The News International, Saturday, March 30,
Black laws for Kashmiris
Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema
The writer works for Islamabad Policy Research Institute
Last 13 years have witnessed a rapid rise in human rights violations in Kashmir. The Indian security forces disregarding any fear of international criticism continue to practice their barbaric methods despite the fact that many human rights groups have consistently took notice of these despicable acts. Mary Robinson, United Nations high commissioner for human rights, during her recent visit to Pakistan, described human rights violations in Indian occupied Kashmir as "serious". The US State Department in its annual report on human rights for the year 2001 also expressed somewhat similar views. The report stressed that the Indian security force continued to commit human rights abuses in Kashmir including killing of civilians, excessive use of force, extra-judicial killings, torture and rape.
Most regional sources indicate that more than 81,000 Kashmiris have already sacrificed their lives in pursuit of freedom from Indian rule. Over 102,000 houses and shops have been either burnt or looted. More than 100,000 children have been orphaned and roughly 8,350 women have so far been molested. It is indeed difficult to calculate that how many Kashmiris are missing or hiding but rough estimates put the figure to over 100,000. These figures by themselves paint a horrible picture in Kashmir.
A simple look at the figures certainly lends ample support to Mary Robinson's contentions. It is indeed imperative that an immediate stop is put to such barbaric and blatant violations. It becomes even more pressing when one realises that the Indians have intensified their killing spree following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Effectively using the cover of international coalition against terrorism, the Indians are killing their own people as they claim that the disputed state of Kashmir is an integral part of India.
The successive Indian governments have not only consistently avoided to pay any heed to international and even local criticism but also further facilitated the security forces to perpetuate their nefarious pursuits. A series of black laws have been passed to facilitate the task of the security forces. Among the long list of black laws the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), Terrorism & Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and Jammu & Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act are the most prominent. The latest addition to the existing long list is POTO (Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance).
The Indian parliament in its joint session on March 26 passed the controversial black law, despite the major protests and vehement criticism by the opposition parties. The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance was originally presented to the Lok Sabha, which promptly passed it, but India's upper house rejected it with somewhat similar promptness. Following the defeat of their bill in the Rajya Sabha, the BJP decided to place it before the joint session of the Indian parliament. It needs to be stressed here that a joint session of the Indian parliament is rarely convened.
The ordinance has equipped the security forces with extraordinary lethal powers. According to ordinance, any act committed with any lethal weapon can be described as a terrorist act. The offences mentioned in POTO include even inviting support for a terrorist organisation, addressing a gathering of sympathisers that are deemed to be sympathetic to terrorist organisations and arranging, helping or assisting to arrange a meeting in which support for any terrorist organisation or its activities is expressed. The properties of the terrorists, terrorist organisations and their sympathisers would be seized. The suspects can be detained for three months without charges being brought against them and three more months if allowed by a special judge. A police officer can ask the court to order samples of handwritings, footprints, blood, saliva, semen and hair of a suspect. Refusal to give samples would be viewed as an act against the accused during a trial. Confession made to a police officer under certain conditions is admissible. A person suspected of having information but refusing to divulge it can be imprisoned. Police can link a person to terrorism if he is found with (even licensed) arms in a notified area.
Undoubtedly, POTO would be extensively used in Kashmir. Already many important Kashmiri leaders including Mr Yasin Malik have been arrested under the new ordinance. The Indian security forces are likely to take maximum advantage of this law. Rapid intensification of brutal activities is likely to manifest in some form. Ostensibly, it seems the BJP government is convinced that by introducing draconian laws like POTO, it would be able to secure complete control of the situation in Kashmir. What the BJP seems to be overlooking is the fact that those engaged in freedom struggle are unlikely to be deterred by any amount of suppressive tactics or draconian laws.
A long list of illegal arrests and unlawful killings by the Indian security forces has already been documented by many concerned agencies. However, no change has been so far registered in the attitude and policy pursuits of the Indian government. Many factors account for negligible success in this regard. The primary factor is the Indian government's obduracy and unwillingness to undertake corrective measures in accordance with the advice and appeals of human rights groups. Not only the government officials have frequently admitted that excesses have been regularly committed but they seem to enjoy this level of immunity, which, in turn, enables them to commit reckless and wild acts. Second, lack of interest on part of great powers has enabled the Indians to continue with such violations for a very long time. However, it needs to be stressed that all major human rights groups have almost regularly condemned India as one of the most notorious human rights violators in the world. The efforts and interest of organisations like Amnesty International, Asia Watch and International Committee for Red Cross have managed to invoke interest in many western countries. The third factor that has effectively impeded the desired improvement of the human rights situation is the perpetual conflict situation in South Asia. With a well-prepared and carefully planned propaganda, India has been attributing this macabre policy as a by-product of South Asian conflictual cobweb. Finally, the lack of sufficient level of interest by the UN has effectively arrested the quest for any betterment of the human rights situation in India in general and in Indian Occupied Kashmir in particular.
A much more active role by the international community is required to impress upon the central as well as the concerned state government to set up impartial judicial inquiries for all cases of human rights violations. If thorough and independent inquiries are not conducted to the satisfaction of the international community or demanding agency, then an independent commission should be established under the auspices of UN Commission on Human Rights with a specific mandate to probe all cases of rights violation in the Indian occupied Kashmir. If the Indian authorities block such a course of action, then the UN must seriously think about ways and means to influence the Indian government in order to secure the desired compliance. However what the International community has to guard against is the ability of the Indian government to employ mechanism that, invariably, either delays or blocks the anticipated actions. Over the years India has demonstrated a tendency to use the international agency for its own policy pursuits. It employs a long string of excuses and when the hollowness of one becomes visible, it immediately comes up with its replacements.
While the Kashmir committee has provided a fact-sheet to the UN high commissioner for human rights of intensified Indian brutalities against the innocent Kashmiris, it is somewhat imperative that a quick action is undertaken to alleviate the sufferings of the Kashmiris. The inhuman treatment accorded to the Kashmiris must stop. The sanctity of the internationally agreed principles that are operationalised by the UN Commission for Human Rights must not be allowed to erode by the efforts of one or two irrational members of the world body.