India has a terrible record of HR abuses in Occupied Kashmir
What does not seem to be on the agenda at the next session of the so-called "Composite Dialogue" between India and Pakistan, to be held in New Delhi, is India's appalling record of human rights violations in Occupied Kashmir.
For the past several years, "confidence building measures" (CBMs) have been the buzzword at talks between the two countries. But CBMs like the much-touted bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad can never generate any confidence among the Muslim population of Indian-occupied Kashmir so long as the Indian army continues its reign of terror in the beleaguered territory.
The struggle of the Muslims of Indian-occupied Kashmir is not about bus services; it is about ridding the territory of the Indian occupation forces and about the holding of a free and fair plebiscite to determine the territory's future status.
Back in 2004, the then-Indian army chief, General N. C. Vij, speaking at the inauguration of a commanders' conference in New Delhi on April 12 of that year, came out with the astonishing claim that the Indian army's human rights record in Occupied Kashmir was "impeccable".
Echoing their chief's astonishing comments, Indian army officers were quoted by the Times of India as saying: "Around 1,380 allegations (of human rights abuses) have been leveled in Kashmir since 1990. Out of these, only 36 allegations in Jammu & Kashmir have been found to be genuine."
In fact, the Indian army has a terrible human rights record in Occupied Kashmir, as spelled out in detail in numerous reports by international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
A report by two human rights organisations, Asia Watch, a division of Human Rights Watch, and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), charges that Indian security forces in Occupied Kashmir have deliberately executed hundreds of detainees in custody as part of a "catch and kill" policy to crush the freedom struggle of Kashmiri Muslims.
"More than any other phenomenon, these deliberate killings reveal the magnitude of the human rights disaster in Kashmir," says the report.
Condemning the human rights abuses, the report urges India to take immediate and effective steps to end the abuses, rigorously prosecute security personnel responsible and grant access to international human rights organisations in order to prevent abuse of detainees.
The 163-page report, "The Human Rights Crisis in Kashmir: A Pattern of Impunity", focuses on the sharp escalation in human rights abuses, particularly custodial deaths, reprisal killings, rape, torture and assaults on the medical community by Indian paramilitary and military forces since December 1989, when the current insurgency against Indian occupation began.
The findings contained in the report are based on an analysis of the testimony of over 130 witnesses, independently selected and interviewed by Asia Watch and PHR, as well as medical examinations and other documentation of the incidents described.
The report concludes that while the conflict in Kashmir constitutes a grave security threat, the steps taken by the Indian government to crush the insurgency have resulted in grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
"Moreover, the Indian authorities have done little to curb these abuses," the report adds. "Members of the Indian army and security forces are almost never prosecuted for human rights violations in Kashmir. In the rare cases in which investigations have taken place, the most severe punishment for abuses have generally been limited to dismissal or suspension from duty."
The report says: "The Indian government's failure to account for these abuses and take rigorous action against those members of its forces responsible for murder, rape and torture amounts to a policy of condoning human rights violations by the security forces."
Among the worst of these violations have been the summary executions of hundreds of detainees in the custody of the security forces in Occupied Kashmir. "Such killings are carried out as a matter of policy," says the report.
Nineteen cases are documented in detail in the report. In one case, Indian Border Security Force (BSF) troops detained a young man, Masroof Sultan, tortured him with electric shock, and then took him to a field where they shot him four times and left him for dead.
In another case documented in the report, four young men were shot dead after being taken into custody on April 9, 1993, despite the fact that the deputy commissioner of the district told relatives that the young men were in custody but would be released.
"Indian army soldiers and paramilitary troops of the BSF and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have also engaged in frequent reprisal attacks against civilians, opening fire in crowded markets and residential areas, and burning down entire neighbourhoods," says the report.
The report says that security legislation has increased the likelihood of such abuses by authorising the security forces to shoot to kill and to destroy civilian property. "Under these laws, the security forces are protected from human rights violations," says the report. The report documents many such incidents.
"Most detainees taken into custody by the security forces in Kashmir are tortured," says the report. "Torture is practiced to coerce detainees to reveal information about suspected militants or to confess to militant activity. It is also used to punish detainees who are believed to support or sympathise with the militants and to create a climate of political repression."
The report says methods of torture include severe beatings, electric shock, suspension by the feet or hands, stretching the legs apart, burning with heated objects, and crushing the muscles with a heavy wooden ruler. "Rape most often occurs during crackdowns, cordon-and-search operations during which men are held for identification in parks or schoolyards while security forces search their homes, " says the report. "In these situations, the security forces frequently engage in collective punishment against the civilian population by assaulting residents and burning their homes."
Another report by Human Rights Watch/Asia says that Indian security forces have intensified their efforts against militant groups, stepping up cordon-and-search operations and summarily executing captured militant leaders.
"Alongside them, operating as a secret, illegal army, have been state-sponsored paramilitary groups," says the report. "Many of these groups have been responsible for grave human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture and illegal detention as well as election-related intimidation of voters."
The report says the deterioration in the human rights situation can be traced to early 1995 when the security forces began making systematic use of these irregular militias.
"While attempting to reassure the international community that they have taken steps to curb human rights abuses in Kashmir, Indian forces have in effect subcontracted some of their abusive tactics to groups with no official accountability," says the report.
"The extrajudicial killings, abductions and assaults committed by these groups against suspected militants are instead described as resulting from 'intergroup rivalries.'"
But civilians have also been their victims, and the state-sponsored militia groups have singled out journalists, human rights activists and medical workers for attack.
The report says: "They have been given free rein to patrol major hospitals in Srinagar, particularly the Soura Institute, the Sri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital and the Bone and Joint Hospital. They have murdered, threatened, beaten and detained hospital staff. In some cases these abuses have occurred in full view of security force bunkers or in the presence of security force officers. They have also removed patients from hospitals. These abuses constitute clear violations of medical neutrality."
Violations of human rights and humanitarian law by the regular security forces - the Indian army, the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force - have also continued. These violations include the deliberate killing of detainees in the custody of the security forces in Occupied Kashmir and reprisal killings of civilians.
In the 17 years since December 1989, more than 70,000 Muslim civilians, including women and children, have been killed by the Indian army and paramilitary forces in Occupied Kashmir. With some 600,000 Indian army troops and paramilitary forces stationed in Occupied Kashmir today, the beleaguered state has the highest troops-to-population ratio for any territory on earth.
Can things like bus services compensate for the barbaric actions of the Indian army, BSF and Delhi-backed goon squads?