Dhaka Courier

Statelessness: The UN’s failure in Assam


It is feared that soon a large number of Assam-dwellers will lose their identity. It is a terrible catastrophe for human rights in Southern Asia. In 2014, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had set goal to remove the problem of ‘Statelessness. Amid their ambitious initiative, 40 lakh people ‘lost citizenship’ in Assam's national register of citizens (NRC) last year proving it to be global setback.

Incidents in Assam are in many ways conflicting to Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). According to the 15th article of UDHR, ‘everyone has the right to a nationality’ and every country is committed to article 15 in light of their respective laws. No country is allowed to take such an internal initiative about ‘citizenship’ that delays the international progress of human rights while Assam is at the risk of it.

Aside from Article 15 of UDHR, Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness accepted by United Nations in 1961, says every state must ensure that nobody ends up without a state. India did not approve this charter and the opposite of it is happening in Assam.

UN convention on child rights also says that ‘statelessness’ of ancestors should not fall upon a child hence it will gain the nationality regardless of parent’s citizenship status. India supports this charter although it was not followed in Assam.

Article 21 of Indian constitution is considered as the soul of it declaring that every ‘person’ has the right to live and enjoy freedom. However, in Assam, authorities are sending people to foreigners’ tribunal tagging them ‘suspicious’ without even checking documentations.  57 people have committed suicide because of humiliation till July 2019.

On July 2, 2019, Indian Minister of State for Home Affairs Gangapuram Kishan Reddy stated in Loksabha that Foreigners’ Tribunal of Assam has declared 64 thousand people as ‘foreigner’ from 1985 to February 28, 2019 without taking their opinion.

The Assamese NRC process requires the detainees themselves to provide documentation to prove their Assamese nationality. However, most of them are poor farmers; residents of flood and erosion affected areas making it too tough for them to provide 50 year old deeds or voter lists.

In the beginning of 2019, there was 100 Foreigners’ Tribunal in Assam which will go up to 1000 after July 2019. It is shocking that Assam, despite having land volume of 30285 square miles will be opening 1000 such tribunals summing up as one tribunal per 30 square miles. These tribunals will require 12000 judges to carry out their tasks. Providing them with 12000 judges is a tough ask and hence there will be ‘compromises’ with the standard.

An awkward rule of the process say that even if someone proves his Assamese citizenship, case can be filed against the court’s verdict making his or her identity ‘suspicious’ again. Everyone has the ‘right’ for such raising such an ‘objection’. Assamese youth are taking this chance to express their hatred against Bangla-speaking community there as 2 lakh such cases of ‘objection’ have been filed till December 2018.

It is anyone’s guess how many people will end up as stateless citizen in Assam. A minimum of 2000 appeal cases will be filed each day in foreigners’ tribunals across Assam if even 2 million people are declared ‘foreigners’.  Most of the applicants are bound to live in detention centers for five to six years. It is unclear what will happen to them if they have to leave those centers stripped off their citizenship.

UN has contacted India several times to stop the violation of Human Rights for the sake of NRC process in Assam. In a statement, five senior UN officials mentioned that India has not responded to UN’s enquiry about Assam.

They further said that UN holds the right to confront about this matter especially when it has the risk of violating human rights of thousands of people who are minorities and on verge of being stateless.

However rigid the UN’s stance may be to prevent it, as with the statelessness of over one million Rohingya of Myanmar, the UN and the international community have failed to stop it in Assam.

Translated by Saykat Kabir. The Bangla version of this article appeared in Prothom Alo.

  • Altaf Parvez
  • Statelessness: The UN’s failure in Assam
  • Vol 36
  • Issue 3
  • DhakaCourier

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