Punish Kunan-Poshpora mass rapists

Punish Kunan-Poshpora mass rapists

By ABDUL MAJID ZARGAR

 

 

The fact that rape has been systematically committed against Kashmiri women and that justice has not been delivered in these cases makes rape in Kashmir eligible for an appropriate legal response at the international level. The state has to be held for breach of its obligations under various relevant treaties and customary international law

The facts of the mass rape in village Kunan-Poshpora during the fateful night intervening 23rd and 24th of February, 1991 are fully in public domain now. In a cordon and search operation, which was very prevalent those days, the soldiers of 4th Rajputana Rifles ordered all the male members of the hamlet to come out of their homes for identification and interrogation, while asking the female members to stay put inside their houses. During the military operation, the women were indiscriminately, systematically assaulted and gang-raped. The victims included women as old as 81 years.

On April 7, 1991, the New York Times reported the Kunan-Poshpora rape incident under the headline, “India Moves Against Kashmir Rebels”. According to the report, on March 5, 1991, villagers complained about the incident to the then Kupwara District Magistrate S.M. Yasin, who visited the village two days later to investigate. “According to a report filed by Yasin,” the article reads, “the armed forces behaved like violent beasts.” He identified them as members of 4th Rajputana Rifles and said they rampaged through the village from 11:00 pm on Feb 23 until 9 am the next morning.

Following the event, 53 women were interviewed by the office of former Chief Justice Mufti Bahauddin Farooqi (then chief justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court). Official allegations of severe violence and rape were made against the soldiers. But their reports did not go very far with Indian officials. The military denied this claim and on its own appointed a Press Council of India team headed by B. G. Verghese, its chairman, to investigate the case. In a bizarre case of intellectual dishonesty and amid local and global controversy, Verghese completely denied that any crime had occurred at all during the event at Konan Poshpora. He was later handsomely rewarded with an important assignment in the Minstry of Defense.

 

The prosecution of individuals alleged to have committed rape should be done by the international criminal tribunal on the precedent of Nuremberg as domestic courts and military court-martials have failed to deliver justice in these matters and are motivated by a state-centric approach. The focus of the tribunal should be to punish the wrongdoers, not on providing compensation and support to the victim

But there have been expert doubts in credibility in the Indian media and the PCI report. Teresa Joseph with the South Asia Forum for Human Rights described the PCI report as “another instance of the Indian press’ selective reporting on Kashmir” in a recent detailed analysis of India’s media coverage of atrocities. “Keeping an eye” on Kashmir, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallstrom’s UN office is now collecting information suggesting that over the years “we have received reports from people in Kashmir about sexual violence.”

“We recommend the establishment of a special judicial authority making an independent and thorough inquiry into all allegations of human rights violations, including disappearances, custodial killings, rape, torture, including torture of prisoners, fake encounters, and all other cases related to excesses by security forces,” said an Independent People’s Tribunal organized by the Human Rights Law Network in February 2010.

The recent direction of the State Human rights Commission (SHRC) to the government to investigate Kunan-Poshpora mass rape incident afresh is too little too late but nevertheless a welcome step. In an important development SHRC has  asked the state government to prosecute the then director of the prosecution, who had sought to close the case on the grounds that the perpetrators were “untraceable” and further to get the fresh probe done by a senior superintendent of police. In addition, the SHRC has recommended that compensation be paid to each of the victims. That there have been supportive voices for the move from Indian intellectuals & human rights activists  need to be noted and appreciated. That demonstrations outside the United Nations building in Geneva in March 2011  urging the Indian Govt. to order a fresh probe into the mass rape also played its part in looking afresh at the matter.  

 

According to an April 1991 New York Times report, on March 5, 1991, villagers complained about the incident to the then Kupwara District Magistrate S. M. Yasin, who visited the village two days later to investigate. “According to a report filed by Yasin,” the article reads, “the armed forces behaved like violent beasts.” He identified them as members of 4th Rajputana Rifles and said they rampaged through the village from 11:00 pm on Feb 23 until 9 am the next morning

The fact that rape has been systematically committed against Kashmiri women and that justice has not been delivered in these cases makes rape in Kashmir eligible for an appropriate legal response at the international level. The state has to be held for breach of its obligations under various relevant treaties and customary international law. The prosecution of individuals alleged to have committed rape should be done by the international criminal tribunal on the precedent of Nuremberg as the domestic courts and military court-martials have failed to deliver justice in these matters and are motivated by a state centric approach. The focus of the tribunal should be to punish the wrongdoers, not on providing compensation and support to the victim.

The writer is a practicing Chartered Accountant
Response: editoped@kashmirreader.com