//India's "colonial" justice system threatens rights

India's "colonial" justice system threatens rights

Tue Sep 26, 2006

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India must do more to transform its "British colonial-era" criminal justice institutions as it fights terrorism or it will breach human rights, a report by a U.S. advocacy group said on Tuesday.

The report, published by the Committee on International Human Rights of the New York City Bar Association, says India made a good start two years ago when it partially repealed the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2002 (POTA).

India was also right to resist the temptation to bring such a law back after July's deadly Mumbai train bombings in which more than 180 people died, focusing instead on upgrading its intelligence capacity, the report said.

"Respect for human rights when combating terrorism is a strategic imperative," Anil Kalhan, chairman of the committee's India project, said in a statement.

"As the Supreme Court of India has recognised … draconian laws often provide terrorists exactly the response they hope for and, in the process, plant the seeds for future violence."

But POTA was not entirely done away with — a recent report by Amnesty International says hundreds of people originally detained under POTA continue to languish in prisons without trial.

Laws similar to some of those found in POTA now exist in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the report says, going on to call for their repeal.

One of the committee's main worries is that such laws give undue powers to India's police force – an institution it says has barely modernised since the British colonial era.

The result, it says, is that Indians are being held in custody for long periods without charge or trial and are facing torture, with those from the lower castes and from religious minorities being particularly vulnerable to abuse.

The report, available at www.nycbar.org , advises India to work with international institutions to ensure greater transparency in its criminal justice system.

In a country where bribes, intimidation and physical violence riddle particularly the lower rungs of the criminal justice system, the report urges Indians be given greater powers to hold government officials accountable for human rights abuses.