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Press release

Human rights: Kashmir, Bangladesh, death penalty in USA

Human rights - 10-07-2008 - 17:29
Plenary sessions
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In three resolutions adopted at the end of the Strasbourg session, Parliament calls for an inquiry into allegations of mass graves in Kashmir, for the speedy restoration of democracy in Bangladesh and for a fresh trial for Troy Davis, an American who sits on death row despite strong evidence that he may be innocent.

Allegations of mass graves in Kashmir
In its resolution on Kashmir, Parliament calls for an urgent inquiry into claims that mass graves have been discovered in Jammu and Kashmir, and for human rights activists investigating the alleged abuses to be given protection.
According to the resolution "it is reported that hundreds of unidentified graves have been discovered since 2006 in Jammu and Kashmir" and "at least 940 bodies have reportedly been found in 18 villages in Uri district alone".  Human rights organisations say the grave sites may contain the remains of victims of unlawful killings, disappearances, torture and other abuses which have occurred in the armed conflict in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989.
Impartial inquiry needed
MEPs call on the Indian government "to urgently ensure independent and impartial investigations into all suspected sites of mass graves in Jammu and Kashmir and as an immediate first step to secure the grave sites in order to preserve the evidence".
The resolution asks the European Commission to offer financial and technical assistance to the government to support an inquiry and to aid conflict resolution measures. EU Member States are urged to raise the issue in their forthcoming dialogue on human rights with India.
Call for protection of human rights activists
The EP expresses concern for the safety of Pervez Imroz and other human rights activists who are investigating the unmarked graves and other allegations of human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir and calls on the Indian authorities to ensure their protection.
More broadly, Parliament "condemns the unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and other human rights abuses which have occurred in Jammu and Kashmir since the beginning of the armed conflict in 1989".
It also calls on all governments to ratify and implement the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance without reservation, to recognise the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
MEPs want full access to be granted to both sides of the Line of Control for the UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and the UN Working Group on Enforced or Voluntary Disappearances.
Lastly, Parliament urges the Lok Sabha "to amend the Human Rights Protection Act in order to allow the National Human Rights Commission to investigate independently allegations of abuse by members of the armed forces".
*          *          *
Restore democracy and rule of law in Bangladesh, say MEPs
The state of emergency should be lifted, mass arrests of the government's political opponents and journalists should cease, the military should withdraw from politics and elections should be held as soon as possible, says the EP's resolution on Bangladesh.
The resolution states that, on 11 January 2007 amid violence in the run-up to the election, the caretaker government of Bangladesh imposed a state of emergency, with the suspension of many civil rights.  On 11 June 2008 a new Counterterrorism Ordinance was adopted, "violating fundamental freedoms and basic fair trial rights".
The number of people reportedly arrested since the introduction of the state of emergency has risen to well over 300,000. Although most have since been released, a large number are alleged to have been tortured.  Since 28 May 2008 more than 12,000 more people have been arrested.
Progress on elections recognised
On a positive note, the resolution acknowledges the caretaker government's progress in preparing for parliamentary elections.  It also "applauds the Bangladesh Government for banning former war criminals from standing in elections and calls on it to follow up this positive step by forming an independent committee of inquiry to initiate the trial of war criminals".  The release of former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on humanitarian grounds is welcomed.  
MEPs urge swift restoration of rule of law
However, MEPs believe swifter progress is needed.  They call on the government to lift the state of emergency in order to prepare for the holding of the elections and so that local council elections can take place in August 2008.  The resolution also calls for the armed forces to withdraw from involvement in the political process.
Ethnic minority voting rights and press freedom stressed
MEPs urge the government to ensure that Bangladesh’s ethnic and religious minorities are in a position to cast their votes freely.  And the resolution "calls for freedom of the press in the pre-electoral period". 
The government is urged to ensure that its new Anti-Terrorism Ordinance meets internationally recognised legal standards on combating terrorism.  In addition, MEPs call for abolition of the death penalty and an end to the recent wave of mass arrests and the harassment of political opponents and journalists.  
Democracy and climate change
MEPs point out that a further reason for holding elections is that "an elected government would make it easier to deal with the effects of climate change", which poses a particular threat to Bangladesh and will require large-scale mobilisation of all sections of society.
EU action
Lastly, Parliament wants the European Commission and Council to impress on the Bangladesh Government the need for a speedy and complete lifting of the state of emergency. And to ensure free and fair elections in accordance with international standards, the EU Election Observation Mission should resume work as soon as possible.
*          *          *
The death penalty and the case of Troy Davis
Parliament adopted a resolution calling for Troy Davis, who has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Georgia, USA, to be granted a retrial in view of evidence which strongly indicates his innocence.
Troy Davis was sentenced to death by the Georgia State Court in 1991 for the murder of a policeman and scheduled to be executed at the end of July 2008.  According to Mr Davis' lawyers, there is abundant proof of his innocence, material evidence against him has never been found and seven witnesses against him have retracted their testimony.
On 4 August 2007 the Supreme Court of Georgia had agreed to reconsider the new elements casting doubt on Mr Davis' culpability but on 17 March 2008 the same court decided to deny him a new trial.
Retrial of Troy Davis merited on the basis of evidence
The EP resolution "asks, in view of abundant evidence which might reverse his sentence, for the relevant courts to grant Troy Davis a retrial, and for the death sentence therefore to be commuted".  It also "appeals urgently to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute the death sentence".   
MEPs call on the Presidency of the Council and the Delegation of the European Commission to the USA to raise the issue with the US authorities as a matter of urgency.
EP opposed to death penalty on principle
More broadly, today's resolution calls upon those countries where the death penalty is carried out to take steps towards abolition.  This is in line with Parliament's general stance on capital punishment: in the past it has devoted much effort to seeking abolition of the death penalty and warmly welcomed UN General Assembly Resolution 62/149 of 18 December 2007 calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. 
Innocent death row prisoners have been reprieved in USA too
Lastly, to underline the flaw in the use of the death penalty, today's resolution points out that more than 120 people have been released from death row in the USA since 1975 on the grounds of innocence.
REF.: 20080709IPR33878