HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH Behind the Kashmir Conflict: Abuses by Indian Security Forces and Militant Groups Continue



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The dramatic escalation in May 1999 of cross-border shelling between India and Pakistan, and fighting between Indian troops and militants who have crossed over from Pakistan, have focused international attention on the security implications of the conflict. But the pattern of systematic human rights violations by all parties in Kashmir has been a critical factor in fueling the conflict that is often overlooked. If those violations had been seriously addressed at any time during the last ten years, the risk of a military confrontation between India and Pakistan might have been reduced.

This report documents human rights abuses in Indian-controlled Kashmir by both Indian security forces and Muslim militants, many of them believed to be Pakistani-trained, who have been fighting for independence. Focusing on the border areas in southern Kashmir that have emerged as important new areas of conflict since 1996, it also documents abuses that took place in the Kashmir valley in late 1998, based on extensive interviews with residents and government officials conducted during a mission in October 1998. Our goal is to provide some insight into the nature of the conflict, the way its geographic focus has shifted since 1996, the increasingly communal aspects of the longstanding political and territorial dispute, and measures that all parties to the conflict should take to prevent further abuses. The escalation in fighting has made it all the more urgent that the international community ensure these measures are taken.

The Kashmir conflict not only continues to raise the spectre of war between India and Pakistan, but it also continues to produce serious human rights violations: summary executions, rape, and torture by both sides. In their effort to curb support for pro-independence militants, Indian security forces have resorted to arbitrary arrest and collective punishments of entire neighborhoods, tactics which have only led to further disaffection from India. The militants have kidnapped and killed civil servants and suspected informers. These actions, together with the fact that many of the militants are crossing into India from Pakistan, have reinforced India's determination to eliminate the security threat by any means necessary. Indeed, the Indian air strikes that began in May were in response to the incursion from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir of a large contingent of militant forces into mountainous areas north of Kargil and Dras.

That incursion is part of the same pattern of militant activity documented in this report. Since 1996, as Indian forces have gained the upper hand in the major towns and villages of the Kashmir valley, militant groups have concentrated their efforts on occupying strategic areas along Kashmir's far northern and southern borders, including the districts of Rajouri, Punch, and Doda. In the early years of the conflict, the militants were largely from the Kashmir valley. With support from Pakistan, they were fighting for independence from India and some for accession to Pakistan. Although militant groups in Kashmir continue to draw recruits from among the local population, since 1996 the militant groups in these border areas have been predominantly Pakistani Kashmiris who support the independence struggle, or Pakistanis from elsewhere in the country who have been drawn to the conflict for ideological reasons. The groups often include Afghans and other foreign fighters who have no local base, although they may recruit local Kashmiri men to join them. The fact that a large contingent of these forces have entrenched in the high mountains near the towns of Kargil and Dras on the Indian side of the cease-fire line, known as the Line of Control, represents a major escalation in the conflict.

The reasons for the geographic shift from the Kashmir valley to the border areas lie in the changing military dimensions of the conflict. Indian forces have decimated the ranks of the militant groups operating inside Kashmir. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, a militant organization that was reputed to command the most popular support among Kashmiris, abandoned the military struggle in 1994. The remaining groups, most of which have close ties to Pakistan, have been largely driven to the more remote mountain areas of Doda and other southern districts from whose rugged terrain they launch attacks on Indian security forces and local civilians. Between 1997 and mid-1999, these groups have massacred more than 300 civilians. Several of those incidents are documented in this report. Although no organization has claimed responsibility for any of those massacres, two militant groups, Harakat-ul Ansar and Lashgar-i Toiba, are known to operate in the area and both include non-Kashmiris in their ranks. Although so-called foreigners operating in Kashmir outside of the Kargil region number at most a few hundred, they represent a dangerous development in the conflict as they have no accountability to the local population and engage in acts of extreme violence with little regard for the outrage such attacks elicit from Hindu and Muslim Kashmiris alike.

The Indian army has retaliated by conducting cordon-and-search operations in Muslim neighborhoods throughout these districts, detaining young men, assaulting other family members and summarily executing suspected militants. The brutal tactics employed resemble those used in the early 1990s in the Kashmir valley-- indiscriminate shootings and assaults, rape, and arson--that provoked widespread anger among the local population. While such wholesale attacks on civilians have decreased in the valley as Indian forces have consolidated their hold there, they have increased in the southern border districts where they are perceived by the local population as an attempt by Indian forces to punish the Muslim community at large. Aggravating the situation, the army has recruited ex-servicemen, who for historical reasons are almost exclusively Hindu, to serve in Village Defence Committees (VDCs) that assist the army in military operations. In Doda and the border districts, where the population is nearly evenly divided between Hindus and Muslims, there is growing concern that tensions between the two communities might ignite a wider communal conflict.

Elsewhere in Kashmir, most of the militant groups have lost considerable ground militarily, their ranks diminished through infiltration and assassination by "countermilitant" militias made up of former guerrillas and by the government's long policy of summarily executing captured guerrillas. Thus Srinagar and other towns in the valley now seldom see genuine military engagements between militants and state forces. Militant operations in the cities are generally limited to hit-and-run grenade or sniper attacks and assassinations of political leaders, civil servants and suspected informers.

Despite the election in September 1996 of a civilian government in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and Indian government claims that "normalcy" has returned there, abuses by the army, federal paramilitary forces and a newly constituted police force are rife. Indian forces also continue to arm and train countermilitant militias to assassinate suspected militant activists and intimidate local residents. Although some militant leaders command popular support, extortion and other abuses by the militant groups and their failure to prevail against the Indian forces have left the population embittered. At the same time, ongoing brutality and repression by Indian troops continues to fuel popular discontent and fear. India may have largely crushed its armed opposition in Srinagar and other cities in the Kashmir valley, but it has won little support from the Kashmiris.

As they have gained greater control of the cities, Indian forces and the countermilitants have fostered a climate of repression. Although government troops who no longer fear an ambush are less trigger-happy than was the case in the early 1990s when retaliatory shootings of civilians in crowded urban areas and villages were common, targeted executions continue. Detentions and "disappearances" have left residents fearful of talking to international human rights organizations. Little human rights documentation is done because human rights activists and lawyers have been killed or threatened. Doctors who have treated torture victims have also been threatened and spoke to Human Rights Watch only when assured strict confidentiality.

Custodial killings -- the summary execution of detainees -- remain a central component of the Indian government's counterinsurgency strategy. While the difficulties associated with documentation make it impossible to state accurately the number of such killings, human rights groups in the state and elsewhere in India estimate that such summary executions number in the thousands. In this report, Human Rights Watch documents nine that occurred in 1998 and one that occurred in 1997. The killings continue because they have the sanction of senior Indian officials who justify them on the grounds that there is no other way to counter a serious "terrorist" threat. Since the insurgency erupted in Kashmir in 1989, there has been no effort on the part of the government to reduce the incidence of custodial killing.

"Disappearances" of detainees also remain a serious problem. Not only has the practice continued, but there has been no accountability for hundreds of cases of "disappearances" that have taken place since 1990. The Kashmir Monitor, a human rights group based in Srinagar, has documented 300 cases of "disappearances" and claims that the actual number is much higher. An association of the parents of the "disappeared," one of the few human rights groups functioning in the state, has been unable to persuade the government to provide information about their missing sons. During its mission, Human Rights Watch documented thirteen cases of "disappearances": two from 1998, nine from 1997, one from 1996 and one from 1995.

The Indian security forces also engage in brutal forms of torture which likewise have the sanction of senior officials. The latter privately justify the practice on the grounds that there is no other way to obtain information from a suspect. In fact, torture is also routinely used to punish suspected militants and their supporters and to extort money from their families. Human Rights Watch documented three cases of torture in this report, one of which took place in October 1998, the other two of which describe a series of detentions in which torture occurred from 1996 until 1998. In one case, two detainees who confessed to having weapons after undergoing severe torture were later berated by an army officer for lying and then released. Human Rights Watch staff also interviewed doctors who had treated former detainees who had been tortured. Methods of torture include severe beatings with truncheons, rolling a heavy log on the legs, hanging the detainee upside down, use of electric shocks, immersion in water while being suspended upside down, and the insertion of an iron rod on which chili paste has been applied into the rectum. Extensive beatings and use of the roller frequently lead to renal damage or failure; being suspended for prolonged periods upside down can lead to nerve damage and paralysis of the limbs.

Hospitals in Srinagar have registered more than 180 patients with torture-induced renal problems since 1994, some one hundred of which were admitted since 1996. These figures only include those cases serious enough to require treatment in the hospital. Of the 180 cases, six died of renal failure. Some of the survivors have suffered permanent damage.

Indian security forces have raped women in Kashmir during search operations, particularly in remote areas outside of major cities and towns. The difficulties inherent in documenting such attacks on women are many. The victims are unlikely to seek medical attention unless their injuries are severe and are reluctant to report their assaults because of the shame and stigma that they may bear as a result. Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch documented one case of rape by the Indian army in Doda and received consistent reports of such abuse from elsewhere in Doda and from the border areas of Punch and Rajouri. Significantly, army authorities have demonstrated some concern about rape and have initiated a number of courts-martial of soldiers for rape. However, many reports of rape, particularly by federal or local police forces, are never investigated.

Prosecutions of security personnel responsible for abuses are rare. The State Human Rights Commission, which is mandated to investigate complaints of human rights violations and make non-binding recommendations to the government, began its work in early 1998 and by November of that year had undertaken investigations in some 200 cases. The commission does not take up cases pending before the High Court. In addition, the commission's work is severely hampered by the fact that it cannot directly investigate abuses carried out by the army or other federal forces. These forces conduct their own investigations, the results of which are not made public. Although government officials claim that disciplinary measures have been taken against some security personnel, criminal prosecutions do not take place.

This report is based on a mission to Indian-controlled Kashmir in October 1998. In the course of that mission Human Rights Watch visited Srinagar, Pampore, Uri, Jammu and Doda. We conducted more than fifty interviews with doctors, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists and other residents of Kashmir. We interviewed leading members of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, the political umbrella organization of the militant organizations. Although India does not officially permit international human rights organizations to conduct investigations, Human Rights Watch staff met with representatives of the state government, including Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitley, Justice Kuchay and other members of the State Human Rights Commission, and Superintendent of Police in Doda Munir Khan. We also interviewed leading advocates for the displaced Kashmir Hindus in Jammu, and a local leader of one of the most prominent countermilitant organizations.



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