India has voiced its disappointment that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam was being “wrongly linked” with the minority rights issue and said one should not jump to conclusions based on “incomplete understanding”.
After a UN expert raised alarm over a potential “humanitarian crisis” due to the exercise, Paulomi Tripathi, the first secretary in India’s Permanent Mission to the UN, said updating the NRC was a statutory, transparent and legal process mandated and monitored by the Supreme Court of India.
“The issue of National Registrar of Citizens in the state of Assam in India is not an issue of rights of minorities. We are disappointed that this issue (is) being wrongly linked with the issue of minority rights. Minorities in India enjoy Constitutional safeguards, which are part of our fundamental rights and which are justiciable,” Tripathi said on Tuesday at a session of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural).
Tripathi took the floor to respond to remarks made by UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Fernand de Varennes, who spoke about the NRC exercise being undertaken in Assam to document and identify illegal immigrants in the state.
“I am saddened to raise the alarm that statelessness may, in fact, be increasing significantly in the coming years and even months,” de Varennes said in his remarks to the General Assembly committee.
It may contribute to potential “humanitarian crisis”, destabilizing situation because of the risk of hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions of individuals who mainly belong to Bengali and Muslim minorities in India being deemed to be foreigners and potentially non-citizens in the state of Assam and who may, therefore, find themselves stateless, he said.
In her response, Tripathi said the exclusion from NRC had not undermined the rights of any resident of Assam. Those who are not in the final list have not been detained. It does not make them an excluded or a stateless person or a foreigner.
She asserted that judicial processes must be allowed to complete rather than jumping into wrong conclusions based on incomplete understanding. “It is a non-discriminatory process, as can be seen from the application form for data entry,” she said emphasizing that there is no column seeking religious affiliation of the applicant.
She said more than 31 million people had been listed in the NRC and a “meticulous verification process” had brought down the numbers that were not featuring in the NRC from about four million to 1.9 million.
She told the Committee that anyone excluded from the list at this stage has the right to file an appeal to the designated tribunals and individuals still aggrieved by the decision of the tribunal have the right to approach the High Court and the Supreme Court.
Further, provisions of free legal assistance have been assured by the state to any person excluded from the list and who is unable to afford such legal assistance.
“India, as the world’s largest democracy, has firmly enshrined equal rights for all and respect for the rule of law in its Constitution. An independent judiciary and fully autonomous state institutions working for the defense of human rights are an integral part of our political fabric and our traditions,” she said.
In his remarks, de Varennes also said that apparently more than three quarters of the world's 10 million recognized stateless people are persons who belong to minorities.
"The overall number of stateless and the proportion of the world’s stateless belonging to minorities that appear to be at the receiving end of potentially discriminatory policies, practices and legislation further marginalizing minorities already vulnerable to human rights violations, may therefore be increasing, rather than decreasing.”
He called on the international community, UN Member States and international organizations to assist in the development of guidelines for equal nationality rights for minorities “so as not to sideline one of the main causes of statelessness globally, as a matter of urgency in a proactive and preemptive way before they escalate into large scale humanitarian crisis, as there is a danger of occurring in Assam.”
Responding to Tripathi’s remarks that the issue of NRC does not involve minority rights, de Varennes said “minority rights are human rights” and added, “I think we have to be clear that the situation in Assam does involve human rights, the human rights of minorities in different areas.”
He thanked India for highlighting some of the measures that have been taken to try to ensure that the rights of those who are involved are better protected. de Varennes however added that it would be “much better” if a Special Rapporteur was able to actually assess the situation on the ground.
He expressed hope that India will consider the possibility of inviting him to examine the situation in Assam in order to have a better understanding of this complex situation on the ground, respoding to Tripathi’s reply that one should not jump to conclusions based on incomplete understanding.