Opinion » Lead

Updated: July 25, 2012 00:20 IST

A lesson on the white man’s justice

Praveen Swami
Comment (38)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

Denmark’s decision not to extradite Purulia arms-drop architect Kim Davy illustrates European double standards on human rights

Early on the morning of December 18, 1995, residents of Khatanga, a small West Bengal hamlet, finally summoned the courage to step out of their homes and examine the strange gifts that had dropped from the skies through the night. Boxes were scattered across the fields, witnesses told investigators, enveloped in giant pieces of cloth later identified as parachutes. Local residents had helped themselves to the arsenal, but police eventually located over 150 assault rifles, rocket launchers, grenades, anti-tank rockets and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

From Copenhagen-based Neils Holck (aka Kim Davy), a monk of the shadowy ultra-right Ananda Marg cult wanted in several countries for smuggling, we know why those weapons were dropped over Purulia that night. In a television interview in 2010, Mr. Holck said he organised the arms drop as “legal defence against decades of murder, torture, rape by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal.”

This month, Jorgen Sorensen, Denmark’s director of public prosecutions, announced his service would not appeal a court judgment denying Indian demands for Mr. Holck’s extradition — ensuring the cult member will never stand trial. Denmark’s Eastern High Court had earlier said Mr. Holck could not be sent to India because of its “widespread and systematic use of torture”. It flagged India’s “overcrowded prisons with insufficient food and medical treatment.”

Impressive as this defence of human rights sounds — and accurate as it might be — it isn’t quite the whole truth. Denmark’s record in the West’s war on jihadist terrorism suggests the same principles don’t apply when the terrorists in question aren’t white, and the victims aren’t brown.

Dubious record

N221SG, a Learjet 35 leased by the Central Intelligence Agency from the Delaware-based Path Corporation, landed in Copenhagen on March 7, 2005 — a decade since Mr. Holck stood at the back of the Antonov 26 cargo plane he had purchased from Latvia, pushing weapons-packed crates out of its cargo bay. Turkish media reported that the Learjet was carrying a CIA prisoner. Leading opposition groups in Denmark demanded to know why the country was allowing transit facilities for flights to prisoners held illegally and at threat of torture.

That question has never been answered by either Denmark or its European allies — partners, with the United States, in a war that has seen every principle of the international human rights regime they claim to uphold violated.

In June 1995, former U.S President Bill Clinton signed the directive that gave legal authority to his country’s now well-known international campaign of kidnapping directed at alleged terrorists. In case the U.S. did not “receive adequate cooperation from a state that harbours a terrorist whose extradition we are seeking,” he wrote, “we shall take appropriate measures to induce cooperation”. In addition, the “return of suspects by force may be effected without the cooperation of the host government”.

Denmark had something to do with the very first CIA operation that followed. In September 1995, Egyptian jihadist Talat Fuad Qasim was kidnapped from Croatia and quietly handed over to his homeland’s government — and, likely, executed. Long a key leader of the Gama’a Islamiyyah, and a veteran of the Afghan jihad, Qasim was alleged to have been involved in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He was convicted by an Egyptian court on terrorism charges in 1992 but granted asylum in Denmark.

In a 2007 exposé, the newspaper, Politiken, alleged that the Politiets Efterretningstjeneste, Denmark’s intelligence service, was kept informed of Qasim’s kidnapping. Denmark never protested either his kidnapping or execution.

In October 2003, a CIA flight carrying Yemeni jihadist Muhammad Bismillah from illegal custody in Jordan was allowed to transit Denmark. In 2007, the human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, said Mr. Basmillah had said he was held by the U.S. for over a year-and-a-half “in solitary confinement, frequently shackled and in handcuffs”.

In October 2008, Denmark concluded an official investigation into the CIA flights — estimated at over 45 — and concluded that the country had no knowledge of their real purpose. Per Stig Moller, the country’s Foreign Minister, expressed disappointment with the U.S.’ refusal to help get to the truth.

Leaked diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, however, cast Danish policy in a less-than-benign light. Foreign Ministry official Thomas Winkler privately told the U.S. that the government’s protests were “for the record”.

In another February 7, 2008, diplomatic cable, James Cain, the U.S. ambassador in Copenhagen, recorded that “the issue may show up on the prime minister's agenda, [but] if only so he will be able to say that he raised it with the President.” He lauded the Danish government for “avoiding an independent inquiry”.

Denmark isn’t alone. Five years since a European Parliament investigation led by rapporteur Giovanni Fava released its final report in February 2007, Lithuania has admitted to hosting secret CIA prisons, linked by flight data to Finland and Denmark. Poland and Romania have also been alleged with playing a key role in the operations.

Few European states have emerged from investigations untarnished. In one 2001 case in Sweden, Egyptian nationals Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed El-Zari were handed over to the U.S. authorities at Bromma airport in Stockholm, who cut off their “clothing with scissors piece by piece, draped them in hoods and chained them hand and foot [… before being] transported to Cairo bound to a pair of mattresses”.

Italy alone, however, has initiated a criminal investigation, indicting 26 U.S. nationals including top CIA officials for their role in the 2003 kidnapping of alleged Egyptian jihadist Nasor Osama Mustafa Hasan. Mr Hasan — like Mr Qasim was a Gama’ah Islamiyyah-linked figure, granted asylum in the face of potential torture in his homeland; the Italian authorities were investigating his possible involvement in terrorist activities at the time of his kidnapping.

New Delhi’s pursuit of the case was less than dogged. India only notified the Danish authorities on June 25 — a week short of the deadline to appeal the High Court’s order — that it might be willing to designate a hotel room or guest house as a prison to house Mr. Holck comfortably. Earlier action, and sustained pressure, might have pushed Denmark’s public prosecutor to make a different decision. Indian authorities, government sources say, were torn about making the offer, finally choosing to do so on the outside chance it might lead to a prosecution.

Not the real question

India must act to improve its awful criminal justice system and prison conditions — conditions that outrage the rights of its own citizens on an everyday basis. Its record isn’t, however, the real question here.

First, European polemic on humane treatment of prisoners masks not-inconsiderable hypocrisy. Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the extradition of alleged jihadists Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz to the U.S. The men now face the prospect of life sentences without parole in a so-called supermax prison. In 1996, a United Nations investigation on torture described conditions in these prisons as “inhuman and degrading”. The New York Bar association, in 2011, suggested the conditions in them constituted “torture under international law”.

Then, there is a clear and visible gap between Denmark’s judicially stated values and its less-than-virtuous conduct on renditions. The reason isn’t hard to find: Denmark faces threats from jihadists, not Bengali Hindu cults. “In spite of their small numbers”, scholar Michael Jensen wrote of the Denmark’s jihadists in 2006, “they have managed to wedge themselves between the Muslim communities and mainstream Danish society”. Existential threats, as India’s own sometimes sordid counter-terrorism record demonstrates, are a powerful incentive for ethical compromise.

No room exists for Indian sanctimony on these issues. Though most nation states are treaty bound to use rule of law regimes to fight terrorism, almost all have violated them in times of crisis. Terrorist crimes are often committed in states which have no evidence-building or criminal justice capabilities, meaning there is no realistic possibility of securing convictions. International human rights law rests on the assumption that nation states will behave in a norm-bound manner, respectful of their mutual interests and rights. Indians have learned after 26/11, not for the first time, that this core assumption is not just unenforceable, but illusory.

Yet, there is also this painful truth: Denmark’s decision has reiterated the oldest of all racist maxims that white men shouldn’t suffer brown men’s justice. High principle, it seems, can be constructed on less-than-edifying foundations.

More In: Lead | Opinion

very informative article, but i didn't expect such a racist heading from the hindu, as well as mr.swami

from:  sundar
Posted on: Jul 25, 2012 at 20:44 IST

I wish to disagree with Praveen Swami on this.
Not many Indians would want to strongly disagree with the Danish courts' observation of “widespread and systematic use of torture” in Indian jails even if that is not the case.
Why else, one would wonder, is it quite common these days for Indian courts to constantly remind the police not to touch the person given to their custody?
For well-publicized convicts such as A Raja, Ramalinga Raju, Suresh Kalmadi, our courts intervene to give special directions to the police for medical check-ups. Shouldn't medical treatments be the norm and standard in our prisons?
Our prison system needs a complete overhaul.
To brand all other extradition cases Mr. Swami cites as racist is quite wrong and lazy from his part. Going just by the arguments of his opinion, they obviously point towards a very Islamophobic international justice system and possibly a xenophobic one and definitely not a racist one.

from:  Abhilash Miranda
Posted on: Jul 25, 2012 at 18:42 IST

The Danish courts were only doing their duty in protecting the human
rights of their citizen. The fact that they failed to do so in some
cases is no reason to stop doing this for everyone. This has nothing
to do with racism. Of course, there is racism everywhere in the
world, not least in this article itself.

I have one word in response to those calling for a boycott of Danish
goods - Danida. Those of us old enough to remember know that they
helped us when we needed it. We should not be so quick to turn
against our real friends.

from:  Shankar
Posted on: Jul 25, 2012 at 15:14 IST

It sad that everything's racist to the Indian eye. It's sadder still that the Hindu has begun publishing such misleading reactionary articles. The role of our intelligence agencies in the whole episode is not even mentioned! Google Kim Davy and RAW. Well researched article, Mr Swami!

from:  Nash
Posted on: Jul 25, 2012 at 12:57 IST

It is Denmark which seems to be stuck in a colonial mold, not India. The title White Man's Justice is reflective of Denmark's double standards, not of India's view of the matter. The Danish clearly had no misgivings about handed people over to the US even when the prospect of torture was well documented. But their double standards can be easily applied to India. It is downright hypocrisy, and apparently very typical of small unimportant European countries. Cases like these only expose the backwardness of European justice systems.

from:  Ranbir
Posted on: Jul 25, 2012 at 10:50 IST

I agree with the views of Mr. Anand & M. Ashu. It is time that Indians ceased to look at the world through the prism of colonialism, laced with an utterly antiquated white man vs black man world view. Most European countries, Denmark included have multi-ethnic populations, including significant numbers of Indians. Indeed, in 2010 no less than 894 Indians moved to Denmark according to, the Danish Statistics service. In the specific case here, Danish newspapers report that in 2010, the Ministry of Justice agreed to send Kim Davy to India to stand charges. however, the district courts in Hillerød & the Østre Landsret have voided the Ministry’s decision by pointing out the poor conditions in indian prisons and the likelihood of torture. Whatever be the outcome of the above incident, ratcheting up the shouting match and calling for absurd trade embargoes as Mr. Srini suggests will hurt India more than Denmark.

from:  sandeep
Posted on: Jul 25, 2012 at 08:04 IST

Will Mr. Swami also highlight the double standards by Saudi, Pakistani and other Gulf countries which refuse to extradite terror accused to India starting e.g. Dawood? Or is it easier to take pot shots at European and US countries for all their sins of omission & commission ignoring the ones committed by Gulf states & Iran?

from:  Mamdhata
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 23:36 IST

This article is racist, since the entire "white" race cannot be blamed for the acts of one small government. In fact, it would be unfair to even blame the Danish people, who probably don't care (or know) about this person. I am a regular reader of the Hindu, and I request the Hindu to uphold its standards of objectivity in journalism.

from:  Siddharth
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 22:25 IST

agreed with the author but it should also be noted, several european countries also refuse to extradite their citizens to the United States (for example the Roman Polanski case) and its should be highlighted that while France is not Denmark--and that Jhyllands Posten case was revealing their inconsistency of standards--providing a larger canvas in which to view this would provide more nuance would help

from:  ramu dhara
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 21:58 IST

Why are we even discussing about other countries ? Isn't Kasab a great example of what happens to our unwelcome guests. Double standards do exists in West. We all have to live with that. As noted above we need to improve our human rights and justice .

from:  Kranti
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 21:28 IST

A brilliant article which was presented lucidly with facts and great insight. However, the last paragraph (n of course the title) beats the whole purpose of the article. The writer after adroitly showing us the double standards that the West maintains, tries to then justify it by reasoning that racism is the cause. I think in today's capitalist world money and power are the prime motivators for most governments (n other institutions) and who or where the benefits come from is irrelevant. A stronger nation always dictates terms to a less powerful nation(s).

from:  Johny Daniel
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 21:00 IST

Your a real genius M.r. Swamy if you think like that. Infact to club this issue with "White man's Racism" you've proved that you consider yourself inferior to the white race. To me this is simply an issue about the Danish not wanting to send one of their own to just any country who demands his extradition. Why should they? Would India have done the same? I don't think so.

If India had an economy as big as the US, militarily just as strong and had influence in Europe, things would have been different. As simple as that. Get over your colonial hangover.

from:  Aditya
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 20:59 IST

While theres no denying the fact that the Danish are hypocritical, it also begs the question as to the doggedness of GoI and powers that be in this case. One other name that comes to mind is quatarrochi and in recent times the Italian sailors that shot dead our fishermen. Of course, most logic praveen mentioned applies here and without action from the top, nothing will change and only the people have the power to enable - every 5 yrs once, unfortunately

from:  Satish
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 20:13 IST

Agree with the comment from V.Suresh above. Aside from the racist nature of this article, how is everything that has been said in this article, counter the observation “widespread and systematic use of torture” and “overcrowded prisons with insufficient food and medical treatment” - which by the way, anyone with any kind of exposure about India's System knows is an accurate observation.

In this specific case, the outcome is fair and consistent with the principles of human rights. If indeed the 'hypocrical instances' listed in this article is/are true, then, those specific cases need to handled and set right. Two (or Many) wrongs dont make things right.

from:  Prakash S
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 19:11 IST

Let us not forget Canada's mishandling of the Air Bombings. The terrorists responsible are walking free in Vancouver. While three hundred brown lives perished, some children. Canada also refused to extradite the bombing mastermind because India has the death penalty.

from:  Pradeep Solanki
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 17:23 IST

Every country treats its citizen's differently than Foreigners. Would you hand over an Indian citizen to Pakistan if they accuse that person of activities related to terrorism? It is a country's duty to protect its own citizens and this duty does not extend to Foreigners.
But it is probably a hard concept to understand Mr. Swami, easier to attribute it to White Man's polluted sense of judgement.

from:  Anuj
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 16:55 IST

I agree with the views of Mr. Anand & M. Ashu.

It is time that Indians ceased to look at the world through the prism of colonialism,
laced with an utterly antiquated white man vs black man world view. Most
European countries, Denmark included have multi-ethnic populations, including
significant numbers of Indians. Indeed, in 2010 no less than 894 Indians moved to
Denmark according to, the Danish Statistics service.

In the specific case here, Danish newspapers report that in 2010, the Ministry of
Justice agreed to send Kim Davy to India to stand charges. However, the district
courts in Hillerød & the Østre Landsret have voided the Ministry’s decision by
pointing out the poor conditions in indian prisons and the likelihood of torture.

Whatever be the outcome of the above incident, ratcheting up the shouting match
and calling for absurd trade embargoes as Mr. Srini suggests will hurt India more
than Denmark. China will deftly fill the vacuum !

from:  V. Suresh
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 14:04 IST

Many European countries have very poor human rights records. The Scandinavian countries have been wrongly thought of as being just and liberal societies. These are countries on the periphery of Europe. Their language, traditions and legal systems have not been scrutinized by the rest of the world.

Globalization has changed all this. We are beginning to get a glimpse of these closed and dictatorial Scandinavian societies which have a poor understanding of human rights, and which practise double standards on human rights and terrorism. Affluent these countries may be, but so are many other countries when compared with India. The oil rich Gulf countries are also more affluent than India, but these countries do not pose as model democracies.

from:  Mohanram
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 13:38 IST

If you add the context of the involvement of India's own intelligence
agencies in this purulia act as reported sometime back, the reason for
his non extradition is very clear and obvious. India does not want him
to spill the beans, and Danish government does not want it, to avoid any
embarrassment. All these actions speak of connivance and public posturing.

from:  zubair
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 13:36 IST

I am appalled at the use of the word White in the title. Imagine an article being written in Europe using the term Brown. We in South Asia should not fall to such stanards where we accuse races. May you be reminded that Europe is very mixed and multi-cultural now. If India is to rise in the world as a global player then its writers and leaders should refrain from using inflamatory and derogatory racial slurs.

from:  Ali
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 13:30 IST

Excellent this article is. There cannot be double standards in any
democracy. The worst thing is that even 'human right' is used negatively
to settle issues with the opponents.

from:  Muthuraj S
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 12:40 IST

Saratchandran: May I point out that your use of the pronoun "they" to refer to an entire civilization that you ignorantly imagine to be white, is itself utterly racist? When I arrived at London's Heathrow Airport in 2004 to begin studies at Cambridge University, the immigration officer I dealt with, the British citizen with the power to admit or eject me from the country, was a brown, hijab-wearing Muslim woman. And that was only the beginning. Countries of the Anglosphere are by now thoroughly racially integrated all the way up to the highest levels of institutions and government. You seem to have missed an important line in the editorial: "No room exists for Indian sanctimony on these issues." Before you start preaching about "the mind of the West", why don't you consider how black and white your own mind obviously still is.

from:  Ashu
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 10:03 IST

It is rather disheartening that this esteemed news daily is still stuck with this pre-independence era rhetoric of bringing all the ill conceived decisions of western nations under the gambit of the white man's" fault. In fact I am going to call it racist. Now wouldn't this daily erupt if a "brown man" comment was passed on the corruption in this country by the Walls Street Journal? I really wish we as a nation grow up and take our rightful place in the world without resorting to such name calling. Except for the title there is little to disagree in this article. But the title itself brings down the value of it.

from:  Anand
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 09:27 IST

It reflects on poorly the statesmanship of our leaders. Ignore them politically and economically and give that business to its neighbors like Norway?

from:  Girish
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 09:17 IST

Dear Sir, All your crying ok, but he was with India and India allowed him to escape so now why you are crying and whining so much. It is 100 per cent Indians' fault .Also what result India has acheaved by bringing so many D-gang people back to India. Not one is convicted so how will foreign government trust you

Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 09:04 IST

The way our system functions is quite enough to suggest European countries to not to oblige us by extraditing anyone. We have a system that works rather arbitrarily. Things move in the direction not as par the law of the land, rather, at the whim of the powerfuls, who on many occasions are found to connive with the culprits to let them fly away. System has no motive of its own to bring an accused to the justice. In this case, media pressure is evoking 'sense of justice' for the time being, which may degenerate into just a sort of languishing for the accused. Countries like Denmark may have their reservations or, prejudice, but our stand is not very strong to plead passionately for.

from:  Namitanshu Vatsa
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 08:55 IST

Even if, a big if here, all that the writer of this article says is true, it still comes down to one thing. India has a horrific human rights record, no western country will extradict anyone here to be tried by our courts and law enforcement agencies. It has more to do with our abysmal justice system than racism. Get real.

from:  naveen
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 08:32 IST

1. USA and western nations respect only equals and authoritarian
countries like China.
2. Their support for democracy, equal rights, human rights is only an
opportunistic lip service and a convenient eye wash.
3. Even a minnow like Sri Lanka is now threatening us after capturing
28 fishermen from Tamil Nadu.
4. What could we do vis a vis Bhopal Gas tragedy?
5. Our central Govt. and our Rajya Sabha MP, PM MMS is busy appeasing
the sulking allies and non-allies. The best he can do is to raise the
prices of everything including Petrol, Diesel.

from:  Kaipa
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 08:09 IST

With what face is India demanding Kim Davy's extradition? To place him alongside convicted terrorists Mohd Afzal, Ajmal Kasab, and Abu Jundal as VIPs and honoured guests of our country? We have an enviable record of terrorism in that we have encouraged and sponsored this scourge for political gains for years on end. Why did we release Davy's compatriots in crime, those five Latvian turned Russian terrorists? We massacred countless innocent Sikhs and Muslims in 1984 and 2002 respectively as examples of state sponsored terrorism. We have consistently refused to implement measures from the Counter Terrorism doctrine thereby allowing Pakistani terrorists to play havoc with our helpless citizens, all due to our vote bank concerns. It is high time India shed its two-faced attitude to human rights.

from:  JK Dutt
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 07:58 IST

To begin with, the title is atrocious. Surely, in writing about fairness and decency, Mr Swami should have upheld those standards himself. Clearly he has not and seems to have descended to street fighting tactics right from the title itself. More importantly, Mr Swami's argument is quite hollow. While it does seem very credible, he makes a smooth transition from a 17 year old case which has mostly been committed to posterity and the main alleged beneficiary, the Ananda Marga has itself been imparted with legal by the Supreme Court of India with a war against a global threat from which India itself is not immune. Militant Islamism is a global problem and will seriously endanger global peace and stability unless it is ruthlessly decimated. As said our own Tiger of Bengal, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth".

from:  Aritra
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 07:53 IST

West Bengal is not only the place they drop the arsenal. Check the Middle East where all the mayhem is currently taking place and you will find they supply to the forces against anyone they don't like. The name democracy is used as a 'red herring' in most instances. Really, it is all about the West's hegemony. Rule of law is elastic in many situations and the mighty would decide right from wrong, as it suits them! The entrenched and delusional belief of 'white men shouldn’t suffer brown men’s justice',is in the mind of the West.It is seen as reasonable and acceptable as they used to preach 'the black man has no soul' and happily stayed with apartheid regimens.

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 07:30 IST

Kudos to the author, and more importantly to The Hindu, for not soft pedaling the issue and calling a spade a spade. India needs to blacklist Denmark and forbid all trade with that country and some of its neighbors who seem to have behaved badly.

from:  V. Ramaswami
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 06:21 IST

The caucasian double standards are well documented in history. An act of murder by a muslim -- Terrorism. An act of murder by a black/brown -- Thuggery. An act of genocide by a white man -- Mental Illness. And as a block the Asians and the Africans cannot break the caucasian hegemony. Pity is the word.

from:  mani sandilya
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 04:47 IST

The author has missed a golden opportunity to explain the issue and its portents -- the heading "A lesson on the white man’s justice" defeats the very objective of the article in exposing raw racism. Why does the author need to explain European racism (or Danish racism)as white man's justice ? Are whites racists by default? Are there black, yellow or brown man's versions of justice? Lamentably, the author does not come off as a lesser racist than the Danish perpetrators.

from:  Jay Ravi
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 04:03 IST

Brilliant article! Thanks for showing that true journalism is alive in India - albeit only just!

from:  Sanket Korgaonkar
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 03:41 IST

Very thoughtful and revealing article. Hypocracy is all around us. when it comes to a contest between Law and Order, order seems to always win.

from:  VGupta
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 03:28 IST

All that India needs to do now is to cancel a few government contracts with the Danish and stop importing the Danish Cheese. The Danish will listen....

from:  Srini
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 02:55 IST

As always Mr.Swami's article is erudite and eyeopener.
Disclosing the double standards and pseudo human rights activism of European countries.

from:  D S Tare
Posted on: Jul 24, 2012 at 01:03 IST
Show all comments
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor



Recent Article in Lead

Neither warmongers nor wimps

The debate over Europe’s economic, political and military readiness to retaliate against Russia shows in a nutshell what is currently at stake in Ukraine: the future of European foreign policy. But every crisis carries with it the seed of a chance, and this one is pushing the EU in the right direction »