Clashes in India among Ten’ most underreported humanitarian stories of 2006 : MSF Report

New York – The staggering human toll taken by tuberculosis (TB) and malnutrition as well as the devastation caused by conflicts in Haiti, Somalia, Colombia, Chechnya and various parts of India, Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are among the “Top Ten” Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2006, according to the year-end list released today by the international humanitarian medical aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Clashes in central India

Ongoing conflict in several parts of India – including northeastern Assam and Manipur states highlighted in last year’s Top 10 Underreported Humanitarian Stories list – Report says that it has gone virtually unnoticed by the outside world for years. In central India’s Chhattisgarh state, clashes between Maoist insurgents, Indian security forces and Hindutva sponsored militias, also known as Salwa Judum, has been occurring for more than 25 years, resulting in the displacement, sometimes reportedly forced, of more than 50,000 civilians.

Others flee into neighboring states while thousands of people have lost their livelihoods and have little access to their land, food, essential healthcare or emergency medical services. MSF provides medical treatment in camps for displaced people in Dantewada district, located in south Chhattisgarh. Medical teams also provide mobile health services and nutritional support to those in need in remote rural areas.

Surprisingly, the situation in Chhatisgarh is only one of several armed conflicts occurring throughout India for years, with civilians caught between various belligerent parties. As a consequence, many people continue to live in an atmosphere of fear and violence with little or no access to health care.

“We know that media coverage does not generate improvements on its own,” said MSF (USA) Executive Director Nicolas de Torrente. “However, it is often a precondition for increased assistance and political attention. There is perhaps nothing worse than being completely neglected and forgotten.” Many conflicts worldwide are profoundly affecting millions of people, yet they are almost completely invisible,” said MSF (USA) Executive Director Nicolas de Torrente. “Haiti, for example, is just 50 miles from the United States and the plight of the population enduring relentless violence in its volatile capital Port-au-Prince received only half a minute of network coverage in an entire year.”

According to Andrew Tyndall, publisher of the online media-tracking journal The Tyndall Report, the ten countries and contexts highlighted by MSF accounted for just 7.2 minutes of the 14,512 minutes on the three major U.S. television networks’ nightly newscasts for 2006. Treating malnutrition, TB, and Chechnya were mentioned, but only briefly in other stories. Five of the countries highlighted by MSF were never mentioned at all.

The 2006 “Top 10” list also focused on the devastation caused by TB and malnutrition.

Read the complete Report at MSF website

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749 killed in 2006 in the Maoists’ conflict in India

Salwa Judum campaign prolongs the conflict

South Asia Foreign Correspondent Club, New Delhi:

According to the Naxal Conflict in 2006 released to the media today by Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), 749 persons were killed in the Naxalite conflict in India in 2006. These include 285 civilians, 135 security personnel and 329 alleged Naxalites. The highest number of killing was reported from Chhattisgarh (363), followed by Andhra Pradesh (135), Jharkhand (95), Maharashtra (60), Bihar (45), Orissa (25), West Bengal (22), Uttar Pradesh (2), Karnataka (1) and Madhya Pradesh (1).

The killing of 749 persons in 2006 represents a decrease in the number of killings than in 2005 during which 892 persons were killed. But, the Naxal conflict captured the centre-stage of the armed conflicts in 2006 because of the Salwa Judum campaign and its disastrous consequences such as the violations of the right to life by the Naxalites, security forces and the Salwa Judum activists, forcible displacement of 43,740 persons as of 31st December 2006 in Dantewada district and abdication of the responsibility to maintain law and order to the Salwa Judum cadres; spread of the Naxalite conflict in 1,427 police stations, and increased striking capability of the Naxalites akin to the Maoists of Nepal.

The Naxalites have killed 412 persons including 277 civilians and 135 security personnel.

The Maoists have killed more civilians than the security forces, and the massacres of the innocent civilians by the Naxalites were unprecedented. The major massacres were Darbhaguda massacre of 28 February 2006 in which 27 persons were killed, Monikonta massacre of April 2006 in which 15 unarmed villagers were killed after abduction, Errabore massacre of 17 July 2006 in which 31 persons were massacred; and Halewada massacre in which 12 persons of a marriage party were killed in a powerful bomb blast near Halewada village in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra on 16 May 2006. In some of the massacres, many innocent victims were killed in the most despicable manner through repeated stabbing and slitting of the victims’ throats in front of other hostages or villagers.

The Maoists’ victims also included Salwa Judum cadres, alleged police informers, political party activists, some of whom were killed after trial in Kangaroo courts, Jana Adalats of the Maoists.

“These acts of the Maoists constitute serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights.

The Naxalites, who frown at the lack of development, have been responsible for blocking many development initiatives in the areas where they exercise control by targeting labourers, officials and companies. They have been systematically targeting all such governmental buildings that could provide shelter to security personnel.

The security forces claimed to have killed 322 alleged Naxalites.

“The claims of the security forces that all persons killed were “Naxalites” are far from the truth. There have been credible reports of torture, rape and extrajudicial executions by the Salwa Judum activists and the security forces especially in the process of forcibly bringing the villagers under the Salwa Judum fold.” – stated Mr Chakma.

The Central government has been supporting wrong policies on the Naxalites. The Salwa Judum campaign which resulted into 48.5% of the total killings in Chhattisgarh has more to do with local political considerations than resolving the Naxalite conflict.

“The Salwa Judum campaign which has been extended to “six blocks” in one district i.e. Dantewada cannot resolve the Naxalite conflict which is spread over 170 districts in 13 States across the country” – warned Mr Chakma.

“The Salwa Judum campaign has only accentuated the Naxalite conflict but made resolution of the Naxalite conflict in Chhattisgarh extremely difficult if not impossible by exposing all those living in the camps to the violence of the Naxalites”. – further added Mr Chakma.

ACHR stated that during its latest visit to the Salwa Judum camps in Dantewada district from 1-5 January 2007, it found the conditions of the camps housing 43,740 displaced persons to be deplorable and sub-human. The displaced persons continued to be provided just a square meal of rice and dal. Medical and educational facilities remained non-existent.  About 250 schools and Ashram schools are being used by the security forces and for the Salwa Judum campaign.

ACHR expressed concerns with the continued “law and order” approach of the government to deal with the Naxalite crisis as reflected from the creation of a division within the Ministry of Home Affairs to address the Naxalite conflict.

ACHR recommended creation of a separate Ministry for speedy development of the Naxalite affected areas in line with Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region and intervene with the State government of Chhattisgarh to stop the “Salwa Judum” campaign and not to involve the civilians in conflict with the Naxals and investigate all allegations of human rights violations. ACHR also recommended to the Naxalite affected States to declare cease-fire with the Naxalites and hold peace talks.

ACHR also urged the Communist Party of India (Maoists) to declare cease-fire with the State Governments for resolving the problems through dialogue, facilitate dismantling of all the Salwa Judum relief camps and return of the camp inmates to their respective villages with full safety and security; stop forcible recruitment including of the children and indiscriminate use of explosives against the civilians, and to ensure respect of the international humanitarian laws.

Friday, 12 January 2007

32 % Indians found happiness in torturing others

A majority of people around the world are opposed to torture even if its purpose is to elicit information that could save innocent lives from terrorism, according to a BBC World Service poll of more than 27,000 people in 25 different countries.

The poll shows 59 percent of the world’s citizens are unwilling to compromise on the protection of human rights, however 29 percent think governments should be allowed to use some degree of torture in order to combat terrorism.There is however somewhat less support for outlawing torture in several countries that have suffered political violence including India, where slightly more respondents (32%) favour relaxing the rules against torture than not (23%).

The largest percentage endorsing torture was found in Israel. Forty-three percent say some degree of torture should be allowed, though slightly more, (48%) think the practice should be prohibited. Most Americans (58%) are against any use of torture. But opposition to torture in the US is less robust than in Europe and the percentage of Americans favouring the practice in certain cases (36%) is one of the highest among the 25 countries polled.Italians are the most opposed to the use of torture with 81 percent against, followed by three-quarters of respondents in Australia and France, 74 percent in Canada, 72 percent in the UK, and 71 percent in Germany.

Only in India do more respondents favour allowing “some degree of torture:” Thirty-two percent say using physical coercion is sometimes permissible—a bit more than the 23 percent who say existing rules should be maintained. Nearly half of Indian respondents (45%) favour neither position or did not answer. The largest percentage endorsing torture is found in Israel where 43 percent say that some degree of torture should be allowed, though slightly more (48%) say the practice should be prohibited. Israeli responses vary significantly by religion. A majority of Jewish respondents (53%) favour allowing governments to use torture to obtain information while 39 percent want clear rules against it. In contrast, Muslims in Israel (who represented 16 percent of total responses in that country) are overwhelmingly (87%) against any use of torture. No other country polled has a majority of any major religious subgroup that favours allowing torture.

In addition to India and Israel, there were four other countries where those rejecting torture fell short of a majority: Russia (43% reject torture, 37% accept), Nigeria (49% reject, 39% accept), China (49% reject, 37% accept), and Mexico (50% reject, 24% accept).

In the United States, most Americans (58%) oppose any use of torture. But opposition to torture in the United States is less robust than in Europe and the percentage of Americans favouring the practice in certain cases (36%) is one of the highest among the 25 countries polled.

The survey of 27,407 respondents across 25 countries was conducted for the BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. GlobeScan coordinated fieldwork from May through July 2006.

Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, notes, “The dominant view around the world is that terrorism does not warrant bending the rules against torture.”

GlobeScan President, Doug Miller, adds, “The poll reveals a public opinion climate in which human rights violations by governments are likely to cause outrage, especially in Western Europe.”

Countries polled were Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, and the US.

Respondents were asked the following question:

Most countries have agreed to rules that prohibit torturing prisoners. Which position is closer to yours?

Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture if it may gain information that saves innocent lives.

Clear rules against torture should be maintained because any use of torture is immoral and will weaken international human rights standards against torture.

The poll found strong support for the latter position in favour of upholding the rule against torture with a majority in 19 countries endorsing it, plus another 5 with a plurality. There is however somewhat less support for outlawing torture in several countries that have suffered terrorist attacks or political violence including India, where a slight plurality favours relaxing the rules against torture.

All of the countries surveyed are parties to the Geneva Conventions that contain Article 3 forbidding torture as well as other forms of abuse. All countries surveyed are also parties to the more recent Convention Against Torture that goes further in how explicitly it prohibits torture, except India, which has signed but not yet ratified it.

Italians (81%) are the most opposed to the use of torture in all circumstances and the British are among the highest with 72 percent opposed and 24 percent in favor. Other countries with high numbers favouring a total ban are in Australia and France (75% in both) as well as Canada (74%) and Germany (71%).

There is little variation in the worldwide averages by income or education. But support for a ban on torture increases slightly with age: 57 percent of those younger than 35 years old were against torture compared to 61 percent of those 35 and older. Men are five points more likely to accept some use of torture than are women. As for religion, Israel is the only country where statistically significant differences exist between major religious groups on this question.

In total 27,407 citizens in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States were interviewed between 26 May and 6 July 2006. Polling was conducted for the BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan and its research partners in each country. In 7 of the 25 countries, the sample was limited to major urban areas. The margin of error per country ranges from +/-2.5 to 4 percent.

For more details, please see the Methodology section or visit http://www.globescan.com or www.pipa.org.