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SC issues notice to Centre over illegally detained Rohingya Refugees

– Anwarulhaq Baig

New Delhi, October 12: The Supreme Court has issued notice to the Union Government, seeking a response within four weeks, on a plea demanding the release of illegally detained Rohingya refugees nationwide.

The SC bench, comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Prashant Kumar Mishra, on Tuesday admitted a writ petition filed by journalist Priyali Sur under Article 32 of the Constitution, seeking a writ of mandamus directing the Government to release Rohingyas who have been illegally and arbitrarily detained in jails and ‘detention centres’ across the country.

According to the petition filed by renowned lawyer-activists Advocate Prashant Bhushan and Advocate Cheryl Dsouza, the continued detention of Rohingya refugees is illegal, unconstitutional, and violates their fundamental rights to life and equality before the law under Articles 21 and 14, respectively, because these rights are extended to all individuals residing in India, whether they are citizens or not.

The petition also implored the court to prevent the government from arbitrarily detaining any Rohingya refugees based on allegations of illegal immigration or under the Foreigners Act, 1946. According to the petition, these refugees fled from their country, Myanmar to India due to a situation recognized by the United Nations and the International Court of Justice as genocide and crimes against humanity.

Despite this, the petition stated that Rohingya refugees in India face increasing anti-Muslim and anti-refugee xenophobia and live in constant fear of detention and potential deportation to the regime they fled. The petition also claimed that they are officially labeled as illegal immigrants and subjected to inhumane treatment, including arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions, restrictions on their freedom of movement outside of camps, limited access to education, basic healthcare, legal services, and formal employment opportunities.

Giving details of living conditions in detention centres in Delhi, Jammu, Assam, West Bengal and other jails across the country, the petition said, “Hundreds of Rohingya refugees including pregnant women and minors, have been detained unlawfully and indefinitely in jails and detention centres across India, despite the UNHCR recognizing their status as refugees. They endure severe violations and dehumanising conditions within these detention facilities. They are detained without assigning any reason or often under the Foreigners Act and with no access to legal aid.”

It drew the Court’s attention to the fact that Rohingyas who choose to resettle in other countries and are granted visas by several nations face denial of exit permissions by the Indian government.

Citing several precedents in which courts reminded India of its obligations to respect international law and incorporate it into domestic law, the petition argued that India is obligated to prevent genocide, highlighting that in 1948, the UN approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, establishing ‘genocide’ as an international crime that signatory nations commit to preventing and punishing. India, along with Panama and Canada, played a significant role in the adoption of the Genocide Convention on December 9, 1948.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Buddhist majority nation Myanmar, have lived there for generations. Despite their long history, they lack official recognition as an ethnic community and have been denied citizenship since 1982. This has made them the world’s largest stateless population, leaving them vulnerable to rights denial, exploitation, prosecution and gender-based violence.

According to the UN data, over a million Rohingyas have fled violence in Myanmar in multiple waves of displacement since the 1990s.

In the latest spate of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2017, thousands of Rohingya Muslims were compelled to flee to Bangladesh and other countries. With over 960,000 now living in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, it is home to the world’s largest refugee camp. The United Nations designated the Rohingya as the most persecuted minority of the world.

According to the UNHCR, the latest data shows that there are approximately 92,000 Rohingya refugees living in Thailand, 21,000 in India, with smaller numbers settling in Indonesia, Nepal, and other adjoining countries.

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