Skip to main content

Put human rights at centre of relations with India: Amnesty to EU on Fr Stan's death

Counterview Desk 

In a strongly-worded statement, eight global human rights organisations led by Amnesty International, even as “standing by” Fr Stan Swamy -- the jailed 84-year-old human rights defender who died Holy Family hospital on June 5 -- have regretted, international community has failed to “move beyond rhetoric in holding human rights standards as benchmarks of engagement” in this case as also that of other undertials for alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence.
Pointing out that the European Union’s (EU’s) “private diplomatic efforts” on Fr Stan’s “high-profile case, including during the recently-resumed closed-door local human rights dialogue, ostensibly failed”, the statement insists, “This must be a wake-up call for the international community to finally put human rights at the centre of all aspects of their bilateral relationship with India.”


We are deeply saddened by the death in custody of Fr Stan Swamy, 84 year-old Jesuit priest and human rights defender, on July 5, 2021. Stan Swamy was repeatedly denied bail, and died at the Holy Family Hospital, in Mumbai, India having been placed on ventilator support the previous day due to breathing difficulties and oxygen level fluctuations. The defender spent nine months in jail under the anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), denied bail and medical care in jail, and only transferred to a hospital when his condition became critical on May 29.
Stan Swamy has been a dedicated advocate for the rights of Adivasi people, especially in the State of Jharkhand. He founded the Vistapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, an all-India platform to secure and protect the land rights of Dalit and Adivasi peoples, and was a prominent advocate against the forced displacement of Adivasi communities, typically occurring in the context of development and the mining of mineral-rich lands.
He spoke out against the systemic discrimination and violence directed at the Adivasi community and he notably documented and advocated against the arrest of Adivasi youth, who are frequently accused of being “Naxalites” or “Maoists.” It is this work, that is his legacy, and also the reason for sustained reprisals against him. He has supported and inspired the most marginal and vulnerable communities to seek redress against violence and discrimination. His persecution and eventual arrest are direct reprisal for his peaceful work.
On October 8, 2020 the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Ranchi, Jharkhand arrested Stan Swamy for alleged links to the violence that took place in Bhima Koregaon on 01 January 2018. 15 other prominent human rights defenders have been falsely accused and jailed in this case. Months prior to his arrest Stan Swamy was interrogated for nearly 16 hours by the NIA ostensibly linked to the case.
We stand by Stan Swamy and other defenders accused and held under trial in this case, and believe they are being deliberately targeted for their human rights work. On October 9, Stan Swamy was transferred 1,700 kilometres away from his home to Mumbai, Maharashtra, and remanded in the overcrowded Taloja Central Jail.
At the time of his arrest Stan Swamy was already suffering from Parkinson’s disease, significant loss of hearing in both ears, and other serious underlying health issues. Initially jail authorities denied him warm clothes and a sipper cup which he needed due to the effects of Parkinson’s disease.
Bail was effectively out of reach due to the UAPA, and courts declined to intervene despite his age, illness, and the threat of Covid-19. On 22 October 2020, a special NIA court denied his interim bail plea filed on medical grounds. This is despite the pandemic and national moves to reduce congestion in prisons, as well as the Supreme Court of India’s own directives in this regard.
Throughout his time in detention Stan Swamy’s health gradually regressed. In the second week of May 2021 the defender’s lawyers again petitioned the court for his release on the grounds that he was suffering from Covid 19-like symptoms. At a hearing on May 21, 2021 Stan Swamy explained to the judge via video-link that when he arrived at the prison, his bodily systems “were very functional,” but over the seven months he had spent in prison, “there has been a steady, slow regression” of his health. This request for bail was again denied.
Stan Swamy was eventually transferred from Taloja Central Jail to the Holy Family Hospital on May 28, 2021, when his condition had worsened severely. He tested positive for Covid-19 on May 30. Throughout the month of June he remained in a critical condition, and was moved to the Intensive Care Unit. On Sunday July 4 he suffered a cardiac arrest, and was moved to ventilator support. 
In the days prior, he had expressed deep concern and worry regarding the bail hearing scheduled for July 6, 2021. The hearing was brought forward to 2.30 pm on July 5. Stan Swamy died on an hour before his hearing, at 1.24 pm on July 5.
Standing united without compromising EU's founding values alone will secure release of human rights defenders arbitrarily held in India
His death in custody, and the continued incarceration of other defenders is a tragic indictment of India’s human rights record, and of the global community’s human rights commitments. India sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Security Council, which carry specific human rights commitments.
The international community has failed to move beyond rhetoric in holding human rights standards as benchmarks of engagement. The EU’s private diplomatic efforts on his high-profile case, including during the recently-resumed closed-door local human rights dialogue, ostensibly failed.
This must be a wake-up call for the international community to finally put human rights at the centre of all aspects of their bilateral relationship with India. We particularly call on the EU and member states, to implement the numerous commitments undertaken in the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, and many others. 
Standing united and without compromises by the EU's founding values will be the only way to secure the release of many other human rights defenders arbitrarily held in India before they meet the same fate as Stan Swamy.
Stan Swamy penned a letter to his friends and colleagues in January 2021 to express his gratitude for the solidarity shown by people, to mark 100 days of him being in custody. “At times, news of such solidarity has given me immense strength and courage, especially when the only thing certain in prison is uncertainty.” 
We continue to stand in solidarity with Stan Swamy and we call for full accountability for his death. His spirit, courage and kindness will not be forgotten and will continue to inspire.
*Amnesty International; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; CSW; FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders; Front Line Defenders; International Commission of Jurists; International Dalit Solidarity Network


Pravin Sharan said…
India will be more than happy if human rights becomes an important consideration for international relations then the double standard of many countries will be exposed.


Bill Gates as funder, author, editor, adviser? Data imperialism: manipulating the metrics

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD*  When Mahatma Gandhi on invitation from Buckingham Palace was invited to have tea with King George V, he was asked, “Mr Gandhi, do you think you are properly dressed to meet the King?” Gandhi retorted, “Do not worry about my clothes. The King has enough clothes on for both of us.”

Stagnating wages since 2014-15: Economists explain Modi legacy for informal workers

By Our Representative  Real wages have barely risen in India since 2014-15, despite rapid GDP growth. The country’s social security system has also stagnated in this period. The lives of informal workers remain extremely precarious, especially in states like Jharkhand where casual employment is the main source of livelihood for millions. These are some of the findings presented by economists Jean Drèze and Reetika Khera at a press conference convened by the Loktantra Bachao 2024 campaign. 

Displaced from Bangladesh, Buddhist, Hindu groups without citizenship in Arunachal

By Sharma Lohit  Buddhist Chakma and Hindu Hajongs were settled in the 1960s in parts of Changlang and Papum Pare district of Arunachal Pradesh after they had fled Chittagong Hill Tracts of present Bangladesh following an ethnic clash and a dam disaster. Their original population was around 5,000, but at present, it is said to be close to one lakh.

Anti-Rupala Rajputs 'have no support' of numerically strong Kshatriya communities

By Rajiv Shah  Personally, I have no love lost for Purshottam Rupala, though I have known him ever since I was posted as the Times of India representative in Gandhinagar in 1997, from where I was supposed to do political reporting. In news after he made the statement that 'maharajas' succumbed to foreign rulers, including the British, and even married off their daughters them, there have been large Rajput rallies against him for “insulting” the community.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

Joblessness, saffronisation, corporatisation of education: BJP 'squarely responsible'

Counterview Desk  In an open appeal to youth and students across India, several student and youth organizations from across India have said that the ruling party is squarely accountable for the issues concerning the students and the youth, including expensive education and extensive joblessness.

What's Bill Gates up to? Have 'irregularities' found in funding HPV vaccine trials faded?

By Colin Gonsalves*  After having read the 72nd report of the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on alleged irregularities in the conduct of studies using HPV vaccines by PATH in India, it was startling to see Bill Gates bobbing his head up and down and smiling ingratiatingly on prime time television while the Prime Minister lectured him in Hindi on his plans for the country. 

Following the 3000-year old Pharaoh legacy? Poll-eve Surya tilak on Ram Lalla statue

By Sukla Sen  Located at a site called Abu Simbel in Nubia, Upper Egypt, the eponymous rock temples were created in 1244 BCE, under the orders of Pharaoh Ramesses II (1303-1213 BC)... Ramesses II was fond of showcasing his achievements. It was this desire to brag about his victory that led to the planning and eventual construction of the temples (interestingly, historians say that the Battle of Qadesh actually ended in a draw based on the depicted story -- not quite the definitive victory Ramesses II was making it out to be).

Why it's only Modi ki guarantee, not BJP's, and how Varanasi has seen it up-close

"Development" along Ganga By Rosamma Thomas*  I was in Varanasi in this April, days before polling began for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. There are huge billboards advertising the Member of Parliament from Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The only image on all these large hoardings is of the PM, against a saffron background. It is as if the very person of Modi is what his party wishes to showcase.