India: Excessive use of force and targeted killings of protesters in Tamil Nadu is unacceptable
26 May 2018 9:01 am

(Kathmandu/Bangkok, 26 May 2018) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) condemns the targeted firing and excessive use of force by security personnel in Thoothukudi, also known as Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, India on 22 May 2018. The incident led to the death of 13 and injuring of many more protesters. FORUM-ASIA is deeply anguished over the use of disproportionate force, including the use of assault rifles against protesters, who were peacefully exercising their right to the freedom of expression and assembly as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

On Tuesday, 22 May 2018, close to 100000 protesters gathered at the site of the Sterlite Copper Plant in Tuticorin, and demanded expansion be stopped and the plant be closed over health and environmental concerns.[1] A delegation from People’s Watch (PW), a FORUM-ASIA member, present in Tuticorin on 22 May 2018, witnessed several attempts by the police to hit the protesters with sticks as they were approaching the epicentre of the protest rally from all directions.

The lathi charge had little to no impact on the marching protestors. PW reported that the police opened fire on the protesters, aiming to kill, without giving any statutory warnings about the possibility of shooting, as dictated by Police Guidelines and Standing Orders. The police initially fired at the District Collectorate premises. It was then followed by firings at different locations on the road leading to it.

As witnessed by PW, firings were done by persons who were not in police uniform from the top of moving vehicles. This indiscriminate firing led to the death of 13 persons, including three women, and critical injury of several others. It was the 100th day of the continuous peaceful protest against the expansion of the copper smelter of Sterlite Copper, a unit of Vedanta group.[2]

Videos of the incident have been widely circulated.[3] They indicate a gross abuse of power and complete breakdown of the rule of law. Also on 23 May 2018, the police allegedly fired rubber bullets at groups of family members who went to the Government hospital to collect the bodies of their loved ones killed in the police firing.

Sterlite Copper[4], the copper unit of Vedanta Limited, was recently granted a permit to carry out its expansion. This triggered further protests by the residents of the area, who had previously been demanding the closure of the industrial plant. The protest was a peaceful people’s movement participated in by many women and children who want to protect the environment.[5]

The Government of Tamil Nadu has hurriedly announced the appointment of a commission of enquiry to be led by a retired judge. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) ordered the closure of Sterlite Copper Smelter plant in Tuticorin with immediate effect.[6] Meanwhile, on 24 May 2018, Henri Tiphagne, former chairperson of FORUM-ASIA and executive director of PW was detained briefly along with other leaders and about 1,000 protesters by the Chennai City Police while they were proceeding towards the Tamil Nadu State Secretariat protesting against the killings. Internet services have been suspended in Tuticorin, Kanyakumari, and Tirunelveli since 23 May 2018.

FORUM-ASIA condemns the indiscriminate firing on protestors, which violates their right to life, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly. FORUM-ASIA urges the National Human Rights Commission to take an immediate lead in an independent and impartial investigation to establish accountability of police officials for the use of force against peaceful protesters. The Commission should explore all measures under its jurisdiction to hold those responsible for the death and injured protesters accountable.

For further information, please contact:

– South Asia Programme, FORUM-ASIA, sasia@forum-asia.org

 

 

[1] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/tuticorin-violence-anti-sterlite-plant-protests-vedanta-tamil-nadu-palaniswami-5187186/

[2] https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/thousands-come-together-thoothukudi-protest-against-sterlite-copper-plant-78454

[3] 1st Youtube Video, https://twitter.com/thenewsminute/status/999190626980712448, 2nd Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ha2Dr6f68Uo, 3rd Video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Xpq7V9cWxY

[4] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/what-is-the-sterlite-copper-plant-project-in-tuticorin-5187587/

[5] For more information on the copper plant and the protests see https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/history-sterlite-thoothukudi-story-betrayal-crony-regulators-78481

[6] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/tnpcb-orders-closure-of-sterlite-plant-in-thoothukudi/article23974949.ece