Army must be made accountable for Human Rights Violations
1 October 2000
Srinagar: Expressing serious concern over increasing human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir by armed groups and the security forces, a two-day conference today recommended amendments to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act besides making human rights bodies more powerful in dispensing justice to the victims. During the second day of conference on ''Kashmir Today - Challenges and Prospects'' organised by the Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Developmental Studies (KFPDS), a report on the state of human rights violations was presented and later discussed threadbare. While most speakers came down heavily on the security forces for committing excesses while fighting militancy and lashed out at the Government for protecting the guilty, violations by separatist militants also came up for discussion. The thrust being on amending the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the authors of the report also sought the empowerment of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) to enquire into cases pertaining to armed forces, disengaging pro-Government militants from counter- insurgency operations and setting up peace committees. Presenting the report, which interestingly was not distributed among the participants, Dr. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, an academician, said both security forces and militants were responsible for grave rights violations. He said the Armed Forces Special Powers Act violates international treaties on human rights and the Geneva Convention as it gives full impunity to the armed forces to act against any person whether guilty or not. Evaluating the various clauses of the Act, he said a security force official can arrest or shoot a person, and blow up a house, ''if he is of the opinion of that the person may pose a threat to security''. ''By virtue of this Act, the security forces enjoy full legal impunity. A soldier can act as he wishes. He can kill a person, enter into a house without permission, and nobody can touch him. This Act is violative of the various declarations of human rights. It needs to be repealed so as to bring the guilty to book,'' said Dr. Chenoy. ''The armed forces are privileged under the Protection of Human Rights Act. When you are living in a democracy it is mandatory that everyone, no matter who, enjoys equal rights and is answerable to the people. So why this discrimination? To put an end to growing allegations of human rights violations against the armed forces, it is mandatory to make them accountable,'' he said. Dr. Chenoy said in the last 10 years over 63,387 militancy- related incidents were recorded. In 1990, he said 5,153 such incidents occurred, and this shot up to 6,631 in 1995. However, the incidents have recorded a decrease from 1997 (4,702) to 1999 (4,327). On the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, he said there was an immediate need for efforts to resettle them in their homes. They are living in pathetic conditions in the camps in Jammu, he said, adding that their relief should be enhanced. ''They are the essence of Kashimiriat.'' Noted journalist, Mr. B.G. Verghese, drew flak for his ''one- sided'' report on the Kunan Poshpora rape in 1990. Veteran journalist, Mr. Ved Bhasin, appreciated the report and said custodial disappearance, fake encounters and molestation of women should have been talked about in detail in the report. The editor of Kashmir Monitor, Mr. Zafar Meraj, said the genesis of human rights violations dates back to 1947 when people used to be the victims of notorious police officers. ''How long could Rafiq Baqals and Bashir Zargars be killed in cold blood,'' he asked. The Chairperson of the State Human Rights Commission, Mr. Justice A.Q. Parray, said, ''There cannot be an end to human rights violations but these could be contained.'' He advocated setting up a special court to deal with human rights cases so that people got speedy justice. Prof. A.C. Bose, Prof. Riyaz Punjabi, Mr. Farooq Nazki, Dr. Ritu Dewan, Mr. Balraj Puri, Mr. Ghulam Nabi Khayal, Mr. Nasir Mirza and Prof. Noor Baba also took part in the discussion. On Saturday, the inaugural session focussed on the economic problems of Kashmir.