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India: Fear for safety: Residents of Agartala and Khowai sub-divisions

, Index number: ASA 20/006/1997

There is concern for the safety of civilian residents of Agartala and Khowai sub-divisions, north-eastern state of Tripura, after the government invoked the Disturbed Areas Act in six police station areas, in response to deliberate and arbitrary killings by the armed opposition group, the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF). According to reports the ATTF began armed attacks on 13 February against ethnic Bengalis in villages and refugee camps in the west of the state. On 16 February at least 31 civilians were killed and over 200 houses were set alight. Despite the existence of police posts nearby, police personnel apparently failed to intervene. The invocation of the Disturbed Areas Act means that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is enforced in the Agartala and Khowai sub-divisions. This Act grants sweeping powers to the police to shoot to kill and allows for arrest without warrant.

EXTERNAL AI Index: ASA 20/06/97
UA 52/97 Fear for safety 17 February 1997
INDIAResidents of Agartala and Khowai sub-divisions in the north-eastern state
of Tripura
Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of civilian residents of
Agartala and Khowai sub-divisions in the north-eastern state of Tripura, as
the government responds to the deliberate and arbitrary killings by an armed
opposition group.
According to reports, members of the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), comprising
tribal people seeking the expulsion of "foreigners" from the state, began armed
attacks on 13 February against ethnic Bengalis living in villages and refugee
camps in the west of the state. In ATTF attacks on 16 February, at least 31
civilians were killed and over 200 houses were set alight. Despite the
existence of police posts nearby, police personnel apparently failed to
intervene during the attacks.
In the aftermath of the killings, at approximately 3pm on 16 February, the
Government of Tripura invoked the Disturbed Areas Act in six police station
areas. Three of these police stations, Sidhai, Bakatakarjala and Jirania are
in Agartala sub-division, while three others, Kalyanpur, Khowai and Teliamura
are in Khowai sub-division in the west of Tripura. This means that the Armed
Forces (Special Powers) Act, which grants sweeping powers to shoot to kill
and for arrest without warrant, is enforced in these areas.
A statement issued by the Government of Tripura on 16 February empowered the
armed forces, including the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Border
Security Force (BSF), amongst others, to "fire upon or otherwise use force
even to the causing of death, after due warning against any person acting in
contravention of law or any order in force prohibiting the assembly of five
or more persons or carrying of weapons."
In a 24-hour period, since the notification of the Disturbed Areas Act, reports
indicate at least four suspected members of the ATTF have been killed in security
force operations, that 56 people have been arrested and charged, while a further
24 detained for interrogation.
Amnesty International is concerned that the official sanction to shoot to kill
given by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, will lead to the excessive
use of force by security forces, and the killing of civilians and those suspected
to be members of armed opposition groups, in violation of their right to life.
It is further concerned that, using the provisions of the Act, arbitrary
detentions may take place.
Amnesty International is also appealing to armed opposition groups active in
Tripura state to adhere to the standards of international humanitarian law
and to refrain from the deliberate and arbitrary killing of civilians.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
One of the seven states comprising the north-east region of India, Tripura
has a border with the Indian state of Mizoram on the east and is surrounded
on the north, west and south by Bangladesh.
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Many of the tribal people of Tripura resent the presence of ethnic Bengalis,
many of whom entered the state after the partition of India and after the creation
of Bangladesh. Amongst the demands of the armed opposition, active in the state
for many years, have been demands for self-determination and the ousting of
Bengali settlers, perceived to be "foreigners". Ethnic tensions have been
exacerbated by the preponderance of Bengalis in Tripura and their participation
in the state administration. Economic underdevelopment, poor infrastructure,
corruption and the lack of employment prospects have added to the hostility.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been applied in Tripura on previous
occasions. Using their powers under this Act, members of the security forces
in the north-east region and also in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab, have been
shown to have used excessive force, leading to loss of life.
Human rights activists within India have been campaigning against the Act and
calling for its repeal. Hearing India's report on its adherence to the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1991, the United Nations
(UN) Human Rights Committee held that provisions of the Armed Forces (Special
Powers) Act violated the minimum safeguards for human rights guaranteed by
the covenant.
On 4 February 1997, the Deputy Secretary-General of Amnesty International wrote
to the Chief Ministers of all the north-eastern states, including Tripura,
referring to India's obligations under international human rights law and
stressing the importance of implementing international standards including
the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal,
Arbitrary and Summary executions, Basic Principles on the Use of Force and
Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement
Officials.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/telexes/faxes/express/airmail
letters in English or your own language:
- expressing concern at the apparent increase in human rights abuses in the
context of an escalation of violence in parts of Tripura;
- pointing out that Amnesty International calls on all governments to honour
their obligations under international human rights standards to safeguard
fundamental human rights, including the right to life;
- urging the Government of Tripura to abide by these standards;
- urging the Government of Tripura to ensure full, thorough and independent
investigations should allegations of human rights violations arise and to ensure
that those found responsible are brought to justice as a means to ending
impunity;
- pointing out that Amnesty International is also calling on armed opposition
groups to abide by minimum humanitarian standards which prohibit the deliberate
and arbitrary killing of civilians, torture and ill-treatment and
hostage-taking (In this connection, Amnesty International will be sending this
appeal to newspapers in the north-east region of India, asking the editors
to publish this appeal).
APPEALS TO:
Mr Dasarath Deb
Chief Minister
Office of the Chief Minister
Agartala, Tripura, India
Faxes: +91 381 223201 (if voice ask for fax tone)
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Telegrams: Chief Minister, Agartala, Tripura, India
Salutation: Dear Chief Minister
Mr Samar Chowdhury
Home Minister
Office of the Home Minister
Government of Tripura
Agartala, Tripura, India
Faxes: +91 381 223201 (If voice ask for fax tone)
Telegrams: Home Minister, Agartala, Tripura, India
Salutation: Dear Minister
COPIES TO:
Mr Indrajit Gupta
Minister for Home Affairs
Ministry of Home Affairs
Room No.104
North Block
New Delhi 110 001, India
Fax: +91 11 301 5750
and to diplomatic representatives of India accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 3 April 1997.

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