Two prominent human rights groups in India-administered Kashmir Thursday accused New Delhi of institutionally blocking justice in thousands of cases of crimes like enforced disappearance, killings, rape, and torture allegedly committed by its forces in the disputed region during the past two decades.
A report "Alleged Perpetrators: Stories of impunity in Jammu and Kashmir" released by the groups analyzes 214 cases and for the first time names 500 specific perpetrators including 469 military, paramilitary, and police officials besides 31 government-backed militants and associates.
The report, which took two years to prepare by International People’s Tribunal for Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir, or IPTK, and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, paints a grim climate of impunity under which Indian forces are operating in the territory controlled by India and also claimed by Pakistan.
“Beyond naming the alleged perpetrators, the report explains that the Indian state has not failed but succeeded in its policy of maintaining control [over the disputed region] through absolute impunity accorded to perpetrators of crimes,” says Kartik Murukutla, an author of the report who has worked in a UN tribunal on Rwanda for five years.
Residents of the Kashmir Valley and resistance leaders opposed to Indian rule of the region have long accused the Indian government of using its institutions to meet the ends of control rather than address issues of justice and political rights.
In a shift in strategy, armed rebellion against Indian rule has been largely replaced with massive rock throwing street protests since 2008, but India has not countered with meaningful legal reforms or political initiatives.
Analysts say this latest report adds urgency to calls for an international legal intervention by bodies like the International Criminal Court (ICC) as well as movement toward a political resolution for the long-running Kashmir dispute. “This report should be sent to the prosecutor of ICC who can take suo moto cognizance on the basis of the evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity it contains and persuade the court for proceedings on the subject,” says Professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who teaches international law at the Central University here.
Two Major Generals, three Brigadiers, and more
The accused perpetrators include two major generals and three brigadiers of the Indian Army, besides nine colonels, three lieutenant colonels, 78 majors, and 25 captains. A recently retired director general of police and a serving inspector general are also named along with 37 senior officials of the federal paramilitary forces.
The 354-page report contains significant evidence against the government forces’ personnel named but notes that any institutional or political will was absent for “a trial where the crime and the guilt of a perpetrator can be proven beyond reasonable doubt.”
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, an emergency military law extended to Kashmir in 1990 in the wake of a full blown armed rebellion against Indian rule, requires New Delhi’s permission for prosecuting federal armed forces personnel accused of crimes like extra-judicial murder. Not a single such sanction has been granted despite dozens of requests by the local authorities.
Based on the information gleaned mostly from official state documents, the authors of the report insist that crimes “have not been committed, despite the Indian state, but because of it” accusing the government of “willfully putting in place structures specifically meant to carry out these crimes.”
“We call for international humanitarian intervention when the Indian state has failed to deliver justice and instead works its institutions for crimes with impunity in Kashmir,” says Pervez Imroz, a prominent human rights lawyer and another author of the report.
Government officials said they were studying the report. “We will have first to go through the contents of the report and then we will respond,” the region’s law minister, Ali Mohammed Sagar told the Associated Press Thursday.
The report comes at a time when militant violence in the region has significantly dropped. However, India maintains a presence of an estimated 700,000 soldiers stationed in camps dotting its held territory and along the de facto border with Pakistan dividing the former kingdom between the nuclear armed South Asian neighbors.
International rights bodies like Amnesty International have long maintained that Indian forces have routinely operated with impunity in the region calling for impartial investigations into numerous violations blamed on them in the past. (Read more on the issue)
“The defining feature of human rights violations here is that in the name of countering militant violence the Indian State authorizes armed forces to carry out every kind of operation, often without adherence to laws and norms,” the report says. “In a majority of cases crimes are not noted or investigated at all.”
India has often responded to allegations of widespread human rights violations against its forces as “aberrations” saying a handful of military personnel have been punished after military trials found them guilty.
However, Thursday’s report alleges that perpetrators of crimes are “assisted by a system where impunity is available right from the commission of the crime to the ultimate cover up.” Its authors indict the Indian judiciary for “lowering the standards of justice delivery system” to ensure impunity and by highlighting the fact that India has not legislated for crimes of torture and enforced disappearance.
“Even if the state wanted to prosecute the guilty, what will it prosecute them for in absence of the required legislation?” Murukutla asked pressing for the need to invoke international law.
The report recommends, among other things, that international rights bodies such as those of the United Nations be allowed free access to Kashmir to investigate specific allegations under the international human rights laws.
New Delhi has consistently declined requests for international intervention in Kashmir even in matters like forensic investigations into more than 6,000 unmarked and mass graves in the region that are suspected to be linked to the thousands of cases of enforced disappearances. However, the government has also said that it does not possess the capacity for such wide scale investigations itself.
Earlier this year, the Indian government allowed, for the first time, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, and Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns, to visit the region. However, the groups say the visit was a “regulated one, being confined by the authorities.”