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An open letter for the intervention in the legitimate protest against the setting up of the proposed POSCO plant in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa

Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
New Delhi, India

Dear Sir,

AIPP is a regional organization based in Chiang Mai, Thailand drawing its membership from 14 countries in Asia.

We are deeply concerned over the reported deployment of about 25 platoons of police force near Balitutha in Jagatsinghpur in Orissa against the democratic protest by hundreds of people since 26 January 2010 at the proposed POSCO plant site in Jagatsinghpur. It has been reported that at least one person has been killed and 30 injured. We fear that use of violence by the state forces will increase as we are informed that the Superintendent of Police Devdutta Singh has said that he will use force to facilitate the entry of the government officials to help the steel giant POSCO to acquire the land for its industry.

This is unfortunate for a democratic country like India where every citizen is entitled to his/her fundamental right to protest peacefully for their rights. We therefore denounce such brutality and the approach to excessive use of force to crush those who are defending their homelands.

The situation has been further complicated with the launch of Operation Green Hunt against the Maoists leading to heavy militarisation in central India. This is wreaking devastation to the lives of innocent civilians, especially the tribals/indigenous peoples. We have learned that security forces are now preventing people from entering the forest, cultivating their lands or collecting minor forest produce. The numbers that are threatened with starvation or disease as a result is estimated to be very high. These facts have been ignored. Rather, in the name of finishing the Maoist, the government is justifying its use of force and labeling human rights activists and indigenous/tribal leaders who are defending their rights over their lands, waters and forests as having links or being a part of them. The attacks on the protesters against the POSCO who have no link whatsoever with the Maoists cannot be justified. They are ordinary citizens standing up for the law and demanding their legal rights.

Under the law of India, land acquisition in Scheduled Areas is subject to consultation with the gram sabha (village assembly); diversion of forest land in all forests is subject to the consent of the gram sabha; and people have rights over village common lands, forests, water bodies and grazing areas. The case of the POSCO is in direct violation of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996; the Forest Rights Act, 2006; and other such laws enshrined in the Constitution of India. Furthermore, we would also like to remind you that the action of the government of India is also in direct violation of the people’s fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the international human rights instruments, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other laws on livelihood security to which it is a party to.

With a great sense of urgency, we urge your intervention and address the following:

1. The security forces must be withdrawn from Orissa and elsewhere in central India where human activists and indigenous/tribal leaders are being hunted down or villagers victimized in the name of combating the Maoists.

2. The government must respect the rights of people over their lands, forest produce and community forest resources as provided by the Constitution i.e. the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996; the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and other such laws. It must comply with the requirements under these Acts relating to the consent of the community prior to diversion or acquisition of land.

3. The security forces must stop interfering with the rights of people to cultivate their fields, go to markets and engage in their livelihood activities.

4. Illegal arrests, fake encounters and police murders must be halted immediately.

5. Commission a judiciary enquiry into the killings and atrocities committed against the protestors immediately.

6. Guarantee in all circumstances the protection of the rights of activists and human rights defenders to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals and free from restrictions. Along these lines, armed forces of the state should be made aware and respect the fundamental rights of the citizens, and stop acts of intimidations, threats and the like, especially to the protestors.

7. Public facilities – schools, clinics, etc. - must be treated as out of bounds for the conflict.

Being a democratic country, it is only in the interests of the government and its people that the authorities of India deal with such cases in a fair and just manner and uphold its own law. Hence, it is in good faith that we are seeking the urgent attention of your good office to intervene and uphold the fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution of India and based on the state’s human rights obligations under international laws.

Thanking you for your kind attention.

Sincerely yours,
Joan Carling
Secretary General

Cc: Shri Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Orissa
Shri P. Chidambaram, Honourable Minister, Ministry of Home Affairs
Mr. Devdutta Singh, Superintendent of Police, Orissa
Mr. Sunil Krishna, Director General, National Human Rights Commission

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