(New York) – Authorities in India should rescind “shoot at sight” orders to enforce a curfew in the northeastern state of Assam, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should ensure compliance with international standards in responding to ethnic violence, and promptly investigate and prosecute those responsible while addressing the underlying causes of the clashes.
Violence between indigenous Bodo tribes and Muslim migrant settlers that started in Kokrajhar district on July 20, 2012, has since spread to three other districts of Assam, resulting in the deaths of at least 45 people and displacing nearly 300,000. A senior local police officer said that the police have been given “shoot at sight” orders, allowing them to use live ammunition against people violating the curfew imposed on some areas since July 21. Local officials confirm that since the order was issued, the police have fatally shot four people who were allegedly attempting to burn down properties.
“‘Shoot at sight’ orders give a green light to security forces to use their firearms when it’s neither necessary nor lawful to do so,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Security forces should comply with international standards that only permit the use of lethal force when absolutely necessary to protect life.”
Human Rights Watch said the Indian security forces should abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, which call upon law enforcement officials, including members of the armed forces, to apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force and only in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. The UN principles allow lethal force only when it is “strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”
Authorities in Assam failed to prevent the violence building for more than two months between the Bodo and Muslim communities, which have clashed in the past over access to land and resources, Human Rights Watch said.
In May, Bodos and Muslims were injured in clashes that also caused injuries to police attempting to contain the violence. On July 6, two Muslim men were shot dead, and during protests that followed a Bodo man was severely beaten. On July 19, unidentified gunmen reportedly shot two Muslim youth leaders. The next day, unidentified attackers killed four Bodo men, presumably in retaliatory attacks. This sparked full-scale riots where rival groups from both sides attacked communities, beating people to death and burning down homes.
“The authorities failed to prevent the violence and should immediately ensure that security forces provide protection to all communities in Assam,” said Ganguly. “Community leaders as well as national and local authorities should desist from inciting further violence and instead mobilize to provide aid to those displaced from their homes, and create the conditions for them to return home as soon as possible.”