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Plight of Rohingyas: SC stresses balance between national security & human rights

Anurag Dey | Updated on: 13 October 2017, 17:29 IST
(AFP Photo/Noah Seelam)

Taking a sensitive approach towards the plight of Rohingyas, the Supreme Court opined the need for striking a balance between national security and human rights of the thousands of the Rohingyas who have taken refuge in India.

Hearing a petition opposing the Narendra Modi government’s decision to deport over 40,000 Rohingyas, the Chief Justice Dipak Misra-headed bench said there are two important considerations in this case - the aspect of security of the country and the protection of human rights of refugees particularly women, children, old persons and the court has to balance these interests.

It said that it was an issue of greater magnitude which needs to be heard at length and fixed November 21 as the next date of hearing. The Chief Justice also observed that till next date of hearing, there should not be any deportation of the refugees.
However, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta strongly objected to the court passing any order to that effect. He contended that such an order would embarrass the government in the international fora.

After the Centre’s plea, the court did not pass such an order but said that in case any such deportation is done in the meantime, the petitioners would be at liberty to approach the court seeking a relief.

The petition has been filed by Mohammad Salimullah and Mohammad Shaqir, two UNHCR-registered Rohingyas, challenging the legality of the government’s decision to deport Rohingyas and seeking protection under the ‘principle of non-refoulement’.

The Centre has contended that stay of the Rohingyas was “absolutely illegal” and has serious ramifications on national security. Citing intelligence inputs, it has claimed that Rohingyas figure in the “suspected sinister designs” of Pakistan's notorious spy agency the ISI, and terror outfit ISIS.

The petitioners have strongly denied allegations of terror links and called as absurd the Centre’s bid to paint all Rohingyas as terrorists. They contended that Centre’s claim of Rohingyas posing a threat to national security, is not backed by any evidence and that the allegations of the community being involved with ISI or ISIS was a “mere assumption”.

Appearing for the petitioners, Fali Nariman contended that the Rohingyas were entitled to the Fundamental Right to Life and Liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution as these rights are applicable equally to citizens and non-citizens of India.

He argued that the Centre’s stand towards Rohingyas was exactly opposite of India’s consistent pro-refugees stand in international fora.

“India’s stated policy position in international fora and as mentioned throughout in policy statements and notifications, has been to recognise the distinction between refugees who are forced out for their countries due to persecution and illegal migrants who come in search of economic prospects,” he said.

While the Centre’s ruling BJP and its ideological mentor RSS have strongly advocated deportation of the Rohingyas, Opposition parties and civil society members have vehemently opposed the move and insisted for taking a sensitive and humanitarian approach.

A group of 51 personalities from various fields have written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi opposing the deportation of Rohingyas arguing that the move would be against India’s humanitarian principles and traditions as well as its obligations under international law.

Signed by the likes of former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, the letter says: “India’s justification to deport the Rohingya is premised on the false assumption that all Rohingya people present a potential threat to national security.

This is simply not the case and the evidence to support these assertions has not held up”.
“The solution to this crisis therefore does not lie in the deportation of Rohingya refugees, but in the cessation of state-led violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. It is in India’s national interest to ensure that all hostilities against the Rohingya community come to an immediate halt. Moreover, India’s credibility as a net security provider for our neighbours in the region would be severely compromised if we fail to act on behalf of our broader interests in the region,” they said.

“We thus urge the government of India to exert its diplomatic clout to pressurise the government of Myanmar to end the security crackdown in Rakhine, respect the rule of law and ensure the eventual safe and unhindered return of those Rohingya who wish to go home. India cannot afford to adopt a shortsighted approach to what has now become a monumental, global crisis. Our actions must now align with our ambitions,” they said.
Senior BJP leader and union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has strongly reacted to the letter.

“Chidambaram has been the home minister of the country. How can he remain completely oblivion to issues concerning national security? For the sake of politics, Chidambaram and the Congress are overlooking the national security challenge faced by the country,” said Prasad.

First published: 13 October 2017, 17:29 IST