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“The crisis in Manipur has reached a breaking point”: United Nations experts call on Indian government to address violent clash and religious freedom violations in Manipur

GENEVA (6 September 2023) – 19 independent experts with the United Nations Human Rights Council have issued an appeal to the government of India concerning the ethnic, tribal and religious crisis unfolding in Manipur. The crisis in Manipur, where 187 have been killed, 70,000 have been displaced, and over 1,700 homes and 253 churches have been destroyed, is the result of an ongoing conflict between Manipur’s largely Hindu Meitei and largely Christian Kuki Tribes.  

The appeal highlights that although this clash started as a political issue between two ethnic communities, it cannot be denied that Christians, from both the Kuki and the Meitei sides have been disproportionately impacted. In a statement, the UN experts expressed concern that “the violence seems to have been preceded and incited by hateful and inflammatory speech that spread online and offline to justify the atrocities committed against the Kuki ethnic minority, particularly women, on account of their ethnicity and religious belief”. They added, “We are further alarmed by the reported misuse of counter terrorism measures to legitimize acts of violence and repression against ethnic and religious minorities.” Human rights advocates have long called attention to the dire state of freedom of religion in India, including laws and policies that severely restrict the liberties of minority religious groups, in addition to allowing their targeted harassment by violent mobs.   

“The crisis in Manipur has reached a breaking point. It is past time for Indian authorities to not just quell the continuing violence, but to eradicate any laws and policies that interfere with or curtail the enjoyment of religious freedom and perpetuate the persecution faced by religious minorities,” stated Giorgio Mazzoli, Director of UN Advocacy for ADF International. 

“We applaud the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council for their appeal to the government of India, urging an end to the dire human rights and humanitarian situation on the ground and demanding justice for victims. We are committed to protecting religious freedom for all, and we will continue to work to uphold the fundamental rights of those in India  who have endured this persecution for far too long.” 

The Special Procedures refer to the independent human rights experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to address specific country situations or thematic human rights issues through reports, communications, and other activities. The government of India is expected to respond to the appeal within 60 days. 

ADF International is actively engaged in efforts to protect religious freedom worldwide and has been involved in initiatives to raise international awareness of this situation, including advocating for the European Parliament urgency resolution adopted in July.  

Mass violence and persecution in Manipur  

From May 3rd to May 6th, large scale violence, looting and arson resulted in the loss of at least 187 lives, with over 400 people injured, and left tens of thousands displaced from their homes in Manipur. The clash was a result of an ongoing conflict between Manipur’s largely Hindu Meitei and largely Christian Kuki tribes, although the minority of Meiteis who are Christian have also been targeted.  

“In many cases, the mob has burned a church or house belonging to a Meitei Christian but has not damaged their neighbor’s door if they are not a Christian. Christians are facing hostility by the Meiteis on the basis that they are Christians,” explained a human rights lawyer and ADF International ally, who was on the ground from the start of the Manipur crisis, setting up emergency hotlines to offer help to those affected. The lawyer, whose name has been withheld for security reasons, continued: “The people are deeply shocked. Through our work, we want to help stop the violence in Manipur, protect religious institutions, allow Christians to practice their faith freely and facilitate compensation for survivors”.  

Religious symbols and places of worship were heavily targeted, with reports showing that over 250 churches were burned down or damaged. The appeal by the UN laments “the apparent slow and inadequate response by the Government of India, including law enforcement,” to stem the continuing violence, highlighting the fact that the state government failed to contain and subdue the situation in Manipur. 

Amid the destruction of homes and religious centers, women and girls on both sides of the ethnic clash have fallen victim to horrific acts of violence during the crisis in Manipur. The filed complaint includes testimonies of several women who were brutally raped, assaulted, and even killed by mobs; several of these instances of violence have garnered international attention and outrage.  

For the most part, it is aid organizations and volunteers who are assisting the victims on the ground, where the violence is continuing today. The government has offered very limited compensation to those whose family members have been killed by the violence, but no compensation for those who have lost their homes, businesses, or have been injured during the violent attacks.  

Crisis of Religious Freedom in India  

Religious freedom conditions in India have worsened in recent years. Laws at the local, state, and national levels, including anti-conversion laws, are discriminatory towards religious minorities, and contribute to a culture of unrest. These laws implicitly encourage mobs and vigilante groups to carry out violent campaigns, like those seen in Manipur and at the Broadwell Christian Hospital in Uttar Pradesh.   

Laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act target religious freedom and expression. These laws suppress voices advocating for religious freedom through surveillance, harassment, demolition of property, and detention. Under these laws, many lawyers, journalists, and religious minorities have been harassed, detained, and prosecuted.     

International religious freedom advocates have continually spoken out against the egregious and severe violations of religious freedom in India

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