India’s Supreme Court has allowed the first deportations of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar since the federal government ordered their identification last year.
On Thursday, the country’s top court rejected a plea by defence attorney Prashant Bhushan to let them live in India as they feared reprisal in Myanmar. They were arrested in 2012 for entering India illegally and have been held in a prison.
On Wednesday, Indian police bused the seven Rohingya to the border town of Moreh in Manipur state and it plans to hand them over to Myanmar border guards later on Thursday.
“Even the country of their origin has accepted them as its citizens,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph said, adding that they would not like to interfere with the government’s decision.
Government attorney Tushar Mehta told the judges that the government of Myanmar had given them certificates of identity and one-month visas to facilitate their deportation.
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A UN human rights official said the forcible return of the Rohingya violates international law.
‘International legal obligation’
“The Indian Government has an international legal obligation to fully acknowledge the institutionalised discrimination, persecution, hate and gross human rights violations these people have faced in their country of origin and provide them the necessary protection,” UN special rapporteur on racism, Tendayi Achiume, said in a statement.
“I am also appalled over the length of their detention,” the expert added.
Defence attorney Bhushan said the government should treat them as refugees and not as illegal migrants and send a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to talk to them so that they were not deported under duress.
An estimated 40,000 Rohingya, a stateless, mostly Muslim minority, live in India after having fled persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar over the years.
The Indian Government has an international legal obligation to fully acknowledge the institutionalised discrimination, persecution, hate and gross human rights violations these people have faced in their country of origin and provide them the necessary protection
Tendayi Achiume, UN special rapporteur on racism
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has described undocumented Rohingya immigrants as posing a national security threat and asked state governments last year to identify and deport them.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after an army crackdown in Myanmar a year ago.
UN officials have described the Myanmar military’s action as ethnic cleansing. In a report published in August, the UN called for Myanmar officials to face genocide charges over their campaign against the Muslim minority.
Myanmar has denied the charge, saying its military had launched counterinsurgency operations after attacks on security forces by Rohingya militants in August last year.
Myanmar stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship in 1982, rendering the minority community stateless.