The South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international human rights organization which publishes more than 100 reports each year on rights conditions in 90 countries, in an interview with Greater Kashmir on Saturday said that in Kashmir "de facto impunity prevails" for the government forces, while calling on the government to "investigate each incident where ammunition, even pellets, were used, to determine if the use of force was proportionate."
"For too long, inquiries are ordered, but we see no outcome," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch. "It is for this reason we have been calling for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and other laws that provide immunity from prosecution."
Ganguly said the state should ensure that use of force do not violate domestic and international guidelines. "There are repeated allegations that riot-control guns which fire pellets instead of live ammunition were not used properly, leading to severe injuries, even deaths," she said, adding that "even uninvolved bystanders were injured."
"Those responsible for violations should know that they will be held to account, not protected from prosecution after internal inquiries that are considered neither transparent nor fair," said Ganguly who has previously served as the South Asia Correspondent for Time Magazine before joining Human Rights Watch.
"The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms say that law enforcement officials should apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force, use force only in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, and only when strictly unavoidable to protect life," Ganguly said, adding that if the government insists that it has ordered maximum restraint and "if those orders are disobeyed, or there are violations of procedure, troops have to be held to account."
She said there has clearly been "excessive and indiscriminate use of force" leading to scores of fatalities and hundreds of injuries in the recent protests. "There are repeated allegations about abusive and rough treatment by security officials deployed on the streets," she said, adding that the state response to peaceful protests has also been "disappointing."
The HRW South Asia Director also expressed concern about the reports of troops deployed in Kashmir schools. "In addition to endangering student and teacher safety, the military use of schools also hinders children's access to education and lowers the quality of their studies," she said, adding that HRW has documented around the world that turning classrooms into barracks leads to disruptions to studies, lower school enrollment, decreased school attendance, and damage to school infrastructure. "It is important that peaceful voices of dissent and criticism receive a fair hearing," she said in response to a question. "That is the way to address discontent, so that people are assured that they will get justice."