Lawyers’ Group files criminal complaint against UP CM over brute state action against CAA protesters

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Strongman chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Adityanath, the aggressive man in saffron robes faces a criminal complaint filed by the Guernica 37 Chambers at the Office of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor as he made his way to Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum. His visit ends today.

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New Delhi: A specialist group of international criminal and human rights lawyers have filed a criminal report with the Office of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor against Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath ahead of his visit to Davos for the World Economic Forum. Adityanath’s visit, from January 16. The visit ends today, January 20.

The group, Guernica 37 Chambers, have filed the complaint against him “for crimes against humanity committed between December 2019 and January 2020 in the state of Uttar Pradesh” – during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The group, in its press release, has invoked the “principle of universal jurisdiction” in Article 264 of the Swiss Criminal Code. The group has singled out Adityanath and his administration’s treatment of protesters, noting that the suppression of protests could amount to crimes against humanity.

Chief Minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath is reported to have ordered the false imprisonment, torture and murder of civilians between December 2019 and January 2020 in his state to suppress widespread protests against the adoption of the amended Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 in India. As set out in the criminal report, these acts may amount to crimes against humanity as they are alleged to have been committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilians, mostly the Muslim population in the country.

The group notes that it has “sufficient basis to believe that senior members of the UP State Government, including Chief Minister Adityanath, are responsible for ordering the UP police under their command” and singles out Adityanath’s speeches in this connection.

“The Chief Minister’s role in the escalation of police violence is particularly apparent in a speech given on 19 December 2019 calling on the police to take “revenge” against protesters. Despite being an Indian State official, the Chief Minister does not enjoy diplomatic immunity for these crimes.”

The lawyers also note that following the adoption of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in December 2019, “which embodies a wider pattern of discrimination against Muslims in India,” many members of the Muslim community across the country took to the streets to peacefully protest the law. However, it says, UP Police violently cracked down on protesters.

“In the course of this crackdown which lasted six months, the UP police reportedly also killed 22, peaceful protesters, at least 117 were tortured and 307 were arbitrarily detained,” it said.

The lawyers have also alleged that “domestic avenues to address these crimes have remained unsuccessful” alongside international avenues as India has not acceded to the individual complaints mechanisms of the United Nations (UN) human rights treaties nor has it ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The UP authorities, it notes, have so far “ignored calls by victims’ families, human rights groups, domestic courts and the UN mandate holders” to investigate and prosecute these violations.

Multiple reports by sections of the media at the time had noted how minors and the poorest of people were allegedly beaten by police. The criminal complaint also lays down the argument that as CM and home minister, Adityanath as the final executive authority in the state of UP over police conduct also failed to investigate and prosecute the alleged crimes.

Sabrangindia had reported on a well-documented report by the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) that had totalled a staggering 350 FIRs having been filed against at least 1,05,000 people during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests in Uttar Pradesh. What’ was particularly significant was that  almost all of these FIRs were filed between December 19 and December 20, 2019! The civil rights advocacy group compiled the report titled Struggle for Equal Citizenship in UP and its Costs: A saga of omnibus FIRs, loot, arrests and harassment of Muslim minority that showcases the Uttar Pradesh state government’s treatment of the peaceful anti-CAA protesters.

In year 2019, there were nation-wide demonstrations against the CAA-2019, an amendment to India’s 1955 Citizenship Law, that has been analysed as being deeply partisan because though it allowed Indian citizenship to be granted to persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, it did not extend the same benefits to Muslims. Interestingly,  for all its purported good intentions of ‘helping people facing persecution in their home (solely Islamic) countries’, the CAA-2019 did not make any provisions to help persecuted minorities from Sri Lanka and Myanmar, two countries in its immediate neighbourood.

Meanwhile, states that had governments led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called for a massive crackdown against these protests. “However, police action carried out in Uttar Pradesh was unprecedented. Lives were lost. Properties were destroyed. Protestors and bystanders were tortured, arrested. Many are still incarcerated even after two years,” said the report prepared by Jamia Millia Islamia Research Scholar Safoora Zargar and student activist Asif Iqbal Tanha.

Using verified information available in the public domain, the report had also calculated that FIRs had been filed against around 5,000 named individuals and over 1,00,000 unknown persons. About 3,000 people were illegally arrested, many of whom were from the Muslim community. The report alleged that the arrested people were put in jail under fabricated charges and remain there even now that in early 2022, close to two years plus after the nationwide protests.

The report had also documented how the state had also, by its brute actions, snatched away the lives of 23. The deceased were mostly bystanders, largely daily wage labourers between 40 to 45 years of age, and the sole breadwinners of their families. However, there was one Mohammad Sageer in Varanasi who died at the young age of 8. The school-going child was the youngest victim to have died in the stampede that followed the police lathi-charge at an CAA-NRC protest on December 20, 2019. As per the report, “Sageer was gleefully playing with his friends on the narrow bylanes of Dharara locality when a group of protesters came running to protect themselves from the lathi-charge set off by Uttar Pradesh police. Sageer was left choking and unconscious after getting trampled by the crowd. He was very critical by the time he was picked up and rushed to the hospital. The child, the youngest of four brothers, succumbed to injuries in a hospital on the same day.”

Similarly, Rampur’s Faiz Khan died on the same day after he suffered a bullet wound to his clavicle. Khan had joined the protesting crowd after taking his 14-year-old niece Samia to the hospital. Amidst the tear-gassing, the 25-year-old was trying to help an old man to safety. Nine districts that reported such deaths, namely – Bijor, Firozabad, Kanpur, Lucknow, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Rampur, Sambhal, and Varanasi. Firozabad alone reported as many as seven deaths. In terms of police action, Meerut’s belated scrap dealer Mohsin’s family said that the authorities refused to act or even register their complaint. On that day, Mohsin had gone to get extra fodder for the buffaloes just in case the markets shut down.

Accountability International

Now international lawyers are demanding accountability from an Indian state that has failed to answer to its citizens.

India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had also, in 2021 ordered an inquiry into the allegations in 2021. If the move by the international lawers group is successful, the opening of an investigation by the Swiss authorities will serve as official recognition and acknowledgement of the gravity of the alleged crimes, it says.

At the time, in 2019-2020, the Uttar Pradesh government had also  threatened protesters with ‘recovery’ of their property as ‘property damage’ from those it had identified as culpable protesters in late 2019. The Supreme Court in 2021 had asked the Uttar Pradesh government not to take action on earlier notices sent to protesters.

Guernica 37 Chambers had also before this, filed a formal submission with the United States government seeking targeted sanctions against Adityanath, for his role in extra judicial killings allegedly committed by the state’s police forces between 2017 and 2021.

The press release dateline London, dated January 17, 2023, issued by Guernica 37 Chambers (that describes itself as a ‘specialist group of International Criminal and Human Rights lawyers with a socially committed and multi-Disciplinary Outlook) states that

“Guernica 37 Chambers filed a criminal report with the Office of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor against Chief Minister of the State Government of Uttar Pradesh (UP) India, — attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, between 16 and 20 January 2022,– for crimes against humanity committed between December 2019 and January 2020 in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

“Guernica 37 Chambers in London filed this morning a criminal complaint under the principle of universal jurisdiction as provided in Article 264 of the Swiss Criminal Code before the General Prosecutor in Switzerland against the Chief Minister and Home Minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath who is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2023.

“Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath is reported to have ordered the false imprisonment, torture and murder of civilians between December 2019 and January 2020 in the state of Uttar Pradesh to suppress protests against the adoption of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in India.

“As set out in the criminal report, these acts may amount to crimes against humanity as they are alleged to have been committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilians, mostly the Muslim population in the country.

“There is a sufficient basis to believe that senior members of the UP State Government, including Chief Minister Adityanath, are responsible for ordering the UP police under their command. The Chief Minister’s role in the escalation of police violence is particularly apparent in a speech given on 19 December 2019 calling on the police to take “revenge” against protesters. Despite being an Indian State official, the Chief Minister does not enjoy diplomatic immunity for these crimes.

“Following the adoption of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in December 2019, which embodies a wider pattern of discrimination against Muslims in India, many members of the Muslim community across the country took to the streets to peacefully protest the law. Members of the UP police violently separated the protesters in order to break up their protest and punish them for their opposition to the new law. In the course of this crackdown which lasted six months, the UP police reportedly killed 22 protestors, at least 117 were tortured and 307 were arbitrarily detained. The criminal complaint argues that as the Chief Minister and Home Minister, Yogi Adityanath as the final executive authority in the state of UP over police conduct also failed to investigate and prosecute the alleged crimes.

“Domestic avenues to address these crimes have remained unsuccessful alongside international avenues as India has not acceded to the individual complaints mechanisms of the United Nations (UN) human rights treaties nor has it ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The UP authorities have so far ignored calls by victims’ families, human rights groups, domestic courts and the UN mandate holders to investigate and prosecute these violations. The escalation of violence and impunity requires urgent actions to hold the perpetrators accountable.

“The opening of an investigation by the Swiss authorities will serve as official recognition and acknowledgement of the gravity of the alleged crimes and recognition of the status of the victims, that they have thus far failed to receive at the domestic or international levels, and it will further serve as evidence that the culture of impunity will not be tolerated.”

It remains to be seen where and how the Swiss authorities will respond.

Related:

Guernica 37 Chambers Press Release

Anti-CAA-NRC protests in UP: Horrors of a police-state

Supreme Court takes UP gov’t to task over notices issued to anti-CAA protesters

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