India: Investigate police crackdown on workers at Vedanta?s refinery site

Press Release
September 3, 2010

India: Investigate police crackdown on workers at Vedanta?s refinery site

AI Index: ASA 20/024/2010

3 September 2010

India: Investigate police crackdown on workers at Vedanta’s refinery site

Indian authorities should order an independent and impartial investigation into the police crackdown on retrenched contract workers at the Vedanta Aluminium refinery at Lanjigarh in which at least 25 contract workers were injured and several others detained by police.

The crackdown on the night of 31 August followed protests against the retrenchment of more than 3,500 contract workers. Those retrenched worked for engineering and construction firms that were working on expansion of the refinery.

The retrenchments came in the wake of a decision by India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests to suspend refinery expansion and reject plans to bauxite at nearby Niyamgiri Hills. The Ministry had termed the expansion work already carried out as illegal.

Hundreds of retrenched workers began protesting on the evening of 31 August after failure of talks to agree on payment of compensation and outstanding allowances.

According to eye-witnesses, at least 100-strong police force, reportedly accompanied by private security guards, baton-charged the protesting workers as some of the workers forcibly entered Vedanta Aluminium’s administrative office and began to destroy property. During the police action, around 25 workers are reported to have sustained injuries and electronic equipment and furniture belonging to the Vedanta Aluminium were destroyed. Vedanta Aluminium has estimated the loss due to the violence from the workers at INR 10 million

Local journalists said all the 25 injured workers were later admitted to the hospital at Bhawanipatna, a nearby town. Some 75 workers were detained following the protests and 40 of them were released later, but it is not clear whether those currently detained have been charged with specific offences. Following the crackdown and violence, a number of workers have left Lanjigarh fearing reprisals, they added.

The workers are mainly from neighbouring Jharkhand state. They were involved in the refinery’s expansion work and were staying in makeshift homes around the Lanjigarh refinery.

Amnesty International is seriously concerned over the reports of unnecessary or excessive use of force by the police on the protesting workers.

Amnesty International reminds the authorities that international law places restrictions on the use of force by law enforcement officers. At the heart of these restrictions lies the state’s duty to respect the right to life and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Both these rights are provided in international human rights law and standards, including in treaties binding on India, and in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Police may use force only when strictly necessary and only to the extent required for the performance of their duty and must, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force. If the use of force cannot be avoided, police officials must exercise restraint in its use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the situation and the legitimate objective to be achieved.

Amnesty International therefore urges the Indian authorities to:

  • order an impartial and independent inquiry into reports of unnecessary excessive use of police force and the violence in Lanjigarh, promptly make the findings public;

  • ensure that state officials, police personnel, and others who are suspected of being responsible for human rights violations are prosecuted, in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness;

  • immediately release those contract workers unless they are charged with recognisably criminal offences and remanded by an independent court."

  • ensure that, while law and order should be maintained, those contract workers who are engaged in peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of assembly and speech are able to do so without fear of violence and harassment

  • ensure that the contract workers are treated fairly when they are retrenched.

Background

Amnesty International, in its February 2010 report Don't Mine us out of Existence: Refinery and Bauxite Mine Devastate Lives in India, had documented the violations of the law and human rights abuses in the wake of the mine and refinery expansion plans.