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Caught between Naxalism and state repression

Aug 27, 2008

Being Neutral is Our Biggest Crime, a report by Human Rights Watch documents the atrocities committed on innocent people by Naxalites and state-supported vigilante groups in central India. Based on interviews with the victims of violence, the report recommends tough measures to end all kinds of human rights abuses.

Being Neutral is Our Biggest Crime: Government, Vigilante, and Naxalite Abuses in India’s Chhattisgarh State

Publisher: Human Rights Watch, July 2008

In Chhattisgarh state in central India, a dramatic escalation of a little-known conflict since June 2005 has destroyed hundreds of villages and uprooted tens of thousands of people from their homes.

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Caught in a deadly tug-of-war between an armed Maoist movement on one side, and government security forces and a vigilante group called Salwa Judum on the other, civilians have suffered a host of human rights abuses, including killings, torture, and forced displacement.

The armed movement by Maoist groups often called Naxalites spans four decades and 13 states in India. Although many indigenous tribal communities living in these areas support

Naxalite interventions against economic exploitation, an escalating pattern of Naxalite abuses, including extortion of money and food, coerced recruitment of civilians, and killings of perceived police informants or “traitors,” has gradually alienated many villagers.

In June 2005 popular protests against Naxalites in Bijapur district in southern Chhattisgarh sparked the creation of Salwa Judum, a state-supported vigilante group aimed at eliminating Naxalites.

Salwa Judum members conducted violent raids on hundreds of villages suspected of being pro-Naxalite, forcibly recruited civilians for its vigilante activities, and relocated tens of thousands of people to government-run Salwa Judum camps.

Neither the government nor Naxalites leave any room for
civilian neutrality. Seeking protection from one side leaves area inhabitants at risk of attack by the other.

The Indian government claims that Salwa Judum is a “voluntary and peaceful initiative by local people against Naxalites.”

Human Rights Watch, however, found overwhelming evidence of direct state involvement in Salwa Judum and the group’s involvement in numerous violent abuses.

This report is based on research conducted by Human Rights Watch in Khammam and Warangal districts of Andhra Pradesh, and Bijapur, Dantewada, and Bastar districts of Chhattisgarh between November 2007 and February 2008.

Key recommendations:

•  The central and state governments should take all necessary and appropriate measures to end unlawful Salwa Judum activities.

•  The state government should initiate serious and independent investigations of individuals responsible for carrying out or ordering human rights abuses, regardless of rank, and prosecute as appropriate.

•  The state government should end deployment of special police officers for paramilitary operations against Naxalites.

•  The governments should ensure, in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles, that internally displaced persons are protected against attacks or other acts of violence, and that they are provided without discrimination, safe access to essential food and potable water, basic shelter and clothing, and essential medical services and sanitation.

•  The Indian government should immediately develop a national scheme for identification, release, and reintegration of children recruited by armed groups or police, in consultation with governmental, non-governmental, and intergovernmental organisations, and in accordance with the Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups.

The CPI (Maoist) party should immediately:

•    End abuses—such as killings, threats, extortion, and the indiscriminate use of landmines and IEDs—against civilians, including individuals who have participated in Salwa Judum, camp residents who served as SPOs, and police informers.

•    Issue and implement policies guaranteeing safe return for villagers who wish to leave Salwa Judum camps and return to their villages.

•    Stop recruitment of children under age 18 into Naxalite wings including armed wings. Release all children and give those recruited before age 18 the option to leave.

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