August 29, 2008

The Rt Hon. David Miliband
Foreign Secretary
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles St
London SW1A 2AH

Dear Mr Miliband,

We are writing to express our dismay at the situation in Orissa state, where mobs, apparently instigated by the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have responded to the condemnable killing of local Hindu leader, Swami Lakhmananda Saraswati, by attacking minority Christian targets. As of 27 August, at least nine people are said to have been killed. Reports exist of two people burnt alive, three men hacked to death, a nun gang-raped and churches and houses destroyed in at least twelve districts.

This outbreak of violence follows widespread attacks on Christian targets beginning in December 2007. Swami Lakhmananda Saraswati was widely implicated in the incitement of those attacks and in stirring anti-Christian hatred in Orissa state, but he was never prosecuted by the state authorities. We condemn his murder, allegedly by Maoist insurgents (Naxalites), but the fact that Christians have been made the scapegoats and victims of a VHP backlash is deplorable and calls for urgent intervention. The government, meanwhile, has deployed security forces only in one of Orissa’s thirty districts, and reports suggest that the violence is continuing.

International statements of concern are urgently needed to express solidarity with the victims, to help forestall yet more violence and to prevent the further loss of life. We therefore request that you make a statement to call for an end to the sectarian violence and the protection of vulnerable communities as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Alexa Papadouris
Advocacy Director, Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Benjamin Marsh
State Department Liaison, Dalit Freedom Network

Elaine Pearson
Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch

Cc:
Ms Benita Ferrro-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations
Mr Bernard Kouchner, French Minister for Foreign and European Affairs
The Honorable Condoleeza Rice, US Secretary of State

More reporting on: