Repealing draconian laws

This is vital to put an end to HR abuses

It is doubtful that the observations made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur’ on the situation of the human rights defenders in Jammu and Kashmir and some other parts of India, pointing to the appalling human rights record of the Indian state , following her brief visit to the troubled state, will carry any weight with the powers that be in New Delhi to take any concrete steps for putting an end to grave human rights abuses which have gone unabated for the past two decades . Margaret Sekaggya , who visited Srinagar on January 19 where she met a number of human rights activists and victims of human rights abuses, on Friday advised India to keep politics with Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir situation aside and instead take up issues about the people and begin the healing process " as they have been suffering for many years". While expressing her concern over the unabated human rights abuses in Kashmir and some other parts of India, particularly in North East, pointedly suggested that the draconian laws including the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA) , which were arbitrarily applied should be repealed forthwith . She also pointed out that even the application of other laws which adversely affect the work and safety of human rights defenders should be reviewed. New Delhi has stubbornly refused so far to take any measures for minmising , if not totally stopping, the human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir despite reports by various human rights groups both at the national and international levels. The reports about the appalling human rights situation made in the past by the credible human rights organizations like the People’s Union for Civil Liberties at the national level, and the Amnesty International and the HumanWatch at the international level have been ignored by New Delhi .

Instead of positively responding to these reports New Delhi placed unjustified curbs on the visits of these HR groups to the troubled state . Even for years the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC ) was denied visit to the State to monitor the condition of prisoners lodged in various jails in Jammu and Kashmir . Eventually when such permission was granted a couple of years ago the concerned authorities refused to cooperate with them. The report of the ICRC teams , as revealed recently, had talked about the cases of torturing the prisoners during their detentions.

The human rights record of the Indian security forces has been characterized by arbitrary arrests, torture, rapes, extra-judicial killings, fake encounters and other similar atrocities . The grave human rights abuses cannot be stopped if extra-ordinary powers remain conferred on the security forces and they enjoy a culture of immunity. The security forces in the troubled areas are empowered with a regime of draconian laws inciuding the AFSPA, Public Safety Act (1978), Enemy Agents Ordinance (1948) , Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act (1963 ), Prevention of Suppression and Sabotage Act (1965) and above all section 144 in force since 1990 which prohibits the gathering of more than five persons . The recent killings of people in the firing by the security forces and police on the peaceful processions and demonstrations and the incidents of fake encounters show how the grave human rights abuses are continuing in the State .Not in a single case of such abuses the culprits have been brought to book . Even the court orders have been ignored by the armed forces and other security forces . Instead of following the court directives the army chief has even pointed accusing fingers at the judiciary in the State . As for as the draconian laws are concerned , New Delhi has even ignored the recommendations made by the working group on ensuring human rights in Kashmir, set up by none other than the Prime Minister himself and headed by Hamid Ansari, at present the Vice President of India , for the repeal of draconian laws . The State chief minister, who had earlier supported the demand for the repeal of AFSPA later retracted under New Delhi’s directions while the army generals have been publically opposing any move even to amend the draconian laws . With these draconian laws in force in the State there can be no hope for any reduction in the level of human rights abuses . The State’s Public Safety Act has been grossly misused to arbitrarily detain the political opponents of the ruling establishment and the State government is not willing even to scrap this draconian law . While the National Human Rights Commission has no jurisdiction over Jammu and Kashmir, the State Human Rights Commission remains a toothless organization.