Centre halts probe in over 10,500 allegations of human rights violations against security forces in Kashmir

The authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have halted the investigation in tens of thousands of cases alleging human rights violation against the government and security forces before the region was converted into a Union Territory (UT) last year August.

Ishfaq Naseem August 16, 2020 19:31:21 IST
Centre halts probe in over 10,500 allegations of human rights violations against security forces in Kashmir

The authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have halted the investigation in tens of thousands of cases alleging human rights violation against the government and security forces before the region was converted into a Union Territory (UT) last year August.

The government had abolished the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) on 5 August last year after the central government abrogated Article 370 in the region.

While over 10,500 cases were lodged with the SHRC till last year August, there were at least 2,500 to 2,600 cases which were being heard on daily basis, said former secretary of JKSHRC, Nazir Ahmad Thokar. He said that a large number of cases were also not actively pursued by the complainants.

The forces in Kashmir have been accused of custodial killing, as well as, fake encounters. Human Rights groups have blamed Indian forces for custodial disappearances.

"In areas where government forces are engaged in counter-insurgency operations against armed groups fighting for independence or for the State to join Pakistan, the entire civilian population is at risk of arbitrary detention, torture, even death," noted one of the reports of Amnesty International.

In their statements, both Army and Police have said that they were a “disciplined” force. While the government forces have dismissed several complaints of abuse of power against them levelled by the local people, the army personnel earlier found involved in “human rights violations” couldn’t stand trial before the civilian authorities.

Since the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the government has dismissed the complaints of human rights abuses including those who alleged “torture” at the hands of government forces. Even though there were many detractors of the SHRC and critics were wary of its functioning as previous governments have been known to turn down recommendations by it, its former members said that the “authorities acted on several orders which were issued by us.”

The government's decision to halt the probe in these cases comes as the police and the Indian Army are inquiring into allegations of "fake encounter" in southern Kashmir's Shopian after death of three "civilians" of Rajouri.

“There are several fresh cases which have come to the fore in Jammu and Kashmir since the Commission was abolished, but there is no forum available for the people to approach now,” said former SHRC member, Abdul Hamid Wani. “There were some cases in which we had recommended action to the government and they acted on them,” he added.

Human rights activist, Mohammad Ehsan Untoo, said that he had filed at least 500 cases at the SHRC, that the commission was hearing before it was abolished. "I had filed over 41,000 cases before the Commission since it was constituted in 90s. In nearly 40,000 cases people had either been given jobs or compensated for the violations which were committed by the forces. In some cases they recommended action against the police and army officials as well,” he said.

Untoo said that the SHRC had its own investigation wing and it “was hearing the cases on daily basis and also made officials accountable by issuing warrants against them. This helped provide relief to the people.”

The SHRC had a staffing of nearly 100 officials including a separate investigation wing comprising of several police officials which was headed by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) rank officer.

Officials said that the government was unlikely to set up a separate commission in Jammu and Kashmir citing the stance of the ruling BJP which has often blamed Kashmiris for tarnishing the “image of security forces.”

“Constituting a separate commission or handing over the cases to the NHRC seems not to be the priority of the current government,” said a senior official of the law department. The government, however, has issued a string of orders which range from speeding up granting of domicile certificates to the non -state residents and changing the names of public offices in Jammu and Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir law secretary Achal Sethi said that the department was awaiting orders from the government on the opening up of cases which were pending with the SHRC. “We have not received any specific directions from the government over the issue,” he said.

Former chairman of the SHRC, Justice (retd), Bilal Nazki, said that the human rights body would settle the cases in two-three months. “The government has to either amend the Central human rights act to set up a separate Human Rights Commission office here or open the office of NHRC here,” he said.

Untoo said that it was not “possible for the complainants to travel all the way to Delhi to file the cases before the NHRC.”

“The decision on the change in laws has to be taken by the government. Now, the NHRC has the jurisdiction over Jammu and Kashmir and fresh cases can be filed online or before their office in Delhi,” said Sethi.

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