Revoke controversial law in disputed Kashmir – Amnesty

Rights group says special law continues to feed a cycle of impunity for human rights violations in region.

Parveen AHANGER - Kashmir rights activist
Local rights activists like Parveena Ahanger says that the Indian military courts are “unreliable” and “dishonest” [Baba Umar/Al Jazeera]

India has not taken any member of its troops deployed in India-administered Kashmir to court for human rights violations, right body Amnesty International has said. 

The London-based human rights organisation said  in a new report released on Wednesday that 25 years after the introduction of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the disputed region, “the law continues to feed a cycle of impunity for human rights violations.” 

“[The] 5 of July 2015 will mark 25 years since the AFSPA in effect came into force in Jammu and Kashmir [or India-administered Kashmir],” said Minar Pimple, Senior Director of Global Operations at Amnesty International, while recommending the withdrawal of AFSPA in Kashmir. 

“Till now, not a single member of the security forces deployed in the state has been tried for human rights violations in a civilian court. This lack of accountability has in turn facilitated other serious abuses.”

Politician Naeem Akhtar's PDP party promised the law would be revoked during the 2014 election [Baba Umar/Al Jazeera]
Politician Naeem Akhtar’s PDP party promised the law would be revoked during the 2014 election [Baba Umar/Al Jazeera]

Often described by activists as ‘draconian’, AFSPA, a controversial law gives India’s soldiers impunity in battling rebellion in the country’s northeastern states and disputed Kashmir.

Local politicians and rights activists, including Amnesty, have for long sought its withdrawal from the Himalayan region. However, the Indian army says the withdrawal or amendment of what it calls an “enabling” law allows its army to carry out effective counter-rebellion operations in the region. 

The report titled “Denied: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir”, documents that obstacles faced in the pursuit of justice in the region.

“The current Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, was the Union Minister for Home Affairs when the AFSPA was enacted by the Indian Parliament in 1990,” said Minar Pimple of the global watchdog, adding “He [Sayeed] now has a historic opportunity to work to remove this oppressive law.”

Complete or partial revocation of the controversial law was the major poll promise of regional People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2014 when it formed a regional government with rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that heads the federal government. 

But there has been no headway on the issue between the uneasy coalition partners with New Delhi on Tuesday saying the last word on the issue should come from its army. 

“…I seriously believe the last word on this should not come from political functionaries but from security experts and security agencies,” said Jitendra Singh, a senior BJP leader in New Delhi. 

Indian army spokesperson Colonel Nitin Nihar Joshi told Al Jazeera that the issue of withdrawal of the AFSPA from Kashmir has to be decided by the regional and federal governments only. 

“We don’t have any say on it. We don’t dictate policies. Army will only follow what both the state and the central governments decide,” he said.

Many parents have died while seeking whereabouts of their sons... No money or compensation will substitute the lives of our dear ones

by Parveen Ahanger, activist

Immediately after the release of Amnesty’ report, politician Naeem Akhtar told Al Jazeera that the removal of AFSPA continues to be his party’s “major thrust”. 

“Our position is that it [AFSPA] is untenable in a democratic system,” the minister from The Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said. 

 “Its partial withdrawal is a necessity for revival of shrinking space and confidence of people and the functioning of democracy in Kashmir,” Akhtar said. 

The Act remains a key debate for the region, fatigued by 26 years of armed conflict between Indian soldiers and about a dozen rebel groups fighting for independence or merger of the entire region with Pakistan. 

Though the armed rebellion has ebbed since 2003 when the Asian nuclear rivals announced ceasefire, dissent in Kashmir gets mostly exhibited in sporadic gun fights and street protests. 

The report reveals New Delhi has denied permission, or ‘sanction’, to prosecute under section 7 of the AFSPA in every case brought against members of the army or paramilitary, or in a small number of cases, has kept the decision pending for years. 

The report quoting Mohammad Amin Magray, uncle of 17-year-old Javaid Ahmad Magray, who was killed in April 2003 by the troops saying: “If the [Indian] army knew they would be charged, and will have to go to court and be prosecuted, they will think ten times before they pull their triggers on an innocent…The AFSPA is a like a blank cheque from the government of India to kill innocents like my nephew”. 

Local rights activists like 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Parveena Ahanger says that the Indian military courts are “unreliable” and “dishonest”. 

“India has martyred one lakh people (100,000) in Kashmir. More than 8000 disappeared in the custody of army and state police. No one has returned so far. Without this act soldiers involved in the crimes could have been tried in local courts instead of Indian military courts we don’t trust.” 

Her son, Javaid Ahmad (16 then), was picked up by armed forces in 1990 and since then she continues to lead peaceful protests seeking independent international probe in the cases of disappeared. 

“Many parents have died while seeking whereabouts of their sons… No money or compensation will substitute the lives of our dear ones,” said Ahanger, who also leads one chapter of the rights body Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in the India-administered Kashmir.

Source: Al Jazeera