Cablegate: Icrc Frustrated with Indian Government
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
Wednesday, 06 April 2005, 13:56
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 NEW DELHI 002606
EO 12958 DECL: 04/05/2015
TAGS PHUM, PREL, PTER, IN, PK, Human Rights
SUBJECT: ICRC FRUSTRATED WITH INDIAN GOVERNMENT
Classified By: DCM Robert O. Blake, Jr. for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (S) Summary: In a April 1 confidential briefing on GOI detention centers in Kashmir, ICRC XXXXXXXXXXXX described to D/Polcouns torture methods and relatively stable trend lines of prisoner abuses by Indian security forces, based on data derived from 1491 interviews with detainees during 2002-2004. The continued ill-treatment of detainees, despite longstanding ICRC-GOI dialogue, have led the ICRC to conclude that the New Delhi condones torture. The MEA/MHA recently protested ICRC presence and activities in J&K, and keeps the organization in legal limbo, but allows their operations to continue. Security forces in J&K are open to ICRC seminars in international humanitarian law (IHL). ICRC stressed that it was not asking for USG action, but may seek to mobilize support in the future, if its relations with the GOI do not improve. Separately, the media reported that COAS LTG JJ Singh put human rights issues at the center of an April 4 conference of army commanders. End Summary. ICRC XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX gave us a confidential briefing on the ICRC Kashmir program, the first such detailed and organized presentation Embassy has received in a number of years. The XXXXXXXXXXXX have limited the information they have exchanged with us to general comments on the human rights situation in Kashmir and the Northeast “in order to respect their confidentiality agreement with the GOI,” with which relations have been strained. XXXXXXXXXXXX intimated that the reason he was departing from this practice was ICRC annoyance with the GOI, and his view that the USG would be an ally in ICRC attempts to regularize its status in India. The UK, Holland, and France would receive the same briefing, he stated.
3. (S) ICRC has been active in India for 23 years, but signed its first and only MOU in 1995, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. Since the last ministerial in 1998, contacts have been at periodic Roundtables with the MEA and MHA, led on the Indian side by a Joint Secretary (A/S equivalent). The atmosphere at these meetings has usually been testy, with GOI interlocutors singling out some ICRC activities as “not part of the MOU,” and occasionally claiming that data presented are “not specific enough” (even going to far as to call some of them “lies”). At recent Roundtables, ICRC has provided thick books to the GOI, which has over time raised fewer questions about the data and focused more on activities that were not carefully delineated in the MOU. Between these meetings, ICRC contact is kept to the Deputy Secretary level (the second lowest in protocol terms). Thus far, ICRC staff had not had problems with visas, he stated. (Note: The MOU was facilitated by the Embassy in the early 1990s and resulted from extensive interaction between the Mission Front Office and XXXXXXXXXXXX. End Note)
4. (S) According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, a MEA Note Verbale from January 30 stated that the GOI values its relations with the ICRC, and also its instruction in international humanitarian law (IHL) to security forces. However, he said the MEA also protested the ICRC’s presence in Srinagar, asking it to “wind up” its operations, advising that its “public activities must stop” (believed to be a reference to a seminar ICRC staff held at Kashmir University on IHL in 2004), and warning against “unauthorized contacts with separatist elements” (which ICRC acknowledges have taken place, including with XXXXXXXXXXXX). (Comment: This GOI request to “wind up” operations in Srinagar seems more like a warning to keep to the letter of the MOU than a real threat to close down there. End Comment)
Detention Center Visits
5. (S) ICRC staff made 177 visits to detention centers in J&K and elsewhere (primarily the Northeast) between 2002-2004, meeting with 1491 detainees, 1296 of which were private interviews. XXXXXXXXXXXX considered this group a representative sample of detainees in Kashmir, but stressed that they had not been allowed access to all detainees. In 852 cases, detainees reported what ICRC refers to as “IT” (ill-treatment): 171 persons were beaten, the remaining 681 subjected to one or more of six forms of torture: electricity (498 cases), suspension from ceiling (381), “roller” (a round metal object put on the thighs of sitting person, which prison personnel then sit on, crushing muscles -- 294); stretching (legs split 180 degrees -- 181), water (various forms -- 234), or sexual (302). Numbers add up to more than 681, as many detainees were subjected to more than one form of IT. ICRC stressed that all the branches of the security forces used these forms of IT and torture.
GOI Points to Improvements
6. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX reported that during recent ICRC interactions with the GOI, officials have maintained that the human rights situation in Kashmir is “much better than it was in the 1990s,” a view he also agreed with. Security forces no longer roused entire villages in the middle of the night and detained inhabitants indiscriminately, as they had as recently as the late 1990s. There is “more openness from medical doctors and the police,” who have conceded that 95 percent of the information on particular cases is accurate. Ten years ago, there were some 300 detention centers; now there are “a lot fewer,” he stated.
7. (S) While acknowledging these improvements, XXXXXXXXXXXXmade a number of additional observations based on ICRC experience in Kashmir that indicate persistent problems:
-- There is a regular and widespread use of IT and torture by the security forces during interrogation; -- This always takes place in the presence of officers; -- ICRC has raised these issues with the GOI for more than 10 years; -- Because practice continues, ICRC is forced to conclude that GOI condones torture; -- Dialogue on prison conditions is OK, dialogue on treatment of detainees is not; -- Security forces were rougher on detainees in the past; -- Detainees were rarely militants (they are routinely killed), but persons connected to or believed to have information about the insurgency; -- ICRC has never obtained access to the “Cargo Building,” the most notorious detention center in Srinagar; and -- Current practices continue because “security forces need promotions,” while for militants, “the insurgency has become a business.”
Trend Lines Constant
8. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX showed us two graphs depicting data obtained from interviews conducted during the past two years, with lines and bars tracing the various kinds of ill-treatment. All the lines were zig-zag in nature, but within bands and largely horizontal. There were no clear trend lines, up or down. The lines at the end of 2004 were in an order of magnitude roughly comparable to 2002. He did not attribute the spikes up or down to particular policies in place at particular times, but called them “ad hoc changes.”
9. (S) The ICRC official indicated that his organization would seek another Roundtable with the MEA and MHA between April and June. The ICRC New Delhi office also wants its President to visit India, to raise these and other issues in a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. XXXXXXXXXXXX considered this “very important,” although stressed that it was not agreed. After 23 years of activities in country, the ICRC also wants to regularize its status by concluding a formal agreement with the GOI like that enjoyed by UN agencies. Most importantly, ICRC seeks a “purposive, rather than restrictive” interpretation of its existing MOU and and end to IT and torture.
10. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX said the one bright spot in ICRC activities was with the security forces. Staff have conducted more than 300 sessions with SF on IHL in Kashmir and elsewhere, which have touched an estimated 20,000 junior grade officers in one way or another. Discussions are underway for further sessions with officers at the headquarters of the Southern Command in Pune (Maharashtra) and Northern Command in Udhampur (J&K).
COAS: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist
11. (C) In a separate but related development, the media reported that COAS LTG JJ Singh made military discipline issues the centerpoint of a conference for army commanders April 5, following reports that Defense Minister Mukherjee was disturbed by continued reports of human rights violations by the security forces. Addressing the conference, Mukherkee observed that “we must realize that while dealing with insurgents, we are operating within our own territory and allegations of human rights violations will not only sully the image of the army, but also reduce our effectiveness in tackling militancy.” As part of his “velvet glove, iron fist” approach, Singh has repeatedly stipulated that his officers should use “minimum force” and avoid “collateral damage” in their units in order to reverse declining standards in discipline.
12. (S) The fact that ICRC reversed its practice of the last several years to provide this briefing to us reflects its frustration with the MEA and MHA, although we note that their experience with security forces in J&K is clearly better than in the past, pragmatic and bordering on the positive. The data showing stable trend lines of ill-treatment and torture in detention centers are very disturbing, because the practice continues unabated. It does not appear that the GOI is planning anything precipitous, but the ICRC is clearly upping the ante with the GOI, which it charges with “not playing ball.” ICRC considers the status quo “unacceptable,” and wants substantive dialogue with the GOI. Their approach to us may be a prelude to a more assertive stance vis-a-vis New Delhi, which could be helpful in goading the Home Ministry and MOD to taking firmer action, but also risks backfiring if the GOI starts to back out of a long-negotiated working relationship which has produced valuable results over the past decade. MULFORD