India: Prosecute Killers of Sikhs
New York, 30 October 2004On the twentieth
anniversary of the mass killings of Sikhs, the new Congress-led
government should launch fresh investigations into and make a
public commitment to prosecute the planners and implementers of
the violence, Human Rights Watch said today.
In 1984, in retaliation for the assassination
of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on 31 October,
angry mobs, some allegedly organised by members of the Congress
party, attacked and killed thousands of Sikhs. From 1 November
to 4 November, gangs attacked the symbols and structures of the
Sikh faith, the properties of Sikhs, and killed whole families
by burning them alive. The residences and properties of Sikhs
were identified through government-issued voter lists.
Victim groups, lawyers and activists have long
alleged state complicity in the violence. For three days the police
failed to act, as gangs carrying weapons and kerosene roamed the
streets, exhorting non-Sikhs to kill Sikhs and loot and burn their
"Seven government-appointed commissions
have investigated these attacks," said Brad Adams, Asia director
of Human Rights Watch. "But the commissions were all either
whitewashes or they were met with official stonewalling and obstruction."
The report of the latest commission, the Nanavati
Commission, was due 1 November, but has been delayed for another
"The time for commissions that do not lead
to prosecutions is over," said Adams. "After two decades,
the prosecutors and police should act. There is more than enough
evidence to do so now."
Human Rights Watch called for an end to political
protection for organisers of the violence. Some of those allegedly
involved in the pogrom currently occupy posts in the government
or are members of parliament. Both the judiciary and administrative
inquiry commissions have failed to hold these perpetrators accountable.
"For two decades high-ranking members of
the Congress party have enjoyed political impunity for this violence,"
said Adams. "The fact that many of the alleged planners of
the violence were and are members of the Congress party should
not be a barrier to justice for the victims."
Human Rights Watch commended ENSAAF (www.ensaaf.org),
an organisation dedicated to fighting impunity in India, for its
150-page report, Twenty Years of Impunity, analysing the patterns
of the pogroms and the attitudes and practices of impunity revealed
by previously unpublished government documents and other materials.
"With many connected to the violence now
enjoying prominent positions in public life, the ENSAAF report
makes it clear that India continues to ignore this dark chapter
of its modern history at its own risk," said Adams. "Only
a conscious exercise of political will on the part of the new
government of Prime Minister Singh can bring about justice for
Welcoming the extension of the tenure of Nanavati
Commission of Inquiry, on the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and other
parts of the country, Amnesty International urges the Indian authorities
to ensure that the perpetrators of the violence carried out against
the Sikh community, in 1984, be brought to justice.
The United Progressive Alliance in its Common
Minimum Programme stated that improving the justice sector and
addressing the issues of communal violence was one of its goals.
Amnesty International believes that ending impunity for past abuses
is critical to achieving these objectives.
Amnesty International calls on the Indian authorities
to end impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations carried
out in Punjab state between the mid 1980's and 1990's, including
the 1984 riots in Delhi. During this period, a range of human
rights violations were perpetrated but few people have been brought
"Until justice is delivered to victims
and their families the wounds left by this period remain open,"
said Amnesty International.
Only a small minority of the police officers
responsible for a range of human rights violations, including
torture, deaths in custody, extra-judicial killings and "disappearances",
were brought to justice in the Punjab state. There have been a
small number of prosecutions but in many cases impunity has prevailed.
In 1996, the Supreme Court ordered the National
Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to examine the findings of the
Central Bureau of Investigations that 2,097 people had been illegally
cremated by police officials in Amritsar district between 1984
and 1994. In March 2004, through public notices in newspapers
the NHRC encouraged the families of the victims to file their
claims before the Commission.
The decade of violent political opposition in
Punjabwhich lasted from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990sstarted
when a movement within the Sikh community in Punjab turned to
violence to achieve an independent state for the Sikhs in the
To deal with the violence in the state, Indira
Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, authorised an army assault
on the Golden Temple, the centre of the Sikh religion, in June
1984. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the leader of Akali Dal, the
largest Sikh political party demanding official recognition of
the Sikh faith and greater political autonomy, together with many
of his supporters, were killed in an assault on the Golden Temple,
known as Operation Blue Star.
Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31 October
1984 in retaliation. Her assassination was followed by a period
of violence known as the anti-Sikh riots.
From the early 1980s, armed opposition groups
targeted and killed police officers, elected representatives and
civil servants. The security forces resorted to unlawful and indiscriminate
arrests, torture and extrajudicial executions. Thousands of civilians
were the victims of abuses committed by both sides.
Armed opposition ended in Punjab just over a
decade ago, resulting in a marked decrease of human rights violations
in the state. However, thousands of families are still waiting
to see justice or know the fate of their relatives who "disappeared"
In its 2003 report, India: Break the cycle of
impunity and torture in Punjab, Amnesty International linked the
continuation of serious human rights violations in the Punjab
to the culture of impunity developed during the period of militancy
and reinforced by subsequent inaction. The organisation found
that regular incidents of torture and custodial violence in the
Punjab occur even today.