Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Annex D


  India: Prosecute Killers of Sikhs


  New York, 30 October 2004—On 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 properties.

  "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 two months.

  "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 (, 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 the Sikhs."


  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 to justice.

  "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 Punjab—which lasted from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s—started when a movement within the Sikh community in Punjab turned to violence to achieve an independent state for the Sikhs in the early 1980s.

  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" that period.

  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.

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