Thursday, April 18, 2024

Investigate police bias in Manipur violence, urges Human Rights Watch

Indian authorities should immediately and impartially investigate ongoing killings by ethnic groups and security forces in Manipur and work with community leaders to restore security, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday. Photo: Danish Pandit/Maktoob

Indian authorities should immediately and impartially investigate ongoing killings by ethnic groups and security forces in Manipur and work with community leaders to restore security, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

Violent clashes, largely between the ethnic Meitei and Kuki communities in the north eastern state, have left at least 70 people dead and 35,000 displaced, and destroyed over 1,700 houses.

The Manipur government has ordered an extension of restrictions on internet services, in place since May 3, until at least May 31. Manipur’s chief minister, N. Biren Singh, said that security forces have killed 40 alleged militants from the Kuki tribal community, a claim local groups dispute.

“The violence in Manipur state since early May has left communities devastated, and it’s crucial for the government to restore order in a rights-respecting manner and hold to account those responsible for abuses,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Accounts of partisan involvement by security forces in the killings has increased distrust of the authorities, who should work with community leaders to end the violence,” she added.

The violence in Manipur erupted on May 3, after thousands of people from tribal groups protested plans to give the majority Meitei community protected status as a Scheduled Tribe, asserting that the community already enjoys advantages in the state.

The protest, which included Kukis, one of the larger tribal communities in Manipur, who live primarily in hill areas, turned violent with clashes between various ethnic and religious groups. Some looted weapons and ammunition from police stations, which made the clashes even more deadly.

Tensions had been simmering for several months between the Kuki community, which is predominantly Christian, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-run state government. The BJP promotes Hindu majoritarianism and most Meiteis are Hindu. Local activists accused groups affiliated with the government of targeting Kuki properties, businesses, and churches.

“The BJP is playing divisive politics in the state because of its own ideology,” one activist told Human Rights Watch. “Even Christian Meiteis are being targeted.” The authorities had earlier evicted tribal villagers from forest areas, accused Kukis of illegal poppy cultivation and of being “outsiders,” and ordered the demolition of three churches in Imphal, saying they had been constructed illegally.

Following the recent violence, 10 Kuki legislators–including 8 from the BJP–called for a separate administration for the hill areas, saying “the state of Manipur has miserably failed to protect us.”

The Christians Goodwill Council in Churachandpur district in Manipur reported that over 200 churches have been burned or destroyed in the violence between May 3 and 15. Kuki community members have accused the police of siding with the Meitei community, alleging they did not protect them, and at times, even joined the mobs.

The Manipur violence prompted United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk to say that the Indian government should “respond to the situation quickly, including by investigating and addressing root causes of the violence in line with their international human rights obligations.”

Human Rights Watch said that the local authorities in Manipur should abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which provide that security forces use the minimum necessary force at all times. In dispersing violent assemblies, firearms may only be used when other less harmful means are not practicable but must still be used to the minimum extent necessary. Law enforcement officers may only intentionally resort to lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect life. When death or serious injury occurs, a detailed report should be promptly sent to the competent authorities.

“The Manipur authorities need to respond to the undeniably complex situation by addressing the concerns of local communities impartially and with maximum restraint from the security forces,” Ganguly said. “Labeling members of a community militants and shutting down the internet can fuel further violence through rumor and fearmongering.”


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