Delhi Police was “complicit and an active participant” in the riots that took place in the northeast parts of the national capital in February 2020, an investigation report by Amnesty International India said on Friday.
Amnesty said its field investigation documented several human rights violations committed by the Delhi police including “officers indulging in violence with the rioters; torturing in custody; using excessive force on protesters; dismantling protest sites used by peaceful protesters and being mute bystanders as rioters wreaked havoc.”
Fifty-three people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the riots.
Amnesty said its investigation was specifically about the Delhi Police since there had been no probe thus far in the rights violations by the police during the February violence.
“The Delhi police personnel were complicit and an active participant in the violence that took place in Delhi in February 2020, yet in the last six months not a single investigation has been opened into the human rights violations committed by the Delhi police,” the group said in its statement.
“Amnesty International India interviewed more than 50 riot survivors, eye witnesses, lawyers, human rights activists and retired police officers. It also analysed several videos on social media platforms like Twitter to analyse the role of the Delhi police during the riots. These videos showed Delhi police pelting stones with the rioters, torturing people, dismantling protest sites used by peaceful protesters and being mute bystanders as rioters wreaked havoc in Delhi,” it said.
The group said it interviewed several survivors who were subjected to torture in police custody. Most of them were Muslims, it said.
(You can read Amnesty’s briefing of its investigation here.)
To verify the evidence of human rights violations recorded and shared through videos on social media, Amnesty said it collaborated with Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab which used “cutting-edge open-source and digital investigation tools to corroborate and analyse serious human rights violations.” The Lab authenticated videos by verifying its time, date and locations.
The videos and survivor interviews documented a clear pattern of arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and retaliatory violence against the arrested persons in custody, some of which amounted to torture, the group said.
“The Delhi police reports to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and it is shocking that there has been no attempt by the MHA to hold the Delhi police accountable till now,” Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India, said in a statement.
“This ongoing state-sponsored impunity sends the message that the law enforcement officials can commit grave human rights violations and evade accountability. That they are a law unto themselves,” Kumar said.
Riot victims says Delhi Police did not respond to calls for help
Amnesty said survivors and eyewitnesses told the group that the police could have stopped the violence, if they had arrived on time.
Shabnam, a riot survivor who lost her house to the arson during the riots told Amnesty, “My husband called the police, my father called them, several times. They asked, ‘Tell us your address, tell us where you live’. We told them our address, but they did not respond, and no one came to our help. When our house was burnt, even then we called the police at about 1 AM. Then, the police said, ‘How much will you disturb us? We are sending the police vans.’”
Another riot survivor Kamlesh Uppal said it it took the police more than three days to come to his locality.
Amnesty said ‘Ye lo azaadi (here’s your freedom)’ was a common response from the police when the victims called them for help, interviews with survivors had revealed.
Activist and former IAS officer Harsh Mander told the group that no riot could go on for more than few hours if the police and the state did not want it to. ″The fact is that this was a riot waiting to happen and even ordinary people knew that, everyone knew in this area. If people who had made (hateful) speeches would have been detained, if the police had come down heavily (on those inciting violence), this wouldn’t have happened at all,” he said.
Retired Uttar Pradesh DGP Vibhuti Narain Rai, who was the SP of Ghaziabad when the 1987 Hashimpura massacre occurred, said, “Orders under Section 144 of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which prohibits an unlawful or violent assembly have been frequently and promptly passed by the authorities to restrict legitimate expression of dissent in the past. However, in the North-East district of Delhi, it was invoked at least a day after the violence erupted. This, despite the Supreme Court of India’s underlining of the stated use of Section 144 in cases of emergency and for the purpose of preventing obstruction and annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed.”
Amnesty recommended an independent and impartial investigation into all allegations of human rights violations by law enforcement officials as well as an independent, public and transparent inquiry to review the Delhi police’s role in failing to prevent and aiding the violence.
The group also called for suspension of all police officers named by the riot-affected communities, pending investigation/inquiry.
Amnesty asked the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Ministry of External Affairs to ratify the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT), which requires states to “criminalise torture in domestic law, establish jurisdiction over acts of torture that occur within the state, make torture an extraditable offence, investigate allegations of torture within the state and provide effective and enforceable remedy to torture victims.”