September 2006 News

HRW to issue report on Azad Kashmir

10 September 2006
The Daily Times
Khalid Hasan

Washington: Human Rights Watch, which issued a report on human rights abuses in Indian-held Kashmir, is going to release a similar report on Azad Kashmir shortly. The new report, based on research from 2004 to 2006, documents abuses that have occurred since the election in 2002 of a Jammu and Kashmir state government with an avowed human rights agenda and the resumption of peace talks between India and Pakistan that same year. The report maintains that the Indian governments failure to end widespread impunity for human rights abuses, committed both by its security forces and militants, is fuelling the cycle of violence in the state. The 156-page report Everyone Lives in Fear Patterns of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir documents recent abuses by the Indian army and paramilitaries, as well as by militants, many of whom are backed by Pakistan. Indian security forces have committed torture, disappearances and arbitrary detentions, and they continue to execute Kashmiris in faked encounter killings, claiming that the killings take place during armed clashes with militants. Militants have carried out bombings and grenade attacks against civilians, targeted killings, torture and attacks upon religious and ethnic minorities. These abuses have taken place against the backdrop of almost two decades of the failure of the political and legal systems in India and Pakistan to end abuses or punish the perpetrators. Since 1989, the armed secessionist struggle against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir has claimed more than 50,000 lives. Kashmir remains a potential flashpoint between the nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan. According to Brad Adams, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch, Human rights abuses have been a cause as well as a consequence of the insurgency in Kashmir. Kashmiris continue to live in constant fear because perpetrators of abuses are not punished. Unless the Indian authorities address the human rights crisis in Jammu and Kashmir, a political settlement of the conflict will remain illusory. The exhaustive document holds both the Indian government and the militants responsible for the widespread and numerous human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law or the laws of war. Extra-judicial executions by Indian security forces are said to be common. Police and army officials told Human Rights Watch that security forces often execute alleged militants instead of bringing them to trial in the belief that keeping hardcore militants in detention is a security risk. Most of those summarily executed are falsely reported to have died during armed clashes between the army and militants in encounter killings. According to the human rights watchdog group, The Indian government has effectively given its forces free rein, while Pakistan and armed militant groups have failed to hold militants accountable for the atrocities they have committed. Through documentation of the failure to prosecute in recent cases and some older, key cases, the report shows how impunity has fuelled the insurgency. If the Indian authorities had addressed these abuses seriously when they took place, public confidence in the authorities would have increased and future abuses may have been substantially reduced. Instead, India failed to prosecute or discipline the perpetrators. Impunity has been enabled by Indian law. The report states that the work of both the Indian National Human Rights Commission and the State Human Rights Commission in Jammu and Kashmir is severely hampered by laws that prohibit them from directly investigating abuses carried out by the army or other federal forces. Although government officials claim that disciplinary measures have been taken against some security personnel, it is unclear that this happens, as details are almost never made public. It is absurd that the worlds largest democracy, with a well-developed legal system and internationally recognised judiciary, has laws on its books that prevent members of its security forces from being prosecuted for human rights abuses, comments Adams. It is time for the Indian government to repeal these laws and recommit itself to justice for victims of all abuses, whoever the perpetrator may be.


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