Assam’s detention centres will hereafter be known as transit camps. Reportedly, the move is the new chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s idea and an attempt to “humanise” the camps. That is a big leap or two, from oblivion (during the 2019 election campaign PM Modi was saying “whither camp?”), to admittance (Union minister of state for home Nityanand Rai said in Lok Sabha in 2020 that there were six such camps in the state) to humanisation. Mind you, these centres/camps are located inside district jails and have been used to house those declared “foreigners” by various tribunals.
In 2017, China set up vocational education and training centres all over Xinjiang, an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China and home to ethnic minority groups such as the Uyghurs. These centres are said to have a million-plus inmates, all belonging to ethnic minority groups. The government steadfastly denied the existence of these centres — 380-plus according to one report — but after an international outcry in 2018, it passed a clause to legalise these. According to the clause, governments above the county level could set up education and transformation organisations “to educate and transform people who have been influenced by extremism”. It also stated that these centres would psychologically treat inmates to “transform their thoughts”. Former detainees, however, have spoken about mass sterilisation, mass rape, forced labour and rampant torture at these centres.
Quid pro quo
Camp Justice was the informal name granted to the complex where Guantánamo detainees faced charges before the military commissions. British judge Baron Steyn described its working thus — “The military will act as interrogators, prosecutors and defence counsel, judges, and when death sentences are imposed, as executioners. The trials will be held in private. None of the guarantees of a fair trial need be observed.” And after the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1942 by Japan, US president Roosevelt ordered the creation of Japanese internment camps. Japanese Americans were sent to assembly centres — reconfigured horse stalls or cattle sheds — and relocation centres, basically prison camps. Germany’s Nazi concentration camps were called Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz…