(New York) -- On the twentieth anniversary of the mass killings of Sikhs, the new Congress-led government should launch fresh investigations into and make a public commitment to prosecute the planners and implementers of the violence, Human Rights Watch said today.
In 1984, in retaliation for the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, angry mobs, some allegedly organized by members of the Congress party, attacked and killed thousands of Sikhs. From November 1 to November 4, gangs attacked the symbols and structures of the Sikh faith, the properties of Sikhs, and killed whole families by burning them alive. The residences and properties of Sikhs were identified through government-issued voter lists.
Victim groups, lawyers and activists have long alleged state complicity in the violence. For three days the police failed to act, as gangs carrying weapons and kerosene roamed the streets, exhorting non-Sikhs to kill Sikhs and loot and burn their properties.
“Seven government-appointed commissions have investigated these attacks,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "But the commissions were all either whitewashes or they were met with official stonewalling and obstruction.”
The report of the latest commission, the Nanavati Commission, was due November 1, but has been delayed for another two months.
“The time for commissions that do not lead to prosecutions is over,” said Adams. “After two decades, the prosecutors and police should act. There is more than enough evidence to do so now.”
Human Rights Watch called for an end to political protection for organizers of the violence. Some of those allegedly involved in the pogrom currently occupy posts in the government or are members of parliament. Both the judiciary and administrative inquiry commissions have failed to hold these perpetrators accountable.
“For two decades high-ranking members of the Congress party have enjoyed political impunity for this violence,” said Adams. “The fact that many of the alleged planners of the violence were and are members of the Congress party should not be a barrier to justice for the victims.”
Human Rights Watch commended ENSAAF (www.ensaaf.org), an organization dedicated to fighting impunity in India, for its 150-page report, Twenty Years of Impunity, analyzing the patterns of the pogroms and the attitudes and practices of impunity revealed by previously unpublished government documents and other materials.
“With many connected to the violence now enjoying prominent positions in public life, the ENSAAF report makes it clear that India continues to ignore this dark chapter of its modern history at its own risk,” said Adams. “Only a conscious exercise of political will on the part of the new government of Prime Minister Singh can bring about justice for the Sikhs.”