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Monitor report: Charged with murder, Indian Army officer got passport, fled to US

A Monitor investigation finds that despite being wanted in India for the murder of a human rights lawyer in Kashmir, Maj. Avtar Singh was given a passport. He killed his family this June in the US.

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“If it were the reverse, where a Kashmiri was wanted for killing a major of the Indian Army, you’d have to think the extradition request would be filed by now,” says Govind Acharya, India country specialist for Amnesty International USA.

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In an interview last year with the Indian magazine Open, Singh threatened that “if the extradition does go through, I will open my mouth.” The Associated Press this summer quoted Singh’s immigration consultant, Charles Stephens, as saying: “He told me, ‘My job in India was to eliminate terrorists who were against the Indian government. I was good at that, they never found the bodies when I did it.’”

Security forces and insurgents both committed human rights abuses in Kashmir during a separatist uprising there by Kashmiri and Pakistani militants in the 1990s. The Indian government now admits that thousands of bodies lie in unmarked graves in Kashmir, but this month ruled out wide-scale DNA testing sought for by families of the missing. Among the reasons cited in a government report, obtained by the Associated Press, were fear of media attention and the potential for stirring up unrest.

Meanwhile, no Indian soldier has been tried in a civilian court for human rights abuses in Kashmir, making Singh’s case potentially an unwanted precedent for the military.

“I think because it was too difficult for the military to contemplate one of their own standing trial for this murder that I just am not surprised that he was able to get a passport,” says Mr. Acharya.

The government’s response

India’s chief passport officer, Muktesh Pardeshi, says government records from 2001 show that Singh presented the proper paperwork to a regional office in Chandigarh. Authorities there – not in Delhi – granted him a passport, his first, valid for 10 years.

According to Mr. Pardeshi, the senior superintendent of police in Ludhiana, a nearby city where Singh then resided, issued him a “no objection certificate,” indicating he had a clean record. He also obtained a similar certificate from his commanding officer, Col. R. K. Goyal, as required of members of the military. Both certificates stated there was no court case pending against Singh, says Pardeshi.

The Monitor was unable to locate Goyal.

“If there was something from the [Kashmir] court in ‘97, and if the police authorities cleared that, they would be aware if there was some court order,” says Pardeshi. “I can’t believe that in ‘97 a court had said something and the military establishment didn’t look into this, because that would have amounted to contempt of court.”

Hafizullah Mir, the lawyer representing Mr. Andrabi’s survivors, says the family intends to file a contempt motion. He charges the government orchestrated Singh’s escape.

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