UN Experts Say Millions Face Humanitarian Crisis in Assam

PM Narendra Modi at the Dhola-Sadia Bridge, across River Brahmaputra, in Assam on May 26, 2017 (file photo). Courtesy: PIB
PM Narendra Modi at the Dhola-Sadia Bridge, across River Brahmaputra, in Assam on May 26, 2017 (file photo). Courtesy: PIB

UN experts* have expressed deep concern that the impending deadline in the Indian state of Assam to finalize a process to determine citizenship could see the world’s total stateless population explode overnight by more than 4 million.

The independent experts said that the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) list, published in June 2018, could potentially have far-reaching consequences, predominantly affecting members of minority groups living in Assam deemed to have failed to establish that they are citizens of India.

“While there is not yet a precise breakdown regarding those excluded from the list, it appears that most are from ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, and in particular Muslims and Hindus of Bengali descent,” stated Dr. Fernand de Varennes, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

“We welcome the recent extension from 15 December to 31 December 2018 by the Supreme Court of India of the deadline by which objections to the original exclusions could be made,” the UN experts said. “However, the underlying issues with the process, including a lack of clarity regarding the determination of exclusion have not been resolved,” they added.

Furthermore, the complex process to lodge “claims and objections” as well as a lack of transparency regarding procedures may preclude many people, often from minority, impoverished, remote and marginalized communities, from lodging an effective challenge, said de Varennes.

“We are also seriously concerned about the lack of clarity regarding what will happen to those left out of the finalized NRC,” the experts said. “There is a risk that persons not part of the NRC could become stateless, be at risk of deportation, or be subject to large-scale migration detention.”

The NRC project also has the potential to stir up simmering tensions in Assam, including most notably against the Muslim Bengali speaking minority, among other minorities, as well as lead to a potential humanitarian crisis, the experts said.

“It is feared that this entire process is increasing inter-ethnic tensions in a region that has already experienced a tumultuous history of identity-based conflicts, and suffered from strained inter-communal relations, including multiple outbreaks of serious violence and instability, as well as have extremely grave consequences in the recognition and protection of the human rights of millions of minority men, women and children,” added the Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

* The experts: Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

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