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UN rights chief slams Gujarat ‘relief’

Geneva, Sept 6: Mary Robinson, the top UN human rights official and former president of Ireland, called on India Thursday, September 5, to provide humanitarian assistance to thousands of people displaced by religious violence in Gujarat, and to enable them to exercise their right to vote.

In a statement, Robinson warned of the risk that those who had fled the mainly anti-Muslim violence which began in February could be cut off from aid following the closure of virtually all 121 relief camps, causing many to flee to improvised and inadequate shelters elsewhere.

Robinson said the "slow progress in relief and rehabilitation work" and the "non-arrest and non-punishment" of those responsible for the violence had "hampered the restoration of normality to the state". Gujarat recently suffered the country's worst religious violence for a decade, with killings continuing sporadically.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, have died in a series of bloody reprisals for an arson attack on a train full of Hindu activists in February, which killed 58.

The Supreme Court said that elections could go ahead in Gujurat in November or December, later than the BJP Government had wanted.

The election is not due in the State until 2003, but political analysts say the BJP is keen to capitalise on its current lead in the polls by advancing the date.

In her statement, Robinson reminded the state authorities of their responsibility to address the "need for the safe and voluntary return of people to their homes to achieve a larger electoral roll, enabling more Gujaratis to exercise their right to vote" (AFP).
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