India: New anti-terror laws would violate international human rights standards

The President of India  should reject new amendments to anti-terror laws which would violate international human rights treaties, said Amnesty International today, in response to India’s speedy introduction of new legislation after the November attacks in Mumbai city in which more than 170 people died.

The organization calls upon the President, Indian authorities and lawmakers to urgently review the new amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, (UAPA), 1967, and provisions of the new legislation aiming to set up a National Investigating Agency (NIA), exclusively meant to probe acts of terrorism in the country.

“While we utterly condemn the attacks and recognise that the Indian authorities have a right and duty to take effective measures to ensure the security of the population, security concerns should never be used to jeopardize people’s human rights,” said Madhu Malhotra, Asia Pacific Programme Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

The experience of other countries which have also rushed to pass sweeping anti-terror legislation in response to terrorist attacks has shown that such measures undermine the rule of law and respect for human rights internationally, and do not enhance security. The UN General Assembly said in 2006 that “measures to ensure the respect for human rights for all and the rule of law [are] the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism.”

India’s experience with previous anti-terrorism laws has shown that they can lead to abusive practices.

The new amendments include:

sweeping and overbroad definitions of “acts of terrorism” no clear and strict definition of what constitutes “membership” of a “terrorist gang or organization” minimum period of detention of persons suspected to be involved in acts of terrorism extended to 30 days from 15 days, and the maximum period of detention of such persons to 180 days from 90 days – already far beyond international standards denial of bail to foreign nationals who may have entered the country in an unauthorised or illegal manner, except in very exceptional circumstances the requirement, in certain circumstances, of accused people to prove their innocence the new legislation on the National Investigating Agency authorises special courts to close hearings to public without defining or limiting the grounds under which they may do so.

“India’s authorities and legislators should show their respect for the rule of law, in the face of terrorist attacks, by reviewing provisions such as allowing a maximum of 180 instead of an earlier provision of 90 days detention of suspects, sweeping definitions of ‘membership’ of organizations and closed trials,” said Madhu Malhotra.