land and forest rights of the poorest of poor tribals”, the letter underscores.
Suggesting that Sutariya’s is not an isolated case when police follow and harass human rights defenders in Gujarat, Tiphagne says, Sutariya and AKSM have every right to carry out their “activities as defenders of human rights without any hindrances”.
The letter asks NHRC to “take steps to conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially: Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.”
Then Article 12.2 provides that “the State shall 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 de jure adverse discrimination”, says Tiphagne.
The letter wants the NHRC to tell its Gujarat counterpart, State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) to convene meetings of all state human rights institutions of women, minorities, right to information, disability, children etc., the letter says, it should “ensure that a co-ordinated strategy is developed within the State of Gujarat for the protection of the rights of human rights defenders.”

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