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Immediately release Dr. Sen, human rights defender!

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binayaksen.jpgThree FORUM-ASIA members in India – ADHIKAR, Rural Development Society (RDS- LRSA) and People’s Watch – expressed concerns over detention of Binayak Sen, a well-known human rights defender and paediatrician, on 18 May 2009. Two years after his arrest, he's still detained and never had trial. 

binayaksen.jpgThree FORUM-ASIA members in India – ADHIKAR, Rural Development Society (RDS- LRSA) and People’s Watch – called on the government of India and the State of Chhattisgarh to release Binayak Sen, a well-known human rights defender and paediatrician, on 18 May 2009. Two years after his arrest, he's still detained and never had trial. Below is their statement.

FORUM-ASIA members in India strongly condemn the State of Chhattisgarh for the arbitrary detention of  Dr. Binayak Sen, a well-known human rights defenders, for two years.

His trial has been delayed and his constitutional right to post bail has been denied repeatedly. In the meantime his health is deteriorating, due to the lack of appropriate medical care in prison.

We would like to emphasise that Dr. Binayak Sen is a human rights defender, whose work falls clearly within the ambit of Human Rights Defenders in the "UN Declaration of Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms".

Many human rights groups have protested the arrest. There were campaigns by human rights groups to immediately release Dr. Sen and take urgent steps to end the harassment of the other human rights defenders in Chhattisgarh.

People's Watch has also petitioned to the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC), seeking NHRC's immediate intervention to provide urgent medical attention to Dr. Sen. NHRC replied that, since the court in Raipur oversees the matter, Dr. Sen could approach the court if appropriate treatment is not given.

For your information, Dr. Sen is a paediatrician and was arrested on 14 May 2007, under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (2005) (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (2004) (UAPA). The CSPSA and UAPA allow for arbitrary detention without any right of appeal. He is accused of abetting Maoist rebels, known as Naxalites.

He devoted himself to the service of the poorest and neglected in Chhattisgarh State of India. He promoted human rights, and relentlessly criticised the state for waging the war against the Adivasis (indigenous tribal people), in the name of "Salwa Judum (peace march)".

Dr. Sen helped to organise several fact finding missions, which drew attention to severe human rights violations including murder of unarmed innocent civilians by Salwa Judum. He had helped draw attention to the unlawful killings of several Adivasis in Chattisgarh on 31 March 2007. Bodies of these victims were exhumed from a mass grave in the week immediately preceding his arrest.

Dr. Sen won the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2008. Twenty-two Nobel laureates from around the world wrote to India's President and Prime Minister and Chhattisgarh state authorities that Dr. Sen should be allowed to travel to the US to receive the Jonathan Mann Award.

We are disappointed with India because the State has ratified several key UN human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees fair trial.

The right to fair trial is an essential right in all countries respecting the rule of law. By becoming a state party to the UN human rights conventions, India should take steps to ensure human rights are respected, protected and realised in line with international standards.

India, while seeking election to the Human Rights Council, had made voluntary pledges and commitments on 19 April 2006 that India will continue to encourage efforts by civil society seeking to protect and promote human rights.  India as a member of the human rights council should honour this commitment.

However, India's human rights records are dismal. About 180 people have been detained since 2007 under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act like him, from different sectors of the society: traders, businesspeople, tailors, journalists, doctors, media persons, film makers, farmers, non-governmental organisation staff and more.

This is a poor advertisement for Indian democracy. We call on the Chhattisgarh State government to immediately accept bail for Dr. Sen. We also call upon the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene in this serious case of human rights violation.