Mrs. Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office in Geneva
1211 Geneva 10
Forum Against Oppression of Women
29 Bhatia Bhavan, Babrekar Marg.
Gokhale Rd., Dadar
Mumbai 400 028
email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: Urgent Request for Condemnation of Violence in Gujarat.
May 31, 2002
Dear Mrs. Robinson,
We write to you on behalf of Forum Against Oppression of Women, women's organization based in the city of Mumbai. We have been a part of the autonomous feminist movement in India for some 22 years, and are part of a national network of women's organizations, civil society groups, and organizations working to promote secularism and justice in the state of Gujarat.
As you must know, the recent violence in Gujarat can only be understood as a pogrom against religious minorities, particularly targeted against the sizeable Muslim population of the state. This violence has not only included damaging millions of dollars worth of property and mass killings of Muslims by their own neighbors and townspeople, but has also included an extremely high level of sexual violence against Muslim women and girls. This violence, which has continued unabated for the past two months, is the result of many years of systematic planning and provocation on the part of Hindu fundamentalists groups, and could not continue without the complicity of state actors, especially Gujarat state government functionaries and local police. Women who have suffered the horrendous brutalities of sexual violence are particularly vulnerable in this situation, as the current framework of law (even if we could actually produce the guilty in court) is entirely inadequate to bring any justice to them. A series of reports from different sources such as the National Human Rights Commission, the Women´s Panel, Peoples´ Union for Civil Liberties, and the All India Democratic Women´s Association, as well as international NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have documented the scale and terrifying nature of violence perpetrated against the Muslim community in Gujarat.
In spite of severe indictments from all over the country, the current government has refused to heed all calls of the people of India to bring the perpetrators of this violence to justice, of concerned citizens and groups working with affected groups in relief camps and destroyed neighborhoods and villages, and continues to unabashedly protect the guilty and pose helplessly in front of continuing violence´, while engaging in a political circus at the parliament. In light of this situation, we feel we are left with little option but to appeal to your good office for upholding whatever remains of the rights of a minority group which has been targeted, violated and betrayed by their own country.
It is imperative that international agencies, especially the United Nations, take an unequivocal stand in condemning the violence in Gujarat, and the government that has allowed it to take place. Through media reports, we understand that your office has recently withdrawn its intention to issue a statement condemning the violent atrocities and human rights violations committed in Gujarat (Asian Age, 7 May 2002) as a result of pressure from the Indian government. We hope these reports are baseless; it will be extremely disappointing to learn that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will not make a public statement on these grievous crimes.
Women´s rights and human rights activists throughout the country understand the recent visit of the Indian Solicitor General, Soli Sorabjee and the Chairman of the National Human rights Commission, Juctice. J.S. Verma, to your office as a strategy of the Indian government to prevent the involvement of the United Nations in one of the most overt set of violations of human rights to ever take place in this country. While we applaud the National Human Rights Commission´s report on the Gujarat carnage for its indictment of the Gujarat State government and police forces, we understand Justice Verma and Solicitor Sorabjee´s visit to your office to have come about as a result of pressure from the central government to prevent a potentially embarrassing statement against the Indian government from being issued by your office. We are sure you are well aware of the multiple pressures on government officials during a time of crisis such as this. However, we are clear in protesting any government attempt to prevent international censure of the violence in Gujarat, as it will inevitably prevent thorough investigations into the carnage, which would ultimately hold the government itself accountable for the violence. In addition, preventing such investigations will also prevent the much needed relief and rehabilitation from reaching the people most seriously affected by this violence. The government is trying to close all relief camps in Gujarat by the end of May, after which displaced Muslims living in the camps will, by and large, have nowhere to go, no relief package to rely upon, and no compensation for their destroyed homes and businesses. We request U.N. assistance into this situation, especially now, when displaced communities are still within the reach of international intervention.
We call on the United Nations, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in
particular, for the following:
1. Issue an unequivocal statement condemning the state-sanctioned violence in Gujarat.
2. Facilitate visits to Gujarat by ABDEL FATTAH AMOR, The Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion and Belief, RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY, The Special Rapporteur On Violence Against Women, PARAM COOMERASWAMY, The Special Rapporteur On The Independence Of The Judiciary, FRANCIS DENG, Representative of the Subgroup on Internally Displaced Persons, MORRIS GLELE-AHANHANZO, The Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances, ABID HUSSAIN, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, ASMA JEHANGIR, The Special Rapporteur on Extrajudiciary, Arbitrary or Summary Executions, LOUIS JOINET, Chairman of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention MILAN KOTHARI, The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, and THEO Van BOVEN, The Special Rapporteur On Torture so that they may meet surviving women and men, assess the situation and strengthen the efforts to bring an end to this violence.
3. Ensure that the situation in Gujarat and various reports submitted so far are discussed as a priority at the Working Group on Minorities to be held from 27th to 31st May 2002. As you are fully aware, the WG is mandated to:
a. examine possible solutions to problems involving minorities, including the promotion of mutual understanding between and among minorities and Governments and;
b. recommend further measures, as appropriate, for the promotion and protection of the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities (Commission on Human Rights resolution 1995/24)."
It is imperative that the WG be involved in protecting the rights of the Muslim community in Gujarat and preparing for reconciliation in the long run.
4. We are also aware that participation in the sessions of the Working Group on Minorities is possible by "non-governmental organizations involved in minority protection irrespective of whether or not they have consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)". We are willing to arrange a team of representatives to present the testimonies of those affected in Gujarat, and would be grateful if you could let us know if this is possible and the relevant procedure to facilitate this.
5. Finally we invite yourself either in your capacity as the High Commissioner for Human Rights, or as a concerned global citizen who has valiantly shown us hope in recent years that there are people willing to use their voices to protect the rights of women to visit the affected state and see for yourself the effects of the violent carnage, particularly on surviving women and children of the minority community.
We are hopeful that through the human rights mechanisms of the U.N. we will be able to in some way secure justice for the victims of this assault against Muslim communities in Gujarat. At the very least, we trust that we will be able to bring to focus the inadequacy of the measures (legal, social, political) which are meant to help women rebuild their lives. We hope that international opinion will also put pressure on our governing political parties, those that have left us without any hope of securing justice from the system that is meant to win restitution for these unconscionable acts.
We are eagerly awaiting your response.
Sandhya, Chayanika, Shalini, Surabhi, Svati
and others from Forum Against Oppression of Women,
Our contact email address: email@example.com