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Ms. Teesta Setalvad, a WHRD from India, ordered by the Supreme Court of India not to communicate to the UN OHCHR

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The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) received information regarding the order by the Supreme Court of India banning Ms. Teesta Setalvad, a woman human rights defender (WHRD) from the state of Gujarat, India, from communicating to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The Supreme Court of India ordered Ms. Setalvad to stop communicating to the UN OHCHR regarding the proceedings investigating the Gulbarg Society Massacre, which took place on February 2002 during the Gujarat riots, causing the death of 69 people. A special investigation team (SIT) within the Gujarat police force has been established by the Supreme Court to look into the massacre. Ms. Setalvad has fought for justice for the victims of the massacre and has been involved in the proceedings investigating the massacre.

On 5 October 2010, Ms. Setalvad wrote a letter to Mr. RK Raghavan, the Chairman of the SIT regarding the lack of protection for Mr. SM Vora, a senior advocate appearing for eyewitnesses and survivors of the massacre. Mr. Setalvad informed the Chairman of the SIT that Mr. Vora has received threatening phone calls. The copy of this letter was also sent to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.

On 7 October 2010, Ms. Setalvad wrote another letter to Mr. RK Raghavan regarding the lack of protection for herself since she has also been facing false allegations filed by a Mr. Rais Khan Pathan, a former employee of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). Mr. Pathan together with SIT alleged that Ms. Setalvad tutored several victims of the massacre to give false testimonies before the Court. Again, Ms. Setalvad furnished the UN OHCHR in Geneva a copy of this letter.

On 17 February 2011, an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Supreme Court of India by Mr. Harish Salve drew the Court’s attention to Ms. Setalvad’s practice of furnishing the OHCHR in Geneva copies of her letters. The Court asked Ms. Setalvad to explain this. Ms. Kamini Jaiswal, counsel of Ms. Setalvad, said that she has the right to do so since the OHCHR can keep information on all matters pertaining to human rights from all over the world.

On 3 March 2011, the Court issued the written order that Ms. Setalvad should not send any communication anymore to the OHCHR in Geneva regarding information on the proceedings surrounding the investigation of the massacre.

FORUM-ASIA believes that this case of Ms. Setalvad is a clear case of a reprisal by the Indian Supreme Court against a WHRD who has cooperated with a UN agency. Under the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Setalvad has every right to communicate with any UN agency including OHCHR. Article 5(c) of the Declaration says that “for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international level; to communicate with non-governmental or inter-governmental organization”.

Suggested Action

Please write letters to Indian authorities listed below to show your deep concern over the order made by the Supreme Court of India and request them to recommend the Court to drop the order and allow Ms. Setalvad to communicate with OHCHR. Please include the demand for the Supreme Court of India to respect the rights of Ms. Setalvad as guaranteed in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and other international human rights principles.

Please send your letters to:

Hon’ble Justice Mr. S.H. Kapadia
Supreme Court, Tilak Marg,
New Deli – 1,
Fax: +91 11 233 83792,
Email: [email protected]

National Human Rights Commission India
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg,
New Delhi – 110001 India
Tel.No. +91 1123384012
Fax No. +91 1123384863
E-Mail: [email protected]
[email protected]

Mr. A. K. Parashar
Focal Point – Human Rights Defenders
National Human Rights Commission
Faridkot House Copernicus Marg
New Delhi-110001
Email: [email protected]

For more information, please do not hesitate to contact the Human Rights Defenders Department of FORUM-ASIA at [email protected].