On May 24, 2012, The US State Department issued a voluminous report entitled “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011.”
Although covering many other countries, it is worth noting that the report cites the widespread human rights violations committed by Indian military and paramilitary forces in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The revelations are remarkable and startling in light of the current policy of the Obama administration to maintain a studied silence regarding the atrocities in Kashmir in order to encourage commercial and military arms trade with India.
The report says that the most significant human rights problems were police and security force abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape; widespread corruption at all levels of government; and separatist, insurgent, and societal violence.
Other human rights problems included disappearances, poor prison conditions that were frequently life threatening, arbitrary arrest and detention, and lengthy pretrial detention. Widespread impunity at all levels of government remained a serious problem.
In its section under “Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life” the report cites a number of instances in Kashmir.
On July 2 (2011) the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission submitted an interim report entitled The Enquiry Report of Unmarked Graves in North Kashmir to the state government. This report was leaked to the press last August but was not made public. According to the media, the report documented 2,156 bodies in unmarked graves at 38 different sites in districts that had been at the heart of the insurgency in the 1990s.
Unfortunately, these 2,156 mass graves are in addition to what Mr. Pankaj Mishra, an Indian scholar, wrote in the U.K. based Daily Guardian on August 13, 2010, that “Once known for its extraordinary beauty, the valley of Kashmir now hosts the biggest, bloodiest and also the most obscure military occupation in the world. With more than 80,000 people dead in an anti-India insurgency backed by Pakistan, the killings fields of Kashmir dwarf those of Palestine and Tibet. In addition to the everyday regime of arbitrary arrests, curfews, raids, and checkpoints enforced by nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers, the valley’s 4 million Muslims are exposed to extra-judicial execution, rape and torture, with such barbaric variations as live electric wires inserted into penises.”
Shouldn’t this shake the conscience of the world powers, which claims to be the custodian of human rights?
In addition, the report points out that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) remained in effect in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, and parts of Tripura, and a version of the law was in effect in Jammu and Kashmir. Under the AFSPA the government can declare any state or union territory a “disturbed area,” a declaration that allows security forces to fire on any person to “maintain law and order” and to arrest any person “against whom reasonable suspicion exists” without informing the detainee of the grounds for arrest. The law also gives security forces immunity from prosecution for acts committed under the AFSPA.
Most encounter killings, in which security forces and police extra-judicially killed alleged criminals or insurgents, occurred in areas in conflict, but the practice reportedly occurred elsewhere in the country as well. For example, on August 8, Special Police Officer (SPO) Abdul Majid and territorial army soldier Noor Hussain took a mentally disabled civilian to Surankot forest in Jammu and Kashmir and then launched an operation with the police and the 25 Rashtriya Rifles unit to eliminate a “dreaded terrorist” in the area. When the bullet-riddled body was found, the SPO said that he wanted to be a constable and the soldier requested a cash reward of 200,000 rupees ($3,790). Both were arrested and charged with murder for the fake encounter. The identity of the victim was not reported.
These revelations stand in stark contrast to the more overt policy of silence the world powers have maintained regarding Kashmir in any context dealing with India.
By comparison, as with the recent brouhaha involving the case of blind activist Chen Guangcheng who took refuge in the American embassy in Beijing and has since been allowed to enter the U.S., to the embarrassment of our most favored financial partner and creditor, this report on Kashmir calls for a more aggressive public posture by the Obama administration that takes India to task for its failure to respond to these charges, which have been ongoing and flagrant for many years.
In respect to the issues surrounding Chen, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reported to have said, A constructive relationship includes talking very frankly about those areas where we do not agree, including human rights. That is the spirit that is guiding me as I take off for Beijing. Talking about issue, she said, is consistent with American values.
This policy does not seem to have been applied when she traveled to India this past month to discourage the purchase of Iranian oil. Kashmir was never mentioned. In view of President Obama’s remarks just prior to his election that the U.S. should facilitate an understanding between India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue, Arundhati Roy famously charged in an op-ed for the New York Times in 2010 that Obama had traded Kashmir for 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster IIIs. The U.S. appears to have become the lackey for just any corporate agenda, regardless of consequences.
The position that Secretary Clinton took regarding Chen was unavoidable in the face of Chen’s outspoken and determined public stand, and demonstrates just how inconsistent and transparently ingenuine American policy remains on human rights. The left hand does not seem to know what the right hand is doing. Millions of dollars were undoubtedly spent to develop this country report on human rights, but one has to wonder whether it will ever translate into effective foreign policy. These values should be applied universally, and we hope that next time our State Department officials are in New Delhi, they will raise the human rights issues with the Indian government on the basis of this report.
The State Department report goes on to say that, despite the published recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) investigate all police encounter deaths, many states did not follow these guidelines and continued to conduct internal reviews only at the discretion of senior officers.
The Special Operations Group of the Jammu and Kashmir police killed Nazim Rashid of Sopor, Kashmir, while he was in custody. Rashid died on July 30, while being held in connection with an investigation into the killing of a laborer.
The National Security Act (NSA) allows police to detain persons considered security risks anywhere in the country, except Jammu and Kashmir, without charge or trial for as long as one year. The law stipulates that family members and lawyers can visit NSA detainees and that authorities must inform a detainee of the grounds for detention within five days (10 to 15 days in exceptional circumstances). In practice these rights sometimes were not enforced.
The Public Safety Act, which applies only in Jammu and Kashmir, permits state authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for as long as two years. During this time family members do not have access to detainees. Detainees are allowed access to a lawyer during interrogation. In practice police in Jammu and Kashmir routinely employed arbitrary detention and denied detainees, particularly the destitute, access to lawyers and medical attention.
Courts in Jammu and Kashmir often were reluctant to hear cases involving insurgent and terrorist crimes and failed to act expeditiously, if at all, on habeas corpus cases.
According to a study by the South Asia Forum for Human Rights and the Centre for Law and Development, thousands of habeas corpus cases were pending in the courts throughout the Kashmir valley.
On February 6, the army apologized to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir for the fake encounter death of Manzoor Ahmad Magray.
Estimates of the number of missing persons varied. Human rights organizations stated there were 8,000 to 10,000 persons missing but in custody in Jammu and Kashmir.
These individuals have been reported missing for the past more than 10 years. Isn’t it time for the State Department to do something about it? It seems that mass graves discovered in Libya were useful for propaganda purposes when NATO was taking down the Moammar Qadafi regime, but any real concern for the human rights issue involved appears to be irrelevant. It’s time that the Obama administration become fully cognizant of the posture it publicly takes on human rights as an issue but fails to back it up with any real action when it comes to such discoveries in Kashmir.
The report continues: security forces often searched and questioned vehicle occupants at checkpoints, mostly in troubled areas in the Kashmir valley, before public events in New Delhi or after major terrorist attacks. The government maintained a 330-mile security fence along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, causing difficulties for residents because the fence cuts through some villages and agricultural lands.
The government legally may deny a passport to any applicant who it believes may engage in activities outside the country “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.”
Citizens from Jammu and Kashmir continued to face extended delays, often as long as two years, before the Ministry of External Affairs would issue or renew their passports. The government subjected applicants born in Jammu and Kashmir–including children born to military officers during their deployment in the state–to additional scrutiny, requests for bribes, and police clearances before issuing them passports.
Human rights groups alleged that state human rights commissions were limited by local politics and less likely to offer fair judgments than the NHRC. For example, the Jammu and Kashmir commission did not have the authority to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by members of paramilitary security forces.
This report reflects historically the underlying values of America. The public face of American values on human rights has been upheld by all administrations, Republican or Democrat because human rights are not simply American values; everyone universally recognizes them. Americans as a whole support human rights whenever violations are made public. However, that conscience does not seem to filter up into the ranks of government beyond token gestures that serve the political aspirations of candidates for office. It was generous of President Obama to have spoken out two weeks before being elected about the need for the U.S. to work toward a settlement of the Kashmir issue, but once elected the issue took not just a back seat but ended up in the trunk along with used oil cans and dirty rags.
This report indicates that there are people in the administration researching and producing information that could restore human rights across the globe, if the will and desire to act on it were present. The U.S. is the strongest global power in the world, and it could very readily use that power and the sense of ethics that has been historically present in its constitution to defend the rights of the common man. American democracy wasn’t just built upon the right of every man to pursue selfishly his own course in life; it was built upon the suffering and pain of the oppressed who sought for a means to overcome the power of brutal kings and dictators. The entire world has rejoiced at the proud welcome offered by the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
It is time for that welcome mat to be washed of all the pollution that has settled on it, and for the American government to take the lead in support of all those throughout the world who were never given that advantage. We have that power to be the change we so often ask others to model. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” Let us all exemplify these words through our deeds and actions.
Dr. Fai can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org