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Amnesty says Foreigners’ Tribunals created havoc in Assam for last 15 years

Excluded persons will have 120 days to file an appeal at any of the existing 100 Foreigners’ Tribunals. | File   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

Amnesty International India said on Wednesday that the Supreme Court and the Gauhati High Court had enabled the Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) to create a statelessness crisis in Assam.

The global rights body made this observation in a briefing, ‘Designed to Exclude’, as it called for a review of the existing legislative regime governing the determination of nationality in India.

Amnesty’s India head Aakar Patel alleged that the FTs that determined the paramount right to citizenship in Assam were often dismissive, used derogatory language, controlled their own procedures and applied them in arbitrary ways.

Assam currently has 300 FTs, with 200 of these set up after the Central government approved the State’s proposal to set up 1,000 new tribunals primarily to try those excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that was published on August 31.

“Holding governments accountable for the human rights abuses they commit has always been difficult,” Mr. Patel said.

People appearing before the FTs were not afforded the fair trial protections and human rights guarantees that flowed from Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, applicable to both citizens and foreigners. This lack of protection had been endorsed by the Gauhati High Court through its judgements in various cases, the rights body said.

“This includes reversal of the burden of proof on the person stands to be deprived of his/her nationality, depriving doubtful voters [D-voters] and declared foreigners of the right to a fair investigation, protection from multiple references, and a bar on the extension of deprivation of nationality from one family member to another family member,” it said.

Amnesty cited the case of a Muslim woman who was declared a foreigner because she could not remember the constituency where her grandfather cast his vote in 1966, and that of Muslim man who earned the foreigner tag because his grandfather’s name was spelt differently in two documents.

Amnesty said that along with the FTs, the High Court – which most of the aggrieved approached in the absence of an appellate tribunal – had failed to consider the vulnerabilities of the people who were demanded to prove their nationality. The stringent burden of proof on the person suspected of doubtful nationality was absolutely divorced from the reality of documentation in India, it stated.

Amit Shah’s comment

Mr. Patel alleged that the FTs have created havoc in Assam for the last decade and a half. He said they have not been held accountable by the courts and the Central and State governments. Thousands of such FTs could be set up across the country with Union Home Minister Amit Shah saying there would be a nation-wide NRC, he added.

The FTs were created under the Foreigners’ Act of 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 1964. The activities of these tribunals increased after 2005 when the Supreme Court scrapped the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act of 1983, which was allegedly pro-foreigners by putting the burden of proof of a person’s citizenship on an accuser.

The rights body said the FTs placed the burden of proving one’s Indian citizenship on the person suspected of doubtful nationality, without any procedure on how a reference could be made against a person to the tribunal while providing an “unreasonable” 10 days for people to produce their documents after receiving a notice.

“Moreover, the eligibility criteria of tribunal members have been gradually lowered over the years. The members do not have fixed tenures and are recruited on a contractual basis. An analysis of the affidavit filed by the Government of Assam in the Gauhati High Court shows that on an average, any member who declared foreigners in less than 10% of their disposed cases, stood the risk of being axed,” Amnesty stated.

Mr. Patel said, “If the FTs replicate their functioning across the country, then we will probably witness one of the largest process of arbitrary deprivation of nationality in the world.”

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 12:28:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/amnesty-says-foreigners-tribunals-created-havoc-in-assam-for-last-15-years/article30096907.ece

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