Human rights

Stan Swamy’s death will forever mark India’s human rights record, says UN task force

The death of tribal rights activist Stan Swamy will forever be a stain on India’s human rights record, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has said.

The group had made the comments during its November 16 session, and the comments were made public earlier this week.

Swamy died in a Mumbai hospital while in police custody on July 5, nearly nine months after his arrest under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The 84-year-old had suffered from multiple ailments including Parkinson’s disease and contracted the coronavirus infection at Taloja Jail in Navi Mumbai.

Swamy was among the defendants in the Bhima Koregaon case.

The UN task force said the activist died under “entirely avoidable circumstances”. He noted that his requests for bail were repeatedly denied and his requests for medical assistance after contracting Covid-19 were also initially denied. “When the request was finally granted, it was too late,” the task force said.

Swamy, in his bail applications, had mentioned having Parkinson’s disease and contracting Covid-19 in prison.

Swamy even had to submit a request for a straw and a sip to drink water from because his hands were shaking too much from Parkinson’s disease to hold a glass. It took him almost a month to get the items.

The task force noted that Swamy only got the straw and sip after a public outcry.

He said he was “seriously disappointed that public outrage was necessary for Father Swamy to be treated humanely”.

The UN task force noted that in May it urged the government to prioritize the use of non-custodial measures at all stages of criminal proceedings. “The government’s refusal to heed these prescient warnings led to Father Swamy’s preventable death in custody,” the report said.

Swamy’s arrest violated Articles 2 and 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the task force found. The provisions deal with the right to liberty without distinction based on religion and political opinion, and the right to equal protection of the law without discrimination.

Reasons for Swamy’s arrest

The National Investigation Agency had claimed that Swamy had aided the cause of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) through various civil rights organizations he worked with.

The NIA had claimed it had enough evidence of Swamy’s involvement in inciting caste violence in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune in 2018.

Swamy had stated that he was targeted by the NIA because of his writings and work related to people’s caste and land struggles.