A ‘people’s tribunal’ on Tuesday said the victims of 2008 Kandhamal communal violence in Orissa continue to be intimidated and “systematically” denied protection and access to justice, recommending that State government must protect those affected and the witnesses of the cases.
A 12-member jury of the public tribunal on Kandhamal violence, headed by former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court A. P. Shah, recommended setting up of a special investigation team to re-examine the registered FIRs and examine the registration of fresh FIRs, noting that cases of sexual assault remained “grossly” unreported due to “fear and intimidation”.
“What happened in Kandhamal was a national shame, a complete defacement of humanity. Most of victims are Dalits and tribals. Survivors continue to be intimidated and systematically denied protection and access to justice. They cannot return to their villages unless they re-convert,” Justice Shah said at a press conference in New Delhi.
The tribunal recorded testimony of 43 victims, survivors and their representatives and heard fact-finding reports prepared by various voluntary organisations and experts.
The jury observed that delay in obtaining forensic evidence, failure in obtaining corroborative evidence and the “rampant” intimidation of survivors and witnesses have led to many acquittals in the cases of Kandhamal violence.
Claiming “grave dereliction” on the part of police and administrative officials, the tribunal recommended a probe into such matters. It favoured appointment of a special public prosecutor “who enjoy confidence of affected community.”
“State must provide protection to victims and witnesses, during and after the trial process, according to guidelines provided in recent judgement of Delhi High Court,” it said.
The tribunal said State government should recognise the rights of those displaced in the violence and create all “possible enabling conditions” to facilitate their return.
“Designate the affected areas as communally sensitive, appoint officers with professional integrity...develop appropriate response mechanism to halt the brewing of hate mobilisation and religious and caste-based discriminative activities,” it added.