TODAY -

United Nations Human Rights : The Manipur Experience
- Part 5 -

Babloo Loitongbam *

 United Nations UN logo



(This write up is the speech delivered by Babloo Loitongbam at the 14th Arambam Somorendra Memorial Lecture organised by The Aramam Somorendra Trust held at Lamyanba Sanglen Palace Compound, Imphal East )

SR on Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences

Ms. Rashida Manjoo was the first UN Special Rapporteur to set foot on Manipur soil as she landed in Imphal airport on 28 April 2013. She stayed over-night at Imphal. Apart from the usual meeting with the government officials she met with victims and women human rights defenders and other civil society actors from all over the North East region. When the mother of Ms. Thangjam Manorama gave her testimony and she paused foe a while, Rashida also took out her handkerchief and sipped her eyes.

There was pin drop silence in the fully packed Royale conference hall of the Hotel Classic as everyone paused to absorb the gravity of the moment. She also made a request to meet Ms. Irom Sharmila who was under detention for carrying out hunger strike against AFSPA, which was turned down by the administration. The CSCHR also prepared and submitted a detailed memorandum on violence against indigenous women perpetrated or condoned by the State during armed conflict, entitle Manipur: Perils of war and womanhood.

The immediate impact of her visit was that the National Human Rights Commission conducted the first-ever camp sitting in Manipur and disposed off several pending cases. A three member delegation of the NHRC led by the Chairperson himself visited Irom Sharmila inside the hospital where she is detained and issued a statement that the way she was incarcerated violent both national and international law.

In her report contained in UN document number A/HRC/26/38/Add.1 she recommended to the Government of India as follows:

(f) Repeal, as a matter of urgency, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act and ensure that criminal prosecution of members of the Armed Forces is free from legal barriers;4

When she presented this report in the UN Human Rights Council she said from the podium that she have been to 14 missions in various parts of the world as a mandate holder of the Council, but she said she was never humiliated by the officials the way she was done during her last visit to India. Would her visit to Manipur be the reason behind this ill treatment?

Human Rights Alert, as part of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR), took the floor during the discussion in the UN Human Rights Council and thanked her for her visit and the positive contributions it has made.

SR on Water and Sanitation

The second Special Rapporteur to visit Manipur was Mr. Leo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. He made an official mission to India from 27 November to 10 November 2017 and visited Manipur. CSCHR organized civil society consultation and a filed visit the affected communities of the Thoubal multipurpose dam project.

In his report contained in UN document no A/HRC/39/55/Add.1 dated 6 July 2018, in the section on "Leave no one behind", in the sub-section "Communities living near megaprojects" it is stated as follows:

69. Rural populations' access to water is also affected by large projects that directly or indirectly affect essential water sources used for drinking, domestic tasks or livelihoods. In Manipur, the Special Rapporteur was informed about how large infrastructure (dams, railways, roads and industrial projects) affects water sources of rural villages. In particular, he visited two communities downstream of the Thoubal multipurpose dam project that no longer relied on the river as their source of drinking water, due to the deteriorated water quality and the irregular flow, and that had to pay for access to the water source of a nearby village.

The Special Rapporteur is concerned that the lack of prioritization in allocating water for domestic and personal use may negatively affect the access to drinking water of those living in vulnerable situations. In some of the villages visited, the Special Rapporteur was informed that the local authorities had only partially constructed household toilets and, while the intended beneficiaries waited for the construction to be finished, they had no choice but to defecate in the open.

Perhaps taking clues from the Manipur experience, the Special Rapporteur organized an Asia-Pacific Regional consultation of impact of mega-projects on the human rights to drinking water and sanitation on 12th November 2018 at Kuala Lumpur where the CSCHR also participated.

SR on Indigenous Peoples

Though the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples has never made an official visit to Manipur, India, the office has been closely following the issues in Manipur. Many of the ethnically distinct people of Manipur and the North East region of India self-identify themselves as indigenous peoples.

In the sister state of Mizoram, the State Assembly adopted resolutions twice (8th October, 2015 and 15th March, 2019) for the implementation the United Nations Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007. But this is only of symbolic significance, as the Government of India does not recognize that there are indigenous peoples in India or the entire population of India is indigenous to the country.

Prof. James Anaya, the then Special Rapporteur of Indigenous Peoples in this communication to Government of India, in context of a petition by indigenous peoples of Manipur affected by construction of Tipaimuk Dam, explained the current concept of indigenous peoples:

() the understanding of the term "indigenous people" in the India and general Asia context "should put less emphasis on the early definition of aboriginality [and instead] on the more recent approaches focusing on self-definition as indigenous and distinctly different from other groups within a state; on a special attachment to and use of their traditional land whereby their ancestral land and territory had a fundamental importance for their collective physical and cultural survival as peoples; on an experience of subjugation, marginalization, dispossession, expulsion or discrimination because these peoples have different cultures, way of life or means of production than the national hegemonic and dominant model.

By using this yardstick the Special Rapporteur concluded:

The affected communities belong to the Tangkhul Naga, Kuki and Meetei peoples of Manipur consider themselves to be distinct cultural groups with their own territories, culture and histories. Their grievances, stemming from their distinct cultural identities and deep connection to their traditional territories can easily be identified as the type of problems faced by other indigenous peoples worldwide with regards to the effects of development projects within their traditional land.

SR on Freedom of Expression and Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Manipur journalist Wangkhem cha Kishorechandra was detained under the National Security Act on 27 November 2018 for posting anti-government comments in his facebook post. He was already released on bail by the regular court on the same charge. To re-arrest, detained and incarcerate him using the preventive detention law was widely protested in Manipur.

The United Nation's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression send a communication alleging violation of his human rights to the Government of India. The abstract of the communication reference number AL IND 32/2018 dated 3 January 2019 is reproduced hereinafter as follows:

We express serious concern at the arrest and detention of Mr. Wangkhem. We are concerned at the criminalization of the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression through the use of the National Security Act, which is a broad and unspecific state security legislation, may have a chilling effect on public debate in India, including on the work of journalists. We are concerned that such legislation may be used particularly to target critical and dissenting voices in India.

The facts alleged, if proved correct, would be in contravention, among other norms, with articles 9, 14, and 19 of ICCPR, acceded by India on the 10 April 1979. They guarantee the right not to be deprived arbitrarily of ones liberty and to fair proceedings before an independent and impartial tribunal, the right to be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

ENGAGEMENT WITH UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVEIW

In 2006 the UN Human Rights Council was established. The Human Rights Commission was dissolved. It is an upgrading of the human rights agenda within the UN Human Rights system as the Council and directly reports to the General Assembly where as earlier it used to be done through the ECOSOC. Now the Council can also take resolution with financial implications, whereas with the Commission it has to be approved by the ECOSOC.

The Human Rights Council has also started a new mechanism called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). It is peer review process where all the members of the UN are reviewed by all the other members of the UN, for all their human rights records once in every four and half years. It is a new mechanism where the civil society can also submit their stakeholder's report to the UPR secretariat. Civil Society groups in Manipur have been taking full advantages of this opening and have been submitting join reports and assisting the other governments to formulate questions to be raised to the government of India.

Till date three cycle of UPR review has been completed. India was reviewed in 2008, 2012 and 2017. CSCHR submitted stakeholder's reports in 2012 and 2017. But other civil society groups from Manipur such as COHR, HRA, etc. submitted their own reports individually or as part of a collective in the first cycle too.

During the first review Canada, UK and Germany raised the issue of AFSPA. During the second review the governments of Slovakia, Switzerland and France raised the issued. In the third review Switzerland and Pakistan raised the issue of review and/or repeal of the AFSPA. Thus, the Working Group on Universal Periodic Review that directs all the recommended the State under Review, here Government of India, has recommended the repeal/review of AFSPA in all the three cycles. Unfortunately the Government of India has not accepted the recommendation persistently.

CONCLUSION

In his last days Arambam Somorendra was very keen to know how to raise the human rights issues of Manipur to the UN. He might be pleased that so much progress has been made toward that direction in the last twenty years or so. But these are only baby steps and a lot still needs to be done.

UN is a huge and complex system and one needs a great deal of patience and perseverance to see results. Even a lifetime's work may not be sufficient. There are also inherent limitations of what the UN can do to push the influential and powerful government like India on human rights issues. And there are many geo-political factors well beyond the control of small actors like us.

But we are happy today is that we are at least able to engage with the UN human rights mechanisms sometime effectively and sometime not so effectively. This engagement needs to continue. We need to prepare our next generation to take on the baton. Some day, if they are persistent enough, they might find the answer to the issues we are throwing up today.

In conclusion let me read out a Manipuri poem, whose author I cannot recollect, but have read somewhere:

Taramdai numitna laorakkhi
"Eidi chatalni; malemsi mamhourani
kanana ihut shihougani?"

Piklaba kegam gi dosina khumakakhi
"Eina ngalhangani malem!"
Korouhanbana noknaraklabada,
dosi machana hairakhi
"Hayen inung ngallaga,
nangna amuk thoklaklaga
Malem se nouhouna ngallani.
Adubu, ugani eibudi tanggoi oina,
Adubu, chaothokchei eidi,
Eigi ithoudang pangthoklamme!", haina.


(Footnotes)

1 Para 83, Report of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defender, Margaret Sekaggya, Addendum, Mission to India, A/HRC/19/55/Add.1 dated 6 February, 2012.
2 Writ Petition (Criminal) number 129 of 2012.
3 Writ Petition (Criminal) number 201 of 2018. 4
See also A/HRC/23/47/Add.1, para. 101.


(Concluded.....)


* Babloo Loitongbam wrote this speech which was published at Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on August 13, 2019.



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