Human rights abuses in Kashmir – issue of mass graves
Dr Shabir Choudhry 11 July 2012
Documentary shown on the British TV Channel 4 at 11.10pm on Tuesday 10 July 2012 was harrowing tale of human right abuses perpetrated by para military forces in Kashmir. Although a lot of what had happened has been compiled by different human rights organisations; and highlighted in Kashmir, India and at the international level, still it was distressing to see and hear what trauma my countrymen had to endure.
No one can deny that human rights have taken place in Kashmir. But reading about these tragic events is one thing, and going through them or witnessing them is totally another. I am sure the documentary made by a Kashmiri human rights activist Parvaiz Imroz has done a great service to promote and protect human rights in the Valley of Kashmir; and the British TV Channel has also obliged us by showing tragic stories of human rights abuses. I am sure many Kashmiri people were in tears after seeing that and listening to the horror stories, at least my wife and children were.
Sad thing is that these human rights abuses were committed by para – military forces that were allowed to enter Jammu and Kashmir to protect dignity, honour and property of the people; and by a government that claims to be the biggest democracy and believes in promotion and protection of human rights.
It must be recalled that when the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir was attacked by the tribesmen supported by Pakistan, he requested India for help; and that help was only provided after India obtained ‘provisional accession’ from the beleaguered Ruler of Jammu and Kashmir. In reply to the Maharaja’s request, India’s Governor General Lord Mountbatten wrote:
‘In consistence with their policy that in the case of any State where the issue of accession has been the subject of dispute, the question of accession should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of the State, it is my Government’s wish that, as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and its soil cleared of the invader, the question of the State’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people. Meanwhile, in response to Your Highness’ appeal for military aid, action has been taken today to send troops of the Indian Army to Kashmir, to help your own forces to defend your territory and to protect the lives, property, and honour of your people.’
Indian forces are not only under obligation to protect human life and dignity because of this ‘provisional accession’; but also because of the obligations ordained in the UNCIP Resolutions. In addition, India has a duty to protect and promote human rights as a signatory to the UN Charter; but what we witness is a clear violation of these obligations and disrespect for human rights regime, at least in the Valley of Kashmir.
Some people point out that the army is in Kashmir because of the militants; and wherever army is sent to deal with militancy, insurgency and unrest human rights violations are bound take place. The counter argument is that the militancy and unrest started because the Indian government failed to honour its obligations; and frustrated people resorted to violence.
The Indian government’s view is that they are dealing with Pakistani trained ‘terrorists’ who were trained for the purpose of disrupting peace and stability of Kashmir, and communalise Kashmiri culture of tolerance and co – existence. True, militants were trained and sent by Pakistan; but in early years of the conflict, majority of the militants were local disgruntled youths. Later on, of course, non – Kashmiris took over the militancy; and they did enormous damage not only to the cause of Kashmir; but also they shattered social fabric of the Kashmiri society.
The Indian government also point out that these militants are mainly responsible for deaths because they start acts of violence in heavily populated areas; and when ‘security forces’ fight back these ‘terrorists’, innocent people get killed in cross firing. Furthermore, they claim ‘terrorists’ kill and torture those who refuse to cooperate with them. Whereas, one can find some truth in the above, but the fact remains it is the responsibility of the government to maintain peace and protect life, dignity and property of the people. Call them militants or ‘terrorists’, they are not signatory to the UN Charter to protect and promote human rights; or have any obligation under the UNCIP Resolutions.
If militants or ‘terrorists’ with weapons are killed in some encounter, then one can see some justification, as both parties were armed and ready to kill each other; but what justification is there to kill non – combatant civilians and rape women? According to Parvaiz Imroz more than ‘8,000 Kashmiri non-combatants had vanished from army custody in a state the size of Ireland – four times more than disappeared under Pinochet in Chile.’
Cathy Scott – Clark in a report published in Guardian London on 9 July 2012 notes:
‘Imroz widened his search, mapping almost 1,000 locations. He was shocked by the implications. Indian law requires that the police probe every violent death and that corpses be identified. But in the village of Bimyar, white-haired Atta Muhammad Khan came forward to describe how he had been forced to inter 203 unidentified bodies under cover of the night – men whose identities and crimes were unstated. “Some corpses were disfigured. Others were burnt. We did not ask questions.” It was a similar story in Kichama village, where the lawyer mapped 235 unmarked graves and in Bijhama, where 200 more unidentified corpses had been interred. In Srinagar, Imroz’s team alerted the government’s State Human Rights Commission (SHRC). “We suspected the missing of Kashmiris were buried at these secret sites,” he said, publishing a report, Facts Under Ground.’
As a Kashmiri I feel angry and frustrated because my countrymen are victims of human rights abuses; and sad thing is that those who committed these abuses are roaming free, as they are protected by certain laws. I and my party, Kashmir National Party condemn all the human rights abuses; and demand for abrogation of those laws that culprits could be punished and human rights abuses could be stopped. Can any Indian or pro India Kashmiri justify all the above abuses?
India claims Kashmir belongs to them because of that ‘provisional accession’. If one, for a moment, accepts this contention, then technically people of Jammu and Kashmir are Indians; question, however, arises, is this how civilised and democratic countries treat their own ‘citizens’
The above brutalities could not be justified under the pretext that Pakistan sent trained ‘terrorists’ to Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan have tragic history of animosity, confrontation and competition; the question is why should we people of Jammu and Kashmir become raw materials in their contest to defeat each other?
I agree, the prime responsibility of every government is to protect human life, dignity, honour and property; and if some people in name of right to protest or right to self – determination endanger life, dignity and property of citizens, the authorities have to step in to protect that. However, they have no right or mandate to trample all the above ideals just because they have guns and they are immune from any prosecution because of certain laws.
The authorities in Kashmir have certain obligations; and they cannot turn a blind eye to all these human rights abuses; and still claim to be champions of democracy and human rights. They have to act and act fast to stop these human rights abuses.
The Pakistani establishment, in order to equal a score against India, used sentiments of disgruntled and angry Kashmiri youths and created chaos in Kashmir that resulted in death of a generation and massive human rights abuses. The question is why people of Gilgit Baltistan are victims of human rights abuses when there is no Indian backed militancy going on there. Similarly, there is no Indian backed militancy going on in Pakistani occupied Kashmir; and yet people are denied of fundamental human rights; and they also suffer human rights abuses.
A friend and old colleague of JKLF from Nottingham (England) Isahaq Sahib phoned me a few days ago and complained why people of Azad Kashmir want to liberate Indian occupied Kashmir, when we are occupied by Pakistan on this side? He said, ‘Our first responsibility must be to get independence from Pakistan; and then help our brother across the LOC.’ He further said, ‘Those who gave us this policy that we should liberate the Indian occupied Kashmir were not sincere with us’.
I request both India and Pakistan to respect human rights of people of Jammu and Kashmir; and acknowledge this fact that the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed, and that there could be no peace and stability in the region without resolving the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the wishes of the people.
Writer is a political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.