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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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Justice Nazki, meanwhile, dismisses the idea that somehow the government wasn’t notified of his order.

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“A court order went to all concerned,” he says. “The government of India was a party to that case.”

The Right to Information request, relayed by Kashmiri anticorruption activist Muzaffar Bhat, also led to the release of a government memo, written in April 2011 by the Ministry of External Affairs’ extradition division in Delhi and sent to the office of Subhash Chhibber, who at the time served as the deputy secretary in Kashmir's home department.

The memo indicates that Delhi had received paperwork from Kashmir needed for India to make a formal request to the US for Singh's extradition.  But the memo goes on to say that Delhi had returned the paperwork to Kashmir, noting various discrepancies and insufficiencies that failed to comply with US-India rules for extradition.

In other words, the memo suggests that the messages over Interpol sent by US police in 2011 had indeed reached India, and that an official in Kashmir had worked on extradition request.  But India's extradition bureaucrats in Delhi found fault with how the paperwork was filled out, effectively blocking the extradition request until its discrepancies were addressed.

Reached by phone, Mr. Chhibber says of the case: “I forget completely because I was transferred [to another department] for last one year.” Another effort to get comment from Kashmir's home department was rebuffed.

Sad case for human rights

Acharya speaks of the case – his first with Amnesty International USA – with defeat. Years ago, he was charged with keeping two US chapters motivated to continue writing letters to the Indian government, urging justice for Andrabi.

For a time, the US State Department applied pressure as well, noting the case for a few years in its annual country-specific human rights reports.

The 2002 report leads into Singh’s case noting: “Court action in cases of extrajudicial killings was slow and uncertain.” (Later, the US would also prove slow in action, failing to deport Singh after a five-year process and further criminal behavior.)

Indian forces in Kashmir enjoy broad immunities from civilian courts under the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The law remains in place today in Indian-controlled Kashmir despite the crushing of the armed militancy a decade ago and calls from rights groups like Amnesty to remove it.

Singh’s case made it to civilian court because the Indian military did not claim the killing as an authorized action, says Acharya. But, he adds, Singh might have gotten away thanks to the duality of modern India, a state with a robust legal system on paper but one that can be manipulated by the corrupt and the powerful.

“On the surface, you have this liberal democracy with all these protections. But then you realize on the other side of this you have this undemocratic side … this whole illegality that just goes on as the way the country runs,” says Acharya.

Cases like Singh’s must be confronted, he adds, to get India to “use the mechanisms that are in place in theory to actually further human rights.”

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