Allow Refuge to Myanmar Citizens Fleeing Violence and Persecution


New Delhi, 20 April 2021—Raising concern over the escalating crisis in Myanmar, after the takeover by the military junta, we the members of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR) urge the Government of India to evolve a swift, humanitarian response to the crisis. 

The pro-democracy protests that have erupted across Myanmar continue to be brutally suppressed by the military junta (Tatmadaw) with excessive violence, extra-judicial killings, and torture, killing over 600 people, including youth, women and children. With internet shutdown, restrictions on media and other emergency measures, the country remains shut off from any external scrutiny of reported extensive human rights abuses.

Under such circumstances, we are concerned by official circulars denying refuge to people fleeing Myanmar. Reports indicate that these include civilians as well as members of the police and other officials who are seeking refuge from reprisals against them.

While the North-Eastern state of Mizoram has urged India to respond as the world’s largest democracy, it also said that it will provide shelter and food on humanitarian grounds. Manipur has withdrawn an official circular that asked officials in border districts to “politely turn back those seeking shelter”. It is important to acknowledge the historical kinship and ties between the communities.

We also invite attention to the insecurity already being faced by members of the Rohingya community seeking help in India. This remains a key concern especially in light of the recent order by Supreme Court of India (in Mohd. Salimullah & Anr. v. Union of India, dated 8 April 2021)  that refused to grant interim relief to the Rohingya refugees detained in Jammu, while stating that they ‘shall not be deported unless the procedure prescribed for such deportation unless the procedure prescribed for such deportation is followed’.

We emphasise that any such deportation of Rohingyas, in the presence of a real and imminent threat to their safety and security would be in breach of the inviolable principle of non-refoulement, which is recognised as an inherent facet of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and part of India’s international obligations both under treaties to which it is a party, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and customary international law. We noticed with deep concern that a 14-year- old Rohingya girl was taken to the border in Assam to be deported to Myanmar in the midst of the ongoing crisis despite her stating that her parents were in Bangladesh. She had to be brought back when Myanmar refused to accept her.

India has seen a continuous influx of persecuted persons, especially from the neighbouring countries. However, its approach to such situation has largely been ad-hoc and not necessarily rights-based. India has yet to accede to the UN Refugee Convention 1951 and its protocol, and hence to develop a national mechanism and domestic law to address the issues and rights of refugees.

In addition, India has existing obligations to respect and ensure the right to life and security of person, non-discrimination as well as equal protection of the law, as a State Party to other international instruments such as the ICCPR (Article 2 read with Articles 6, 9 and 14) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR] (Articles 3 and 7) and Article 14(1) which says: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

We call on the Government of India — as a responsible member of the international community — to adopt a humanitarian approach and allow refuge to people from Myanmar fleeing violence as a moral and legal obligation. We would also like to reiterate the need to formulate a long-term and clear policy, in keeping with its national and international obligations, to address the issue of refugees fearing political persecution in their respective countries.

Sanjoy HazarikaCo-Convenor – Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN [WGHR]; Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative [CHRI]
Enakshi GangulyCo-Convenor [WGHR] and Co-Founder HAQ: Centre for Child Rights
Miloon KothariFormer Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, UN Human Rights Council [UNHRC]
Vrinda GroverAdvocate, Supreme Court of India
Henri TiphagnePeople’s Watch
Maja DaruwalaSenior Adviser, CHRI
Anand GroverFormer Special Rapporteur on the Right to Physical and Mental Health, UNHRC and Lawyers Collective
Indira JaisingFormer Member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW] and Lawyers Collective
Shivani ChaudhryHousing and Land Rights Network [HLRN]
Babloo LoitongbomHuman Rights Alert
Paul DivakarAsia Dalit Rights Forum
Rahul SinghNational Dalit Movement for Justice [NDMJ] – NCDHR
Kumar ShailabhHAQ: Centre for Child Rights
Madhu MehraPartners for Law in Development [PLD]
Razia IsmailIndia Alliance for Child Rights (IACR)
Teesta SetalvadCitizens for Justice and Peace
SumanFIAN – India

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