22, Nov 2018 | CJP Team
Human Rights activist Harsh Mander has moved Supreme Court siting the deplorable conditions of Assam’s Detention Camps. These camps are where people who have been declared foreigners by Foreigners’ Tribunals are lodged pending deportation or bail. Presently there are six detention camps operating out of makeshift facilities in local prisons in Dhibrugarh, Jorhat, Goalpara, Silchar, Tezpur and Kokrajhar.
We at CJP have unearthed several horror stories related to Detention Camps in Assam. Take the case of 61 year old Jobbar Ali who died under unexplained circumstances at the Tezpur Detention Camp in October 2018. Earlier, in May 2018, Subrata De died under mysterious circumstances in Goalpara.
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And then there are instances where just spelling your name differently on two documents can land you in a Detention Camp! Take the case of Saken Ali, who was forced to spend five years in a Detention Camp just because some of his documents showed his name spelled with an extra ‘H’ or as Sakhen Ali. The sick are handcuffed to their hospital beds as we discovered in the case of a shivering and emaciated Ratan Chandra Biswas.
Even pregnant and elderly women are not spared! Rashminara Begum was thrown behind bars despite being three months pregnant. The Supreme Court ordered the release of 50 year old Sofiya Khatun on a Personal Release Bond in September 2018. Her experience was so traumatic that even 15 days after coming back home, she could not utter a single word!
What the NHRC found
Harsh Mander, who is the former special monitor for the National Human Rights Commission had visited the Goalpara and Kokrajhar detention camps in January 2018. Here is a report on the findings of the NHRC based on the probe conducted by Harsh Mander.
However, despite red flagging several human rights violations the NHRC allegedly failed to act on the matters raised by Mander, leading him to resign.
In a piece for Scroll.in Mander writes,
“I was profoundly dismayed by what I saw and heard at the detention camps. I worked with my researchers on a detailed report, which describes the enormous and unending human tragedy of the detainees, and the extensive flouting of national and international laws, seeking urgent corrections. However, despite repeated reminders to the National Human Rights Commission, I did not receive any communication about action taken by the commission or the state and Central governments on my report. Now, with the prospect of possibly lakhs of people being deemed foreigners after the conclusion of the National Register of Citizens process, I felt the only recourse for me was to resign from the office of special monitor of the National Human Rights Commission, and bring my report to the public domain.”
This is what motivated Mander to file the following petition before the the Supreme Court:
Key Prayers in the Petition
In his petition, Harsh Mander has appealed to the Supreme Court to:
- ensure the fair, humane and lawful treatment of those persons kept in detention centres in Assam, in conformity with Article 21 of the Constitution of India and international law on treatment of immigration detainees
- ensure that detention of declared foreigners should be the last resort, for a limited period with clear prospects for release; it should be non-punitive and that it should be resorted to only after an assessment of whether there were less restrictive or coercive measures (that is, alternatives to detention) that could have been applied to the individual concerned and which would be effective in the individual case
- ensure that in the rare cases in which detention is resorted to as a last resort and for limited time, families should under no condition be separated during detention
- ensure that use of prisons and facilities designed or operated as prisons, should be abjured in all cases of such limited detention of foreigners, in keeping with international law standards on immigrant detentions
- ensure that detainees may be provided free legal aid and proper opportunity to defend themselves in challenging the order of the Foreigners Tribunals in the High Court and the Supreme Court
- to issue an order to declare those who have been determined to be foreigners and held in detention pending their repatriation, be treated as refugees
- ensure that clear polices are adopted for those detainees who agree with the state that they are foreigners; to expedite their applications for deportation
- to issue an order that that those who have been declared foreigners, but whom their country of origin does not accept as nationals of that country, be declared as Stateless persons and be granted long term visa and protections that are afforded to refugees
- ensure that the Indian juvenile justice laws are applied to all children of those deemed to be foreigners, including inter alia both the children who are detained and those who are free while their parents are detained, whereby they are all treated as children in need of care and protection
The matter was heard for the first time on October 31 and the Supreme Court passed the following order moving the petition to a bench headed by the Chief Justice:
Given how Assam has allocated 20 bhigas of land in Thakurbhita in Goalpara district for the construction of a Detention Camp with the capacity to lodge 3000 inmates, and two more Detention Camps are being planned in Silchar and Tezpur, Mander’s petition is of special significance.