Stan Swamy, the human rights defender and Jesuit priest who died in judicial custody in Mumbai at the age of 84, has been posthumously honoured by the Martin Ennals Foundation in Geneva.
Named after a former Amnesty International secretary-general, the Geneva-based foundation honours individuals and organisations that have shown exceptional commitment to defending and promoting human rights.
Swamy was nominated for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders last year but he passed away before the ceremony.
“The jury wished to shine a light on Father Stan’s many contributions to human rights, which cannot be eclipsed by his unjust incarceration by Indian authorities,” the Chair of the award jury, Hans Thoolen, said in a statement.
Swamy was arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case in 2020 and died of post-Covid complications under judicial custody. Thirteen other undertrials in the case continue to remain in prison despite independent analysts finding the electronic evidence to have been fabricated and planted on the accused.
Burkina Faso’s Dauda Diallo, Vietnamese journalist and green activist Pham Doang Trang and Bahrain’s Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja were honoured this year by the Martin Ennals Foundation. Pham and Al-Khawaja are in prison.
Swamy was represented by his former colleague at Ranchi’s Bagaicha centre, Xavier Soreng, at Geneva on Thursday.
Soreng, an Adivasi and a Jesuit who teaches at the Xavier Institute of Social Service in Ranchi, said in his speech: “Poor prison conditions and the absence of medical attention exacerbated his deteriorating health….”
He added: “Adivasi communities historically have been uprooted from their land in the name of coal-mining schemes. They receive no compensation for the destruction of their habitats. Their protests have been labelled as ‘anti-state’. They are called ‘Naxalites’ and ‘Maoists’, accused of inciting terrorism and violence….
“He (Swamy) wanted to legitimise the Adivasi knowledge of environmental sustainability. To bring them closer to political change, Father Stan founded important advocacy centres and human rights organisations.”
Soreng said that “forced displacement of Adivasi communities still occurs in the context of economic development projects but Father Stan’s spirit, courage and kindness continue to inspire communities to reach for their rights”.