Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Activists Condemn India’s Arm Deal with Burma

The Burmese exiles living in India and their sympathizers recently came to the street of India’s national capital to lodge a stronger protest against the government for supplying arms and ammunition to the semi-military Burmese government at Naypyidaw.

Expressing resentment at New Delhi’s continued military relationship with Naypyidaw, hundreds of pro-democracy activists and various Indian civil-society groups demonstrated in New Delhi on July 22, 2011 arguing that ‘supplying arms to the most brutal military dictatorship may have grave consequences to millions of innocent lives’.

The Indian government had recently supplied 52 military trucksloads of arms and ammunition to the Burmese government. India maintained its strategic and military relationship with the Burmese regime even after receiving brickbats from the international community.

“It is hurting and awful that the Government of India has breached its democratic principles by supplying arms and ammunitions to the Burmese military rulers, which are identified as the world’s most notorious military regime. The consequence will be the victimization of innocent Burmese citizens who have been yearning for justice, peace and democracy for many decades,” said M Kim, a young Burmese exile living in India.

“Systematic human rights abuses and criminal hostilities against the ethnic groups, political activists, journalists and civilians have been committed without a halt by Burma’s Army even after the installation of a so-called civilian type government. It is a fact that over 2,200 political prisoners in Burma are still detained in jails,” he added.

The demonstrators also sent a memorandum to Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh urging him to renew New Delhi’s support the Burmese people’s movement for restoration of peace and democracy in Burma.

Till the early nineties, Indian government supported the democratic movement led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But later it changed the course and started engaging the then military regime named State Peace and Development Council for various bi-lateral relationships.

“We believe that India is a nation founded on sound democratic principles and time and again India has proven to uphold the principles of constitutionally elected governments. Further as a nation committed to playing an important, if not pivotal role in maintaining peace in the region, it is unbecoming of a responsible nation to supply arms to countries known for abusing military power,” states the memorandum, which was signed by nearly hundred Indian civil society groups and individuals with many Burmese organizations.

“While other big neighbours (of Burma) are silently urging for negotiation between the authorities and ethnic groups, New Delhi has continued its arm supply to the infamous regime,” said Dr Tint Swe, the chairman of Burma Centre Delhi, a pro-democracy forum.

 Speaking to the author from New Delhi, Dr Swe asserted that “democracy and human rights activists in Burma have been imprisoned, intimidated, tortured and many of them are put to death and it is observed by none other than the United Nations and the international community that the advocators for democracy, justice, peace and human rights in Burma have been regularly castigated”.

 So we are apprehensive that those arms will only be used against the pro-democracy activities and ethnic minorities like Kachin, Shan and Karen in eastern Burma, added Dr Swe.

In a separate memorandum to the Indian Premier, the Burmese pro-democracy groups urged New Delhi ‘to immediately halt the supply of military aids to Burma’s dictatorship’ and ‘to review India’s foreign policy on Burma by focusing on long-term interests, development and stability, prosperity and peace in the region’.

‘Systematic human rights abuses and criminal hostilities against ethnic groups, political activists, journalists and civilians have been committed by Burmese Army even after the installation of a so-called civilian government at Naypyidaw,’ the memorandum pointed out.

‘India’s national interest will be served only if a real democratic regime is established in its eastern neighbour,’ argued the memorandum which was endorsed by the Women League of Burma, All Burma Students Democratic Front, Arakan Liberation Party, All Burma Democratic Lusei Women Organization, Chin Human Rights Organization, Chin Student Union, Kuki Women Human Rights Organization, Kachin National Organization, Matu Youth Organization, Zomi Women Union and others, adding that ‘supporting the democratic movement in Burma will thus be beneficial for the largest democracy in the globe as well.’

India: New Killings, Torture At Bangladeshi Border

Revised Instructions from Delhi Not Stamping Out Abuses.

he government oof India should undertake a speedy, fair, and transparent criminal investigation into fresh allegations of killings, torture, and other abuses by the Border Security Force (BSF) at the border with Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch said today. Those against whom there is credible evidence of culpability should be prosecuted as part of an effort to end longstanding impunity for abuses along the border.

In December 2010, Human Rights Watch released a report, Trigger Happy, documenting extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment by the BSF. In the past decade, the BSF has killed Indian and Bangladeshi nationals. After the release of the report, Indian authorities assured Bangladeshi officials that these killings would be stopped. The government announced that it would order restraint and encourage the use of rubber bullets instead of more lethal ammunition, steps welcomed by Human Rights Watch.

While the number of deaths due to shooting has substantially decreased in 2011, the Bangladeshi non-governmental organization Odhikar has documented at least 17 alleged killings of Bangladeshis by the border force and other instances of severe abuse since January. Local groups have documented several cases of deaths as a result of severe beatings by the BSF.

Despite orders from New Delhi to end killings and abuse and to exercise restraint in dealing with people crossing the border, new deaths and other serious abuses are being reported, said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. The government has issued some positive new directives, but it needs to prosecute those who commit abuses so the soldiers will understand they can't act with impunity.

MASUM, a Kolkatta-based non-governmental organization that conducts fact-finding in the border areas, reports that while the number of shootings at the border has significantly reduced, BSF soldiers have been brutally beating and torturing suspects. Indian residents in the border area, while expressing relief that the indiscriminate shootings have stopped, have complained about aggressive intimidation and beatings.

In one recent example, MASUM reported to the National Human Rights Commission of India that on July 13, a group of soldiers from the 91st battalion of the border force threatened a local human rights worker, Kanai Mondal, in the village of Char Rajanagar, holding a gun to his head to demand that he take down posters calling for an end to torture. The soldiers also threatened other activists and confiscated posters, MASUM said.

On June 30, BSF forces killed Mizanur Rahman, 25. According to Odhikar, he had slipped into India along with four other cattle rustlers, when border guards intercepted them. The others escaped, but the soldiers allegedly beat Rahman to death and dumped his body into the Saniyazan River.

On June 2, Odhikar documented two cases where BSF soldiers intercepted groups of cattle smugglers. According to Odhikar, Rafiqul Islam, 35, from Satkhira, was badly beaten and then dumped inside Bangladeshi territory, where Bangladesh Border Guards found him and took him to a hospital. In a separate incident, Indian soldiers caught Fazlur Rahman and his accomplices near the Panitor-Gazipur border. While the others escaped, Fazlur was badly beaten and left unconscious inside Bangladesh.

On April 18, 2011, border force soldiers killed Rekatul Islam, 17, as he and his accomplice, Mohammad Shahdat Hossain Odhikar, tried to smuggle cattle across the border. Shahdat said they were stopped by BSF soldiers as they tried to cross the border with 10 cows. Shahdat was injured, but escaped.

On April 9, MASUM reported that Biswanath Soren, an elderly Indian man, was beaten by border force troopers he believes were intoxicated. They brandished their firearms to intimidate him and finally released him, he said. Soren sent a written complaint to the police, but no action has been taken.

The excessive use of force and the arbitrary beating of people along the border are unjustifiable, Ganguly said. These abuses call into question india's stated commitments to the rule of law.

Many people routinely move back and forth across India's frontier with Bangladesh to visit relatives, buy supplies, and look for jobs. Others engage in petty and serious cross-border crime. The border force is mandated to address illegal activities, especially narcotics smuggling, human trafficking for sex work, and transporting fake currency and explosives. It also works to stop militants planning violent attacks in India's restive northeast.

In many of the cases investigated by Human Rights Watch, however, the victims were cattle rustlers, farmers, or laborers who said they were hoping to supplement their meager livelihoods by working as couriers in the lucrative but illegal cattle trade that is rampant at the West Bengal border.

Local police forces rarely register complaints against border security and sometimes encourage the victims to drop their cases, telling them that nothing will come of it. One victim told Human Rights Watch that the police informed him that the border forces had committed no crime since they were there “to beat the people.

The Indian government needs to do more to ensure accountability for violations committed by the border force soldiers and to ensure compliance with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Human Rights Watch said.

While the Indian authorities vigorously protest attacks on fishermen who enter Sri Lankan waters, they seem unwilling to act against their own border forces when they commit crimes against Bangladeshis, Ganguly said. As a regional power, India should lead by example in South Asia to end the culture of impunity for security forces.

Lethal Weapon Or Not, BSF Continue Killing

The Indian border guards continue to kill unarmed Bangladeshi civilians in the border regions of the country. According to a report published on the front page of New Age on Monday, a 32-year old Bangladeshi cattle trader, Rafiqul Islam, was killed at the hands of the BSF on Sunday at the Burimari border. What is noteworthy in the incident is that, following an agreement on the use of ‘non-lethal weapons’ along the border of the two countries, signed by respective chiefs of BSF and Bangladesh Border Guards (BGB) in March this year, the BSF has now resorted to medieval tactic of killing Bangladeshis, by stoning them, stabbing them, hitting them with rifle butts or running speeding boats over them. Furthermore, there seems to have appeared a pattern of sending out a message of defiance, in the conduct of BSF authorities, in that every time a politically important event between the two countries takes place, the BSF resorts to slaying unarmed Bangladeshis. On January 13, 2010, the day the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina and Indian premier Dr Manmohan Singh issued a joint communiqué during Hasina’s visit to New Delhi, which also included mention of border killings and the need to ‘exercise restraint’, Shafiqul Islam (27), a Bangladeshi cattle-trader, was stabbed to death by members of the BSF, near the Satkhira border, his body dumped into the Kalindi River. Rafiqul, meanwhile, was killed on the same day Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi arrived in Dhaka. While the political authorities in India have time and again tried to appear sympathetic and expressed concern over border killings, it appears, a section of its establishment, is bent on conveying a different message.
According to the report published in New Age, Rafiq was caught by BSF troops when he was returning to Bangladesh with six other cattle traders, and beaten to death, and dumped into River Saniyazan, near Burimari border in Lalmonirhat. Two days earlier, only on July 22, BSF members dragged Selim Hossain (25), a young Bangladeshi farmer, from his paddy field near a border pillar, to the Indian side, and beat him with a rifle butt as he resisted. His body was found an hour later hanging from a barbed-wire fence. On June 30, Mizanur Rahman (25), was beaten to death by the BSF in exactly similar circumstances to that of Rafiq, at the Burimari border.

According to rights organisation Odhikar, 35 Bangladeshis have been killed by the BSF, since January to June of this year. It suffices to say that the Indian authorities have completely missed the point of an agreement on the use of non-lethal weapons. It seems the Indian authorities are little interested in either stopping the killing of unarmed Bangladeshis or to keep the Indo-Bangladesh border peaceful. Instead, the agreement is so far being honoured on technical grounds, completely ignoring the spirit of its content. Only the Indian authorities know best what purpose it serves to continue to exert undue lethal force on Bangladeshi civilians, when the government of the countries regularly stress on building ‘long-lasting ties’.

Killing of unarmed Bangladeshis by the BSF has been an issue plaguing relations between the two countries for long, antagonising a large section of the Bangladeshi population towards the entire Indian political establishment. By alternating the use of lethal weapons with the use of non-lethal ones to nonetheless cause lethal injury, the Indian authorities are not just making a mockery of Bangladesh’s genuine grievances, but setting up the platform for more antagonism. It is time the Indian establishment realised how detrimental such actions and behaviours are to ‘friendly ties’ and take steps to reign in elements within its establishment who are prompt at sending out defiant messages.