12/06/2011, 00.00
INDIA
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Orissa: a global report on the 2008 anti-Christian pogroms is released

In the 197-page document, the National People’s Tribunal of the National Solidarity Movement, a coalition of social activist groups, draws a global picture of Hindu fundamentalist violence against Christians in Kandhamal, including the context, the human, socio-economic and cultural impact of the attacks, the authorities’ responses and possible solutions to bring justice and dignity to survivors.
Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) – The National People’s Tribunal (NPT) issued a 197-page report on the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal by Hindu fundamentalists that left hundreds dead. Organised by the National Solidarity Forum, a national coalition of social activists, the jury heard direct testimonies from 45 victims, survivors and their representatives, and draws a global picture of what happened before, during and after the pogroms.

The report is divided into four parts. The first provides the background and context to the violence in Kandhamal in 2008. The second focuses on the human, cultural and socio-economic impact of the violence. The third analyses the responses of the authorities to the violence. The fourth and concluding part of the report lays down the final observations and recommendations to bring justice to survivors. Its overall goal is to help victims achieve justice and give peace and dignity to survivors.

As a start, the study notes that the violence against Adivasi and Dalit Christian communities in Orissa violated basic rights, like the right to life, liberty and equality guaranteed by the Indian constitution and asserted in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)

The brutality of the violence falls within the definition of ‘torture’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ under international law. Hindu fundamentalists used religious conversions as a pretext for political mobilisation and incited horrific forms of violence and discrimination.

Women and children were the most affected. Women were victims of sexual violence and the law of silence that prevailed afterward at different levels. Women and girls still face extreme vulnerability, fed by constant threats of rape that their attackers use to instil fear in their menfolk. Children have been most affected by the impoverishment many families experienced as a result of the violence, and this has compromised their physical and intellectual development.

Many of the children who suffer from acute trauma after witnessing violence against their parents have not received any psychological assistance. Because of their families’ financial difficulties or fear of discrimination from school authorities, many children have dropped out of school.

From a cultural and socio-economic point of view, the violence in Orissa created about 50,000 refugees, 10,000 of whom are still displaced. This and the destruction of many churches and prayer halls, and the failure to reconstruct them have deprived the survivors of their right to religious practice and reduced them to a state of secondary citizenship.

The criminal justice system was rendered ineffective by the authorities’ ambiguities and omissions, including police, judges and the state itself, as well as their collusion with extremist groups. The State of Orissa abdicated its constitutional duties to protect people’s life and human rights, especially of its most vulnerable members. It did so by keeping away NGOs during the rescue and rehabilitation phase and by creating relief camps that denied inmates the right to a life of dignity as established by the Indian constitution and recognised by the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, 1998.

The report ends with a list of suggestions to revitalise the justice system for Christians in Kandhamal. In the area of socio-economic and cultural rights, it recommends the application of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and other livelihood schemes offered by the state and central governments to the affected community, without any discrimination based on caste, religion or gender. Equally, it calls for the implementation of widow pension schemes, the provision on compassionate grounds of government jobs to individuals from families of dead victims, the reinsertion of survivors employed in government service prior to the violence and their transfer to areas they perceive to be safe and secure, and the offer of soft loans to start small businesses.

Relief camps should also meet minimum international standards of health, hygiene and privacy. Similarly, they should provide medical and psychological support to and meet the educational needs of children.

In legal terms, the report calls for compensation to displaced people and victims’ families. It calls for a Special Investigation Team (Sit) to re-examine already registered First Information Reports (FIRs) for accuracy, examine registrations of new FIRs, and recommends fresh trials outside of Kandhamal.

Furthermore, it calls for protection for victims and witnesses before, during and after the trial process according to the guidelines provided in the judgments of the Delhi and Punjab and Haryana High Courts. (NC)
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