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SRINAGAR: A prominent rights group in India-held Kashmir is advocating for the United Nations to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate what it calls the endemic use of torture by government forces in the disputed region.

The Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) on Monday released a detailed report, saying India is using torture as a ‘matter of policy’ and ‘instrument of control’ in occupied Kashmir, where freedom fighters have fought Indian occupation since 1989.

“Torture is the most under-reported human rights violation perpetrated by the state,” the report noted. “Due to legal, political and moral impunity extended to the armed forces, not a single prosecution has taken place in any case of human rights violations” in the region, it said.

Indian authorities said they would study the report before commenting on it. In the past, officials have acknowledged torture exists in occupied Kashmir but have denied that Indian forces strategically use sexual and other abuses to control the population.

The 560-page report, researched for a decade, recommends an investigation be led by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It also urges India to ratify the UN Convention against torture and also allow global rights groups ‘unhindered access’ to occupied Kashmir.

Watchdog says India is using torture as a ‘matter of policy’ and an ‘instrument of control’ in disputed region

Last year, the UN in its first report on Kashmir called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations like rape, torture and extrajudicial killings in the region. The report, which JKCCS helped with field research, particularly criticised Indian troops for firing shotgun pellets against protesters, blinding and maiming hundreds of people, including children.

India rejected the UN report as ‘fallacious’. The new report includes 432 case studies involving torture and maps trends and patterns, targets, perpetrators, locations and other details. The cases include 293 civilians and 119 militants, among others, and 27 were minors when they were tortured.

Juan E. Mendz, former UN special rapporteur on torture, said the report would help draw attention to the need to express concern about India’s human rights record.

“For the worldwide struggle against torture, this report will constitute a landmark,” Mendz, who teaches human rights law at American University in Washington, wrote in the prologue of the report.

“I am convinced that a report, when it is as rigorous, evidence-based and persuasive as this one is, constitutes a building block towards public awareness of the tragedy of torture.”

The JKCCS has written scathing reports in the past about the brutality by some of the hundreds of thousands of Indian troops stationed in the region and highlighted the widespread of powers granted to them, which has led to culture of impunity and rights abuses. They were first to publicise thousands of unmarked graves in remote parts of Kashmir and demand that they be investigated to determine who the dead were and how they were killed.

Monday’s report said the institutions of the state like legislature, executive, judiciary and armed forces use torture “in a systematic and institutional manner”.

A series of political blunders by India, broken promises and a crackdown against the dissent escalated the conflict into a full-blown armed rebellion against Indian control in 1989. Since then, about 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

India has long seen the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination as Islamabad’s proxy war against New Delhi.

Occupied Kashmir is patrolled by military, paramilitary and armed police and remains one of the most militarised regions in the world.

Coils of barbed wire and security checkpoints are common, and emergency laws grant government forces sweeping powers to search homes and make arrests without warrants and to shoot suspects on sight without fear of prosecution.

According to the report, the methods of torture after the eruption of armed rebellion include stripping the detainees naked, rolling a heavy log on the legs, water-boarding, electrocution including of genitals, burning of the body with hot objects, sleep deprivation, and sexual torture, including rape and sodomy.

For years, international rights groups have accused Indian troops of using systematic abuse and unjustified arrests to intimidate residents opposing India’s rule. Human rights workers have accused Indian troops of sometimes even staging gun battles as pretexts to kill for promotions and rewards.

“Despite global attention and condemnation of torture following expose of indiscriminate torture practised in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons, torture remains hidden in Jammu and Kashmir, where tens of thousands of civilians have been subjected to it,” the report said.

Apart from advocacy, the report serves “as an institutionalised form of memory of trials and tribulations of the people” of the region, said Parvez Imroz, a prominent rights lawyer and JKCCS president.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2019