FTs creating ‘havoc’ in Assam: Amnesty

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The Amnesty International India on Wednesday alleged that the Supreme Court of India and the Gauhati High Court have enabled the Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) to create a statelessness crisis in Assam. The Amnesty India called for a review of the existing legislative regime governing the determination of nationality in India.

Amnesty’s India head Aakar Patel alleged the FTs to be often dismissive, use derogatory language, control their own procedures and apply them in arbitrary ways. “Holding governments accountable for the human rights abuses they commit has always been difficult. However, in this case, it is the judiciary that has aided the government institutions and Foreigners Tribunals in committing abuses with impunity,” said Aakar Patel.

The global rights body said that people appearing before the FTs are not afforded fair trial protections and human rights guarantees. “This lack of protection has also been endorsed by the Gauhati High Court through its judgments in various cases,” read a press statement released by the Amnesty International India.

According to the organisation, one Samina Bibi was declared a foreigner by the FT and one of the reasons given by the tribunal was that she could not remember the constituency where her grandfather cast his vote in 1966. Also, Abu Bakkar Siddiqui was declared a foreigner because his grandfather’s name was spelled Aper Ali in one document and Afer Ali in another, the statement said.

They further alleged that the Gauhati High Court has highly restricted its scope for hearing petitions against FTs’ opinions. “For the last decade and a half, the Foreigners Tribunals have created havoc in Assam. They have not been held accountable by the courts, the Government of India and the Government of Assam.

Now with the Union Home Minister of India, Amit Shah said that there will be a nation-wide NRC, there is a possibility that there will be thousands of Foreigners Tribunals set up across the country. They will decide whether those who are left out of the NRC are Indian citizens or not”, said Aakar Patel. “While states have a right to establish principles about how nationality is acquired, renounced or lost, they must do so within the framework of international human rights law,” added Patel.

“The Courts are complicit in peddling a narrative which is clearly not based on any facts. By labelling migration as a security threat and continuing to do so, the courts have created a system which is designed to exclude and wreck the lives of many in Assam”, said Amnesty’s India head.

The FTs places the burden of proving one’s Indian citizenship on the person suspected of doubtful nationality. It does not have an appellate body. None of its procedures lay down any guidance on how a reference can be made against a person to the Tribunal. It provides a time of 10 days, an unreasonably short window for people to produce their documents before the FT after receiving a notice.

Moreover, the eligibility criteria of FT members have been gradually lowered over the years. The members do not have fixed tenures and are recruited on a contractual basis. An analysis of the affidavit filed by the Government of Assam in the Gauhati High Court shows that on average, any member who declared foreigners in less than 10 percent of their disposed cases, stood the risk of being axed.

“If the Foreigners Tribunals replicate their functioning across the country, then we will probably witness one of the largest process of arbitrarily deprivation of nationality in the world”, said Aakar Patel.

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