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HRW: Background Briefing On Kashmir

Background Briefing
President Clinton's South Asia Visit
Human Rights Watch

Abuses by Indian Security Forces and Militant Groups

Human rights violations by all parties in Kashmir have been a critical factor behind the escalation in fighting there. Even if the current crisis is resolved, the conflict will not end unless the international community puts pressure on India to end widespread human rights violations by its security forces in Kashmir, and on Pakistan to end its support for abusive militant groups. Specific recommendations are outlined below.


In the wake of rising tensions in the region Indian troops in the state continue to carry out summary executions, disappearances, rape and torture. Militant groups in the state have also stepped up their attacks on civilians. In a July 1999 report published by HRW titled "Behind the Kashmir Conflict," we documented the Indian government offensive in Doda and other southern border districts adjoining the Kashmir valley. The offensive has revived patterns of abuse by Indian forces that had abated in the Kashmir valley, where the conflict has been centered since it began in earnest in 1990. The report concluded that the Kashmir conflict not only continues to raise the specter of war between India and Pakistan, but it also continues to produce serious human rights violations: summary executions, rape, and torture.

In their effort to curb support for pro-independence militants, Indian security forces have resorted to arbitrary arrests and collective punishment of entire neighborhoods, tactics which have led to further disaffection from India.

The militants, meanwhile, have kidnaped and killed civil servants and suspected informers. These actions, together with the fact that many of the militants are crossing into India controlled Kashmir from Pakistan, have reinforced India's determination to eliminate the security threat by any means necessary.

The Indian army continues to conduct cordon-and-search operations in Muslim neighborhoods and villages, detaining young men, assaulting other family members and summarily executing suspected militants. The brutal tactics employed resemble those used in the early 1990s - indiscriminate shootings and assaults, rape, and arson - that provoked widespread anger among the local population. Such wholesale attacks on civilians have resumed in the Kashmir valley after a brief lull, and have increased in the southern border districts where they are perceived by the local population as an attempt by Indian forces to punish and intimidate the Muslim community at large.

In Doda district, where the population is almost evenly divided between Hindus and Muslims, there is growing concern that tensions between the two communities could ignite a wider communal conflict. Aggravating the situation, the army has recruited ex-servicemen, who for historical reasons are almost exclusively Hindu, to serve in Village Defence Committees (VDCs) that assist the army in military operations.

In part to the Kargil conflict and the military coup in Pakistan, the Kashmir valley has returned to a state of serious unrest. The Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party (PDP, a party founded by former Home Minister Muftee Mohammad Sayeed) recently condemned human rights violations across the state, saying that cases of killing, torture, and excessive violence were growing at an alarming rate, especially in the Kashmir valley.

The All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, the political umbrella organization of the militant organizations, also regularly decries over human rights abuses.

There has been a rise in militant activities since mid-1999. According to observers, the Pakistani-backed incursions into India-controlled Kashmir in May, coupled with the recent hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane in December by armed men who demanded the release of three jailed Kashmiris, have provided a "psychological boost" to the militants, who have targeted security camps and barracks with impunity. As a result, Indian troops stationed in Kashmir have become increasingly nervous and "trigger-happy." The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the militants now possess more sophisticated and powerful explosives, which are used regularly to target Indian security forces and innocent civilians.

Now that the majority of the militants are from the Pakistan-occupied section of Kashmir, from Pakistan, or are foreign mercenaries, means that they lack accountability to the local population. In addition, Indian and Pakistani troops are taking part in skirmishes and shelling across the Line of Control (LoC) on an almost daily basis, with the result that conditions for the people living along it on both sides has become increasingly fraught with danger. The present buildup of Pakistani troops along the border suggests that military tensions in the region are unlikely to subside in the near future.

Civilians continue to be killed or injured in the course of regular confrontations or "encounters" between Indian security forces and militants. For example, in early January, the town center of Pattan was destroyed when Indian soldiers set fire to a number of shops in the crowded central market in retaliation for a nearby ambush in which militants had killed two soldiers. In February, Indian security forces burned cars and beat people with sticks and rifle butts in Srinagar after militants gunned down three officers in the busy central market area of Lal Chowk. In addition to such displays of force and violence in public places, militants and law-enforcement personnel continue to target each other's families. According to an article in the Kashmir Times, when militants gunned down a Special Police Officer (SPO) and members of his family in

their home in February, the Special Operations Group went to a militant's house in a neighboring village and fired upon him and members of his family, including women and children.

Illegal detentions also continue, with the majority of people being released after two or three days of harassment and sometimes torture. However, both militants and suspected sympathizers are still being killed while in the custody of the police or army. For example, a militant named Ghulam Muhammad was killed in custody at Panjwa, Doda district, late last year, and six Kashmiri youths were killed in custody in Doda, Jammu, and Srinagar in January. M. Akbar Tantray, an Imam of a mosque in Rafiabad, was reported missing on February 8. Following his arrest during an army crackdown on January 30, family members were told by the army unit concerned that he was not in their custody, and despite their having lodged a report at Baramulla

police station, his whereabouts are still unknown. In addition, corruption continues to be a factor in contributing to human rights abuses. People who have been detained by police or security forces are frequently incarcerated or tortured with the aim of extracting money from them or their families.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions by the police have been followed by protest demonstrations. In October, the arrest of six women by troops sparked demonstrations held in Naargan, Rajouri and Doda. Demonstrations were also triggered by the death in detention of a farmer in Kupwara.

Prosecutions of security personnel responsible for abuses are rare and official impunity is a major obstacle. The State Human Rights Commission, which is mandated to investigate complaints of human rights violations and make non-binding recommendations to the government, began its work in early 1998 and in the past two years has registered over 500 cases. The commission does not take up cases already pending before the High Court. In addition, the commission's work is severely hampered by the fact that it cannot directly investigate abuses carried out by the army or other federal forces. These forces conduct their own investigations, the results of

which are not made public. Although government officials claim that disciplinary measures have been taken against some security personnel, criminal prosecutions do not take place.

In a statement released in January 2000, the Indian army said that it had punished 56 of its personnel for human rights violations in Kashmir. Although there are reports that some of those found guilty were dismissed, the army said that the punishment meted out was limited to a denial of promotion for the remaining length of service. An army spokesman said that the army had investigated 822 of the 955 complaints of human rights violations it had received in 1999 and found that only 24 were of substance.

Human Rights Watch urges the U.S. government to suspend any military aid or weapons sales and all programs of military cooperation with India, including joint exercises and training programs, until India provides greater accountability on cases of "disappearances," torture, and summary killings by its forces in Kashmir and disarms all state-sponsored paramilitary groups operating in Kashmir. At present, the only U.S. military assistance provided to India is through the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. Allocations for fiscal year 2000 were $450,000 (estimated). The transfer of defenses articles and services to India was suspended on May 13, 1998, under Section 102 of the Arms Export Control Act, the Glenn Amendment. President Clinton lifted sanctions on the provision of military education and training on Oct. 29, 1999, but arms transfers remain subject to the Act. In addition, the Clinton administration should urge the Indian government to:

- Immediately establish branch offices of the State Human Rights Commission in Doda, Rajouri and Punch to initiate inquiries into allegations of abuse, and provide support to local human rights organizations operating there. The commission should be empowered to investigate even those cases under review by the courts.

- Cease recruitment along communal lines for village defense committees (VDCs); existing VDCs that are communally based should be disbanded. All such groups should immediately be disarmed unless they are brought within the chain of command of the regular military. Members of VDCs responsible for extrajudicial killings, assaults, and other abuses should be prosecuted.

- Ensure that all reports of extrajudicial executions, "disappearances," deaths in custody, torture, and rape by security forces and unofficial paramilitary forces in Kashmir are investigated promptly by a independent judicial authority empowered to subpoena security force officers and official registers and other documents. Security personnel, including police, army, and paramilitary, responsible for these abuses should be prosecuted in civilian courts. Only with such trials and appropriate punishments will these forces receive the clear, unequivocal message that human rights violations are not condoned by their superiors. Those found guilty of abuse should be punished regardless of rank.

- The punishments should be at least as severe as those specified under civilian law, except that the death penalty should never be applied. The results of these investigations and the punishments should be made public in order, among other things, to reassure the people of Kashmir as to the government's commitment to justice and the rule of law. Orders should be given immediately that police are to register all reports of abuse; anyone in the security forces found to have issued contrary instructions and any member of the police who has refused to register cases should be disciplined to the full extent of the law.

- Disarm and disband all state-sponsored militias not established and regulated by law and prosecute members of such groups who have been responsible for extrajudicial killings, "disappearances," assaults, and other abuses. The government of India should establish a civilian review board to oversee any rehabilitation program for surrendered militants. This review board should have access to records on surrendered weapons and should review vocational training programs to ensure that no former militants are compelled to serve in state paramilitary forces not established and regulated by law, or induced to take part in security operations that may violate international human rights and humanitarian law.

- Establish a centralized register of detainees accessible to lawyers and family members. Although the government of India has promised such a register since 1993, it has yet to be established. In addition, security personnel continue to defy court orders to produce detainees in court. Both of these factors have increased the likelihood of"disappearances." The government of India should take stern and swift action against all officers who have obstructed or ignored judicial orders to produce detainees. All places of detention should be made known to the court and be subject to regular inspection by a magistrate. In addition, the security agencies should require that arresting officers provide signed and dated receipts for all detainees to family members, village elders, or persons of similar status. The receipt would be retrieved when the person is released.

The Indian government does not have a monopoly on abuses in Kashmir, of course. During his planned visit to Pakistan, the President should also make clear to the authorities there that there can be no end to the conflict unless all abuses cease. The US government should urge the government of Pakistan to end all support for abusive militant organizations in Kashmir and cease providing indiscriminate weapons, such as landmines, to such groups.

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