Human Rights in Sri Lanka

India: Denial of Fair Trial leads to Death Sentences of Sri Lankans and Indians

Amnesty International Bulletin

EXTERNAL AI Index: ASA 20/02/98
UA 32/98       Death Penalty/Legal Concern         29 January 1998
     S Nalini(f) 33      Perarivalan, 24           K Dhanasekharan, 55
     A Athirai(f) 23     Kanagasabapathy, 76       Ranganath, 53
     S Bhagiyanathan, 31 S Padma(f) 56             Subha Sundaram, 50
     Murugan, 28         Shankar, 30               Irumborai, 35
     D Vijayanandan, 47  Sivaruban, 26             Ravichandran, 30
     Vicky, 33           Rangan, 30                Suseendran, 27
     Santhan, 28         Robert Payas, 31          Bhaskaran, 65
     S Jayakumar, 30     Shanthi(f) 30             P Vijayan, 32
     V Selvalakshmi(f)31 Shanmugavadivelu, 53

Amnesty International is concerned that 26 people sentenced to death by a
special court in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu on 28 January 1998 
may not have received a fair trial according to international standards for 
fair trial and that the judge involved indicated the sentences were handed 
down for deterrent purposes.

Twenty-four men and women - 15 Sri Lankan and nine Indian nationals - were
found guilty of conspiracy to murder the former Prime Minister of India, 
Rajiv Gandhi.  A further two Indian nationals were found guilty of murder. 
Mr Gandhi was killed by a bomb explosion in Tamil Nadu in May 1991.

The legislation under which they were tried - the Terrorist and Disruptive
Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) - contravenes several international 
standards for fair trial, including the holding of trials in camera and the
non-disclosure of the identity of witnesses.  In addition, although the 
majority of those accused were arrested in July 1991, a charge sheet was
not drawn up until May 1992 and a preliminary trial did not begin until May
1993.  The trial itself took place in January 1994 in the Poonamallee jail
in Madras, designated a special court under TADA, where many of those
sentenced had been detained for almost seven years since arrest.

Under TADA, the accused are only able to appeal to the Supreme Court
whereas under normal law they would have the right to appeal to the High
Court before moving to the Supreme Court.  Amnesty International is also
concerned that one of the accused, Ms A Athirai, is reported to have been
only 17 years old at the time of her arrest in July 1991.  Article 6(5) of
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article
37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child state that sentence of
death  should not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen
years of age.

Amnesty International unconditionally opposes the use of the death penalty
as a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to 
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  In a resolution adopted 
in April 1997, the UN Commission on Human Rights called on all states that
have not yet abolished the death penalty "to consider suspending
executions, with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty".  The
Indian Constitution protects the right to life.  India's highest courts have ruled 
that the death penalty can only be applied in the "rarest of the rare"
cases.  Yet on average a dozen executions are carried out in India every
year for criminal offenses.  Most of those executed are the poor and illiterate.

Amnesty International is deeply concerned at the sentence of death handed
down to 26 men and women on 28 January 1998, following a trial which Amnesty
International believes may not have conformed to international standards for
fair trial.  Amnesty International urges that, in hearing the appeal, the
Supreme Court of India should examine the trial and sentencing in the light
of India's obligations under the ICCPR.  Amnesty remains unconditionally
opposed to the use of the death penalty in all cases, as a violation of the
right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment.  It should also be noted that the death
penalty has never been  shown to have a special deterrent effect.

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