Kashmir Youth Detained Illegally, Report Says16 November 2011
The Wall Street Journal
New Delhi: Last year, Indian security forces detained scores of young Kashmiris connected with attacks on security forces that led to the deaths of over 100 stone-throwing protesters and destabilized the troubled Indian territory. Those detentions have again raised questions about how Jammu and Kashmir state government treats juveniles in its prison system. New Delhi has committed under its domestic laws and obligations to the United Nations to set up separate legal systems for the arrest, detention and trial of juveniles, which in India refers to people under eighteen years of age. But Jammu and Kashmir has failed to apply the same standards as the rest of the country, detaining and prosecuting juveniles along with adults, according to a report released Wednesday by the New Delhi-based Asian Center for Human Rights. Authorities in the state regularly use special public-safety laws to detain juveniles alleged to be involved in militant activity against the Indian state, often without trial, the report says. Those detentions are illegal, the report claims, because India’s Supreme Court has ruled that national laws on juvenile detention should trump special laws in Kashmir. The report comes at an interesting time. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is pushing New Delhi to partially roll back some of the special laws that give the army impunity from prosecution for unlawful killings and allow for detention of suspects without trial. His contention is that militant violence in Indian-administered Kashmir, which was fanned by Pakistan in the 1990s and 2000s, is on the decline and a gesture like this would help chip away at anti-Indian sentiment among local people. The proposals have met resistance from India’s army which says Pakistan-backed militants are still a risk and that security forces can’t operate in Kashmir like it’s a normal place. A look at the Asian Center for Human Rights’ new report suggests Kashmir is still anything but normal, a situation which continues to fan discontent illustrated by last year’s stone throwing. The report cites the case of Sheikh Akram, 15 years old, who was detained by police last summer for taking part in protests against Indian forces, which were sparked when paramilitary police killed a teenager with a tear-gas canister. The reports says Mr. Akram was illegally detained under the Public Safety Act, which allows for two years of preventative detention without trial, and sent to a normal jail. Suhas Chakma, director of ACHR, admits it is hard to know exactly how many juveniles are kept in the state’s adult prison system because of lack of transparency. The report cites 51 cases involving juveniles which the center says are being tried illegally in Kashmir’s normal court system. “The J&K government has been illegally detaining minors,” Mr. Chakma said. The detention of juveniles under Kashmir’s special laws is only part of the problem, according to the report. Even those held in the state’s single juvenile detention facility, R S Pura Juvenile Home in Jammu, are not being produced before the courts, Mr. Chakma said. There is no juvenile detention facility for girls in the state and no juvenile justice board, meaning trials are prosecuted in normal courts, the report said. India passed laws on juvenile justice in 1986 and revised them in 2000 after criticism of the earlier legislation from nongovernmental groups. But Jammu and Kashmir, which has a special status under India’s constitution, was slow to follow suit. It has still not enacted the 2000 law. The state legislature enacted the 1986 laws in 1997 but they did not come in to full effect until 2007. Even then, the state government has been slow to implement those laws, which require the setting-up of juvenile homes and justice boards. The government is only now constructing a second juvenile detention facility to R S Pura Juvenile Home and still has not begun building one for girls, Mr. Chakma says. In its recommendations, the report urged the state government to immediately make available a government building for the housing of female juveniles.