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July 30, 2018

STATEMENT FROM AVAAZ

 

India faces massive global opposition as Assam removes 4 million from citizen list

More than 800,000 people around the world have opposed the removal of millions of people from Assam's citizen list, which risks rendering them stateless. The recent announcement of 4 million deletions is down from 13 million people left off the provisional list just 7 months ago.

The release today of the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) is facing much greater international scrutiny than previous draft lists, following the launch of Avaaz's global campaign echoing concerns of UN Rapporteurs and experts.

Ricken Patel, Executive Director of Avaaz, said: "The international community is fighting to stop a process that is alarmingly on track to potentially render millions of people stateless, and vulnerable to indefinite detention, violence or worse.”

Assam's deletion of people from India’s citizenship rolls, in particular Bengali muslims, bears stark parallels with Myanmar’s removal of Rohingya rights and protections in 1982. This is partly why experts, including Genocide Watch and several UN Special Rapporteurs have warned of the dangers of this NRC process.

Days after 13 million people were left off a draft NRC list in December of last year, Assam’s Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal said, “[t]he people who are declared foreigners will be barred from all constitutional rights, including fundamental and electoral.”

Despite assurances of legal recourse for people excluded from the list, the NRC's claims and objections period is riddled with problems. Most notably:

  • No effective appeal body: It appears that the same person who denied the initial application will also be hearing the appeal, and can dismiss it with a speaking order.
  • Insufficient time to appeal: Applicants must file a separate form to find out why they were kept off the NRC list, hear a response and then file their defense. This overlaps with an already limited time, likely shorter than two months, that they have to appeal.
  • No standards or instructions are provided for the appeal, just the same list of documents that were already rejected.

Ricken Patel added: What’s most atrocious is that the government is also planning to pass a separate path to citizenship for people left off the rolls who are Hindu, Jain, Christian and more. It’s just Muslims who will likely have to go through a complicated, unfair appeal with no right to counsel ending in no hope of staying if they lose.”

If they still can’t prove their citizenship claims, cases will be heard by Foreigners Tribunals. Many of these quasi-judicial bodies are not headed by judges, but lawyers, who can pass orders without the individual even being present.

A report submitted by a monitor for the National Human Rights Commission of India revealed how declared “foreigners” often end up in indefinite detention without trial.

The Supreme Court is monitoring the process but has yet to hear from vulnerable groups and it’s unclear how much authority they have over government immigration policy.

The Government of India has no prior deportation agreement with the government of Bangladesh, and India has not stated any policy for deciding the fate of people they exclude from the NRC. This is a dangerous situation where people are losing their livelihoods and getting stripped of their political rights, that could ultimately lead to statelessness.

ENDS

Contacts:

Paris: Julie Deruy, +336 76 47 72 59 , [email protected]

New York: Will Davies, +1 646-628-1210 / [email protected]

Notes to editors

  • Thousands of Avaaz members from around the world are writing to the Indian government to press them for answers and over 10,000 Avaaz members have written directly to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, appealing for him to intervene.

  • On July 19, Avaaz wrote to Mr. Prateek Hajela, IAS State Coordinator, NRC, Assam asking him to clarify the legal status and fate of the people not on the final list. As of July 30, Mr Hajela had not replied.

  • The state government has accused Avaaz of “fake propaganda” but has not released a clear policy on what rights people will have once they’re off the NRC list.

  • The final citizenship update must comply with international human rights standards, ensuring the rights of due process are honored. Specifically, no one should be detained or deported without the right to counsel and a fair trial that meets international standards. A naturalization process must exist for all people, and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 that offers a path to citizenship for non-Muslims, should extend to all, without discriminating on the basis of religion.