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Mohammad Salimullah and another v. Union of India and others (2021) – On Deportation and Non-refoulement

The case, Mohammad Salimullah v. Union Of India, is a significant legal proceeding concerning the rights of refugees in India. This case involves the Rohingya Muslim community who have sought refuge in India due to persecution in their home country, Myanmar. The case questions the constitutional rights, human rights, and the principles of non-refoulement for non-citizens in India.

This topic of “Mohammad Salimullah and another v. Union of India and others (2021) – On Deportation and Non-refoulement” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

Background

  • The Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, faced violent persecution from the Myanmar government, military, and Buddhist nationalists.
  • A significant number of Rohingya Muslims fled their home country, seeking shelter in neighboring countries, including India.
  • India, considering international security matters, labeled them as illegal immigrants and planned for their deportation back to Myanmar.
  • This impending deportation led to the filing of this case to safeguard the interests and rights of the Rohingya Muslims in India.

Arguments

  • The primary argument put forth in this case is the infringement of the Rohingya Muslims’ human rights, particularly those relating to life, liberty, equality, and dignity.
  • The petitioners, Mohammad Salimullah and others, challenged the deportation, asserting it violated their right to equality under Article 14, right to life under Article 21, and India’s obligation to respect international law under Article 51(c) of the Indian Constitution.
  • They also invoked the ‘Non-Refoulement’ principle, a norm in customary international law, which prohibits the return of asylum seekers or refugees to a country where they are likely to face persecution.
  • Furthermore, the petitioners pointed out the differential treatment of Muslim immigrants under the Citizenship Act of 1955 and the amendment bill of 2016.

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Issues before the Court

  • The primary issues before the court included:
    • Whether deportation of Rohingya Muslims violated their right to equality under Article 14.
    • Whether the proposed deportation violated their right to life under Article 21.
    • Whether fundamental rights apply to non-citizens.
    • Whether India, despite not being a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, is bound by the ‘Non-Refoulement’ principle.

Judgement

  • The Supreme Court announced its order on the interim application on March 7, 2021.
  • It acknowledged the arguments from both sides, including those from the United Nations Committee for Protection of Human Rights.
  • The Court stated that while Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution are guaranteed to all irrespective of citizenship, Article 19(1)(e) (the right not to be deported) is only applicable to citizens.
  • Regarding the principle of ‘Non-Refoulement’, the Court did not make a definitive statement but acknowledged the argument.
  • The Court noted the Union government’s concern over national security and the problem of ‘touts’ aiding illegal immigration.
  • The Court ruled that deportation could only proceed following the established procedure, and only after confirmation from the country of origin that they would welcome back the deportees.

Significance

  • This case sheds light on the complex issues surrounding the rights of refugees and non-citizens in India, particularly within the context of national security.
  • The case brings attention to the tension between upholding international human rights standards and respecting national sovereignty and security.
  • The judgement reiterates the specific applicability of certain rights to citizens, while also underscoring the importance of due process in any action involving the life and liberty of individuals.
  • The case continues to have relevance as it adds to the ongoing discourse on refugee rights, citizenship, and international law within India and beyond.

This article is part of the series “Landmark Judgements that Shaped India” under the Indian Polity Notes & Prelims Sureshots. We aim to make the articles comprehensive while leaving out unnecessary information from the UPSC perspective. If you think this article is useful, please provide your feedback in the comments section below.

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