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Assam NRC: UN experts warn of tensions, potential humanitarian crisis

  • Published at 02:12 am December 28th, 2018
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File photo: People wait to check their names on the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) at Goroimari of Kamrup district in the Indian state of Assam on January 1, 2018 AFP

The independent experts of the global body said that the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) list, published in June 2018, could potentially have far-reaching consequences, predominantly affecting members of minority groups living in Assam deemed to have failed to establish that they are citizens of India

United Nations experts on Thursday expressed deep concern that the impending deadline in the Indian state of Assam to finalize a process to determine citizenship could see the world’s total stateless population explode overnight by more than four million.

The independent experts of the global body said that the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) list, published in June 2018, could potentially have far-reaching consequences, predominantly affecting members of minority groups living in Assam deemed to have failed to establish that they are citizens of India, according to a news release forwarded by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

The experts are Ahmed Shaheed, special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues and Seong-Phil Hong, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

“While there is not yet a precise breakdown regarding those excluded from the list, it appears that most are from ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, and in particular Muslims and Hindus of Bengali descent,” stated Fernand de Varennes.

“We welcome the recent extension from December 15 to December 31 by the Supreme Court of India of the deadline by which objections to the original exclusions could be made,” the UN experts said.

“However, the underlying issues with the process, including a lack of clarity regarding the determination of exclusion have not been resolved,” they added.

Furthermore, the complex process to lodge “claims and objections” as well as a lack of transparency regarding procedures may preclude many people, often from minority, impoverished, remote and marginalized communities, from lodging an effective challenge, said de Varennes.

“We are also seriously concerned about the lack of clarity regarding what will happen to those left out of the finalised NRC,” the experts said. 

“There is a risk that persons not part of the NRC could become stateless, be at risk of deportation, or be subject to large-scale migration detention.”

The NRC project also has the potential to stir up simmering tensions in Assam, including most notably against the Muslim Bangla speaking minority, among other minorities, as well as lead to a potential humanitarian crisis, the experts said.

“It is feared that this entire process is increasing inter-ethnic tensions in a region that has already experienced a tumultuous history of identity-based conflicts, and suffered from strained inter-communal relations, including multiple outbreaks of serious violence and instability, as well as have extremely grave consequences in the recognition and protection of the human rights of millions of minority men, women and children,” added the special rapporteur on minority issues.