The Kandhamal violence of 2008 “meets all the elements of crimes against humanity,” said the report of the Justice A.P. Shah-headed National People's Tribunal on Kandhamal, which was released here on Saturday.
The report recommends the constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to re-examine the First Information Reports already registered, to file fresh FIRs where necessary and to recommend remedial measures where trials had been vitiated because of intimidation of witnesses and lack of evidence. The tribunal has asked for an enquiry covering the acts of all public officials, including Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, and sought legal action against those guilty of dereliction of duty, collusion and complicity in crimes.
The report, “Waiting for Justice”, is a detailed compilation of the circumstances leading to the violence and the personal accounts of the victims and their relatives recorded in hearings held here. It assesses the overall impact of the violence on women and children and evaluates the processes of justice, accountability and reparations.
The report says: “The attacks were widespread and were executed with substantial planning and preparation … Christians who refused to convert to Hinduism were brutally killed or injured [and] human rights defenders have been deliberately targeted for their role in assisting the victim-survivors.”
The tribunal sought identification of unreported cases of sexual and gender-based violence and inclusion of the offence of sexual assault in FIRs; appointment of Special Public Prosecutors and a special panel of lawyers to represent the victims at the appellate stage; setting up legal cells to assist victims in their cases and protection of witnesses during and after the trial processes.
The tribunal also asked for the maintenance of “minimum international standards of health, hygiene and privacy, especially for women and children, at the relief camps”. Finally, it called for the formulation of a “policy/programme to urgently address the issue of institutional bias against the Christian community through a combination of perspective-building and stringent action intended at upholding the rule of law.”