Friday, August 3, 2007
South Asia's extraordinary religious and ethnic/linguistic diversity -- from Hindu and Muslim to Jain and Zoroastrian; from Bengali and Punjabi to Tamil and Sinhalese -- can pose serious challenges to democratic stability in the region. In India, the world's largest democracy, this week saw the completion of a landmark trial of nearly 100 (largely Muslim) perpetrators of 1993's deadly bombings in Mumbai. Dawood Ibrahim, a Muslim ganglord, ordered these bombings in response to communal riots. According to a Commission of Inquiry led by former Indian Supreme Court Justice Srikrishna, the Hindu nationalist group Shiv Sena was responsible for organized attacks during these Mumbai riots that killed almost 600 Muslims -- but the (largely Hindu) perpetrators of these crimes have yet to be indicted. As one victim of the riots asks, "There's no justice for us because we are Muslims?" To the south, the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission reports 186 complaints of disappearances, largely of Tamils and Muslims, in May and June alone. The administration of Sinhalese President Rajapaksa claims that these numbers are exaggerated in order to discredit his government and that many of those reported disappeared have gone abroad or eloped. But Philip Alston, in his capacity as a UN Special Rapporteur, found that the Sri Lankan government failed effectively to investigate most political killings, in part because they lack sufficient linguistic ability and cultural sensitivity to gather information in Tamil and Muslim communities. This selective justice violates core principles of the international human rights regime, beginning with Article 2 of the ICCPR (to which both India and Sri Lanka have acceded), which prohibits discrimination based on language and religion and requires that states provide an effective remedy for all violations of the treaty. Perhaps more importantly, the provision of justice by religion or ethnicity threatens to unravel the tapestry of multicultural India in ways that we have sadly seen in the two and a half decades of devastating conflict in Sri Lanka.