By Heena Kausar
Recently, the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) released a report Inquiry Report of Unmarked Graves in North Kashmir wherein they have confirmed presence of 2156 unidentified graves at 38 sites in North Kashmir. On 16 September 2011, the SHRC directed that the bodies should be identified using all available means and techniques including DNA profiling, dental examination and other forensic pathology techniques. However nothing concrete has been delivered yet. On 26 September Amnesty International gave an open letter to all members of the legislative assembly of Jammu and Kashmir to raise human rights violation concerns in the house and ensure that such issues are not ignored. In an interview with Heena Kausar, Amnesty International’s India Campaigner- Asia Pacific Programme, Bikramjeet Batra points out that though the SHRC report is an important recognition of the widely held belief but it’s only the first step.
HK: Mass Graves in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir) is not a new discovery but with the SHRC (State Human Rights Commission) notifying around 2700 mass graves, once again the attention, even though for a small time, has been shifted to this issue. How do you, as an International Human Right organization see this whole issue and short term attention given to it by the government and Media?
BB: Amnesty International welcomes the report by the SHRC – it is an important recognition of the existence of unmarked graves and the links with the thousands who are believed to have been subject to enforced disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir. But this is only a first step. The evidence – including the grave sites and the witnesses must be safeguarded, investigations carried out and the human remains forensically tested. Most importantly, where any evidence of extra-judicial executions or torture appears, prosecution of those suspected of such crimes must take place.
There is strong reason to believe that many of the grave sites hold bodies of persons who had previously disappeared
HK: There are thousands of disappeared people across the state of J&K. Do you think there are disappeared people in these graves, as many of the bodies in the graves have been established as locals?
BB: There is strong reason to believe that many of the grave sites hold bodies of persons who had previously disappeared. The SHRC report points out that 574 bodies have already been identified as disappeared locals. Even the SHRC has concluded that there is “every probability” that the remaining over 2100 unidentified graves “may contain the dead bodies of [persons subject to] enforced disappearances.” Even if some of the bodies are of unidentified members of armed groups, investigations into extra-judicial executions and torture must still be carried out.
HK: Do you think laws like AFSPA, which give total immunity to the armed forces to commit any act and get away with it, are responsible for this crime? Also the level of prosecution of Officers involved in Human Right violation cases is very rare, what do you think can be done for that?
BB: The AFSPA creates significant obstacles for prosecution of members of the armed forces, even when they are suspected of grave violations of human rights. The absence of prosecution allows for impunity. Amnesty International has previously called for the AFPSA to be repealed. While it remains in existence, neither the J&K nor the Indian government should withhold sanction for prosecution where violations of human rights are suspected. Unfortunately this has rarely been done by the authorities.
Amnesty International is disappointed that no concrete announcements and commitments were made by the Government with respect to investigation into unmarked graves and the revocation of the Disturbed Areas Act.
HK: Amnesty International gave an open letter to the members of J&K legislative assembly. Do you expect something concrete from the state assembly members?
BB: While the responsibility for much of what is required lies with the State government, members of the J&K legislative assembly have a duty to raise human rights issue in the assembly. Amnesty International is disappointed that no concrete announcements and commitments were made by the Government with respect to investigation into unmarked graves and the revocation of the Disturbed Areas Act. We are also unaware of any legislation that the Government introduced to amend the PSA and JJA (Juvenile Justice Act), as they had previously stated. We hope that members of the assembly will demand accountability on human rights issues in the assembly.
HK: With the small amount of attention given to this issue by mainstream Indian media and politicians, do you think, India at large is concerned about this issue?
BB: We hope that the Central Government will take this issue seriously and work with the state government to ensure that those suspected of human rights violations are brought to justice, in a fair trial.
HK: Does this issue come under International War crimes? What are the international measures to investigate issue like this?
BB: Investigations into the grave sites must be carried out by impartial forensic experts in line with the UN Model Protocol on the disinterment and analysis of skeletal remains.
The evidence – including the grave sites and the witnesses must be safeguarded, investigations carried out and the human remains forensically tested
HK: Is Amnesty planning to do something on Mass Graves, like what it did last year on PSA- a lawless law report?
BB: Amnesty International is following the issue very closely and working with local groups like the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons who have been at the forefront of raising concerns of disappeared persons and their families.
HK: How was the response by Government for Amnesty’s PSA report and were any rectifying measures taken by the government?
BB: In the previous session of the assembly the Chief Minister claimed that the Amnesty International report on PSA would be studied thoroughly and amendments carried out in the law. In mid July, state Law Minister Ali Muhammad Sagar reportedly told a press conference in Srinagar that the Law Department had approved amendments in the PSA. In August, officials from the Home department confirmed that they were examining the issue.
Detentions under the PSA continue on a regular basis and a number of political leaders and activists remain detained without charge of trial
Amnesty International is unaware of any legislation introduced by the Government to amend or repeal the PSA during the assembly session. Detentions under the PSA continue on a regular basis and a number of political leaders and activists remain detained without charge of trial.
The Chief Minister had also previously made a statement that the gaps in the JJA would be filled and asked the Law Department to look into this issue. Officials of the Social Welfare department and the Law Department were also quoted in press reports in late June stating that a new legislation on juvenile justice was likely to be tabled in the September session of the state assembly. No amendment bill for the JJA also appears to have been introduced in this session of the assembly.
Photos: Amnesty International (top), wn.com (bottom)