Brutalities in Kashmir

Amnesty International has demanded that Indian army officers involved in torture, killings and inhuman activities towards civilian population should be prosecuted and punished for breach of human rights and norms of a civilised society. This demand came after an observation made by the Supreme Court in a case of prosecution against 8 such army officers. The court in its observation few days ago said that that the Indian army could not invoke the AFSPA to avoid the prosecution of eight officers charged with the March 2000 killing of five Kashmiri villagers at Pathribal in Indian held Kashmir. AFSPA – Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and is highly controversial. It gives exemption to military personnel for their brutalities and inhuman killings. Under this law a case can only be registered and prosecution can be held if central government approves it specifically. In few such cases where killings at the hands of army men were reported and prosecution was desired, such permission was always refused. In this incident Federal Investigating Authorities of India wanted to prosecute 8 army officers for their unlawful killings of civilians. The army taking cover of AFSPA is asking the Supreme Court to stop this prosecution.

Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme Director Sam Zarifi said in a statement that; “We welcome the Supreme Court’s comment that there should be no need to obtain prior approval for prosecuting security personnel charged with having committed grave human rights violations such as rape and murder. While the Court’s remark opens the chance for the prosecution of the eight army personnel Amnesty International reiterates its demand for the repeal of the AFSPA, which has been in force in various parts of north-east India for over five decades and in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990”. This act is implemented to cover military’s brutalities. The system to prosecute under this act is complicated. If some violation is registered then state authorities has to ask central government for approval for prosecution. Recent information obtained by human rights defenders in India states that, of the 50 instances in which the Jammu and Kashmir state authorities had sought approval for prosecuting security personnel for grave human rights violations – including torture, rape and extra-judicial executions – the Union home ministry has said it had “recommended” approval in eight cases and the Defence ministry none.

Amnesty International said; “For far too long, Indian security forces have used the AFSPA as a cover for serious human rights violations. The Supreme Court’s statement should finally allow some light to be shed on some of the army’s most gruesome violations – providing some hope for justice for the victims and a step forward imposing the rule of law”.

India has over half million armed forces deployed in Jammu and Kashmir. They are often blamed of brutalities and extra judicial killings. According to statistics different human rights organisations have calculated Indian army has killed more than 60000 civilians during past 15 years. In addition to that more than 5000 are disappeared mysteriously. Observation made by Indian SC reflects wide spread view among human right activists that Indian government and army is using a 55 years old army act to cover up for the brutalities in Kashmir against people who are struggling for their basic rights of self-determination. In the case of Pathribal killings, the armed forces had claimed that the five were Lashkar-e-Taiba guerrillas. The CBI’s investigation showed that the five people killed were in fact villagers from Brariangan, Halan and Anantnag. Last year a WikiLeaks cable revealed that central government at the highest level was involved in cover up of the killings.

Many civil rights activists including renowned Indian writer Arundhati Roy has repeatedly demanded end to the brutalities and withdrawal of armed forces from Kashmir. In a lecture few months ago in USA Ms Roy argued; “I think that the people of Kashmir have the right to self- determination, they have the right to choose who they want to be, and how they want to be. Kashmir is one of the most protracted and bloody occupations in the world and one of the most ignored. While India brutalizes Kashmir in so many ways, that occupation brutalizes the Indians”. She said; “It (the occupation) turns us into a people who are able to bear a kind of morally reprehensible behaviour done in our name, and the fact that so few Indians will stand up and say anything about it is such a sad thing”.

The famous writer also asked; “Why the international community doesn’t see that when you have two nuclear-armed states, like Pakistan and India, there couldn’t be a better thing than a buffer state like Kashmir between them, instead of it being a conflict that is going to spark a nuclear war”. This and many others for years have stressed for rationale and just plebiscite in Kashmir as is called in many UN resolutions. Those calls are so far gone unheard as the blood of innocent Kashmiris is at the hands of armed forces of a mighty power. One can hope that reason shall prevail and culprits of unlawful killings are soon held responsible for their acts.

Author is based in Oslo, Norway. Email: editor@karwan.no