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US report cites widespread rights violations in India-held Kashmir

Updated March 16, 2019

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2018 US State Department’s country report notes that an estimated up to 145 civilians were killed by security forces. — AFP/File
2018 US State Department’s country report notes that an estimated up to 145 civilians were killed by security forces. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: The annual US report on human rights cites widespread human rights violations in the Indian occupied Kashmir, both by government forces and militant groups.

Quoting from a UN report on human rights in Kashmir, the 2018 US State Department’s country report notes that an estimated up to 145 civilians were killed by security forces between July 2016 and March, with up to 20 other civilians killed by armed groups in the same period.

The report shows that during 2018, various domestic and international human rights organisations continued to express serious concern at the use of pellet guns by security forces for crowd control purposes in Jammu and Kashmir.

Official government figures show that 17 individuals died from pellet gun injuries between July 2016 and August 2017. Former chief minister for the occupied Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti told the state legislative assembly that pellet guns injured 6,221 people in Kashmir between July 2016 and February 2017.

The report notes that the Indian Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in Jammu and Kashmir, permits state authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for up to two years without visitation from family members. Although state authorities allowed detainees access to a lawyer during interrogation, police allegedly and “routinely employed arbitrary detention and denied detainees access to lawyers and medical attention.”

The report also refers to a state government report, stating that more than 1,000 prisoners were detained under the PSA between March 2016 and August 2017. According to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, political prisoners made up one-half of all state detainees.

India also enforces the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), in a central government-designated “disturbed area,” which authorises security forces in the state to use deadly force to “maintain law and order” and arrest any person “against whom reasonable suspicion exists” without informing the detainee of the grounds for arrest.

The AFSPA remained in effect in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, and parts of Mizoram, and a version of the law was in effect in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The US report notes that there’s “considerable public support for repeal of the AFSPA, particularly in areas that experienced a significant decrease in insurgent attacks.”

The NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative noted in its 2016 report that, of 186 complaints of human rights violations reported against the armed forces in states under the AFSPA between 2012 and 2016, 49.5 percent were from Jammu and Kashmir.

The US report also notes that the state government in Kashmir reported 9,042 injured protesters and 51 persons killed between July 2016 and February 2017. The report called for the repeal of the AFSPA in all states and territories, and an international probe into the human rights situation in the Indian state.

The US report notes that disappearances attributed to government forces, paramilitary forces, and insurgents occurred in areas of conflict during the year 2018. The association of Parents of Disappeared Persons submitted inquiries for 639 cases of alleged disappearance in the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The US report also refers to allegations that police failed to file required arrest reports for detained persons, resulting in hundreds of unresolved disappearances. Such reports also indicated that prison guards sometimes required bribes from families to confirm the detention of their relatives.

In February the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances informed the government about 16 newly reported cases of enforced disappearances that allegedly occurred between 1990 and 1999.

Police beatings of prisoners resulted in custodial deaths. On Aug 2, 2018, activist Talib Hussain was allegedly tortured in the custody of Samba police in Kashmir and suffered a fractured skull. Hussain was a witness in the gang rape and murder case of eight-year-old Asifa Bano.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2019