India’s claim of being an emerging global power is undermined by the impunity that it tolerates in Jammu and Kashmir.
Amnesty International (AI) brought out a detailed report this year on the human rights violations in J&K, terming the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) as one of the “primary facilitators of impunity” for security forces, and demanded its repeal. AI says they are currently engaged in “campaigning and advocacy to bring widespread national attention to the findings of our report, and pursuing its recommendations.”
In an interview with Majid Maqbool, Aakar Patel, the Executive Director of Amnesty International India, talks about the impunity enjoyed by the Indian state in Jammu and Kashmir, and why the military justice system does not always lead to justice.
Recently IPTK and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) released a report ‘Structures of Violence’ in Srinagar which highlighted the “patterns of violence” and identified the “structure, forms and tactics of violence of the Indian state” in Jammu and Kashmir. What does Amnesty International India make of such reports?
“Structures of Violence” and “Alleged Perpetrators”, another report by the same organizations, present extensive evidence of crimes under international law committed in Jammu and Kashmir. It would be an enormous mistake to ignore these reports. India’s claim of being an emerging global power is undermined by the impunity that it tolerates in Jammu and Kashmir.
AI has also previously condemned the use of pellet guns on unarmed protestors in Kashmir, but the pellet guns continue to be in use resulting in grievous injuries and loss of eyesight in many cases. Do you see some progress on this front by the state to stop the use of such weapons used by government forces in Kashmir?
Pellet-firing shotguns are inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate and their use in policing demonstrations must be prohibited. The PDP, which had condemned the use of pellet guns in the past, is now in a position to take steps to prohibit their use. It must do so urgently.
Amnesty International also released a damning report this year on human rights violations in J&K, calling the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) as one of the “primary facilitators of impunity” for security forces, and demanded its repeal. AI had also asked for an independent and impartial probe into all human rights violations in the state. Has there been any action by the state and central government on AI reports about the human rights abuses in Kashmir?
Amnesty International India sent a copy of the report before its publication to authorities in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Defence seeking a response to the findings. We have not yet received a response. To our knowledge, there has been little to no action taken on the report.
An Army court martial reportedly awarded life sentence to six of its personnel found guilty in the Machil fake encounter case of 2010 in Kashmir. How does AI see this Army verdict?
The measures taken by Indian Army authorities to deliver justice in the Machil case are welcome. They now need to be followed by justice for the many other human rights violations in the state.
Too often, security forces dismiss the complaints they receive about human rights violations as false without disclosing any details. In the Pathribal case, soldiers charged by the CBI with murder were let off by the army, showing that the military justice system does not always lead to justice. All cases of human rights violations should be prosecuted in civilian courts. Justice must be the rule and not the exception.
How is Amnesty International presently involved in Kashmir, and is there a possibility to deepen the engagement and bring out more reports in future?
We are currently engaged in campaigning and advocacy to bring widespread national attention to the findings of our report, ‘Denied: Failures in Accountability for Human Rights Violations by Security Force Personnel in Jammu and Kashmir’, and pursuing its recommendations. We also continue to monitor the situation on the ground and respond to reports of human rights abuses.
What are the constraints AI faces while operating in Kashmir given the limited role and access to the state?
During our research for our report, Amnesty International India did not face any major issues of restriction of access or lack of cooperation from the state, civil society, lawyers or the families of the victims. Various stakeholders whom we engaged with and interviewed were very forthcoming with information and documentation.
However, getting responses to our requests for information to the J&K State Home Department, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the security forces, including the Army and paramilitary forces, was a challenge. The majority didn’t reply, and those who did denied us the information or provided incomplete information.
Does Amnesty have any independent figures on the disappeared, custodial deaths, security excesses and misuse of PSA in Kashmir?
Amnesty International has been working on the state of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir for years, including by responding to enforced disappearances, custodial deaths and unlawful killings. We have published two reports on the misuse of the PSA in the state, which expose a catalogue of human rights violations. However, we do not have any comprehensive figures on these violations.
(First Published in October issue of GK magazine Kashmir Ink)