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HRC40 – MRG and ISI urge the HRC to pay attention to the risk of mass deprivation of nationality in Assam, India

12 March 2019

UN Human Rights Council,

40th session

General Debate – item 4 (Situations deserving the attention of the Council)

Thank you Mr. President,

Minority Rights Group and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion would like to call the attention of this Council to the imminent risk of some 4 million persons being made stateless in the Indian state of Assam. Most of them belong to linguistic and religious minorities, in particular Bengali speaking Muslims.

The Government of India is preparing a National Register of Citizens in the state of Assam. Rules and procedures for this bureaucratic exercise are complex, and have been established under the supervision of the Supreme Court of India. However, this process of listing who is a citizen of Assam and who is not is fundamentally flawed as it discriminates against entire segments of the population belonging to linguistic and religious minorities. This has resulted in their disproportionate exclusion from the first draft register.

The process now allows for claims and objections, to give a second chance to those excluded, but the appeal process also contains major flaws that allow for continued discrimination, and the result is all but promising. As I speak, more than 4 millions persons, among the communities who are already the most marginalized, are still not included in the register.

Mister President,

We fear that those excluded from the register are risking indefinite incarceration in detention centres, or might be risking forced deportation to neighbouring Bangladesh.

In recent months, senior ministers and legislators have increasingly resorted to hate speech against Muslims, thereby reinforcing stereotypes, drilling in prejudices, and breeding grounds for further discrimination and targeted violence.

This Council has repeatedly proclaimed its attachment to the right to nationality, and its rejection of arbitrary and discriminatory deprivation of nationality. In line with these principles, we urge the Human Rights Council to caution the Indian Government from this discriminatory process and its potential humanitarian consequences, the scale of which has few precedents in history.

I thank you.