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GENEVA (15 July 2021) – The death in custody of Catholic priest Stan Swamy, a renowned human rights and social justice advocate for over four decades, will forever remain a stain on India’s human rights record, a UN human rights expert said today.
The 84-year-old, who suffered Parkinson’s disease, was jailed last October on fabricated terrorism charges, and had been subjected to harassment and repeated interrogations, Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said.
I was devastated to hear that Father Stan, a Jesuit priest who had dedicated much of his life to defending the rights of indigenous peoples and the Adivasi minority, died in custody on July 5, despite many requests for his release as his health deteriorated in prison,” she said.
In early November 2020 UN experts joined me in raising his case with the Indian authorities, reminding them of their international human rights obligations. I now ask again why he wasn’t released, and why he had to die in custody?”
His Parkinson’s condition meant he suffered from severe tremors in both hands, and had great difficulty with daily activity such as eating, drinking and washing. He also had severe hearing difficulties, requiring hearing aids in both ears. In November last year, his requests for a drinking straw and warm winter clothes were denied. He contracted COVID-19 in prison.
“There is no excuse, ever, for a human rights defender to be smeared as a terrorist, and no reason they should ever die the way Father Swarmy died, accused and detained, and denied his rights.”
Father Swamy was from Jamshedpur Province, Jharkhand State. He was the founder of Bagaicha, a social research and training centre in Ranchi, Jharkhand. He had been working for decades to protect the rights of Adivasi minority indigenous peoples and the Dalit minority, in particular violations involving forced displacement and illegal land acquisitions.
We know that defenders working on environmental, land or indigenous people’s rights are among the most vulnerable to being targeted,” said Lawlor.
The UN expert said Father Swamy’s case should remind all states that human rights defenders and all those detained without sufficient legal basis, should be released.
Lawlor’s call has been endorsed by: Mr. Fernand de Varennes,Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health
Ms Mary Lawlor, (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was the founder of Front Line Defenders – the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a member of the Board of Directors in 1975 and being elected its President from 1983 to 1987.