In a new report published today, Human Rights Watch charges that human rights violations by all parties in Kashmir have been a critical factor behind the current conflict.
The report says that if those violations had been seriously addressed at any time over the last ten years, the risk of a military confrontation between India and Pakistan might have been reduced. The escalation in fighting has made it urgent that the international community put pressure on India to end widespread human rights violations by its security forces in Kashmir, and on Pakistan to end its support for abusive militant groups.
"The diplomats have focused on getting India and Pakistan each to stay behind the so-called 'Line of Control. But repression and abuse on both sides are keeping this conflict alive. Unless there is pressure on both India and Pakistan to end the abuses, international diplomacy to defuse the conflict is bound to fail."
The 44-page report, Behind the Conflict in Kashmir, focuses on the border areas in southern Kashmir where militant forces have been crossing over from Pakistan. The report documents several of the massacres of Hindu civilians carried out by these groups and their local counterparts, in which more than 300 civilians were killed between 1997 and mid-1999.
In response to these attacks, Indian forces in the area have retaliated against local Muslims whom they accuse of supporting the militants. The brutal tactics they employ -- including summary executions, "disappearances," torture and rape -- have provoked widespread alienation from India.
The Indian army has aggravated the situation by recruiting 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.
Although fighting has waned elsewhere in the Kashmir valley and the Indian government has claimed that "normalcy" has returned, abuses by the army, federal paramilitary forces and a newly constituted police force are rife. Human rights defenders been killed, tortured and threatened, while detentions and "disappearances" have left residents fearful of speaking out.
Indian forces have also continued to arm countermilitant militias to work with the army and other security forces, but without any official accountability. These militias have assassinated human rights activists and journalists and have threatened and assaulted other civilians.
Custodial killings -- the summary execution of detainees -- remain a central component of the Indian government's counterinsurgency strategy. In this report, Human Rights Watch documents nine that occurred in 1998 and one that occurred in 1997. The killings continue because senior Indian officials say there is no other way to counter a serious "terrorist" threat.
"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. 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.
Methods of torture include severe beatings with truncheons, rolling a heavy log on the legs, hanging the detainee upside down, and use of electric shocks. Indian security forces have raped women in Kashmir during search operations, particularly in remote areas outside of major cities and towns.
Prosecutions of security personnel responsible for abuses are rare. The State Human Rights Commission's work is severely hampered by the fact that it cannot directly investigate abuses carried out by the army or other federal forces. Although government officials claim that disciplinary measures have been taken against some security personnel, criminal prosecutions do not take place.
Militant groups operating in the Kashmir valley have also targeted civilians, assassinating political leaders, civil servants and suspected informers. They have massacred Hindu families and threatened others in an attempt to drive Hindus from the region.
The report is based on a mission to Indian-controlled Kashmir in October 1998. India does not officially permit international human rights organizations to conduct investigations.
For Further Information:
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In New York: Sidney Jones (212) 216-1288; Mike McClintock (212) 216-1216 (o)
In Brussels: Jean-Paul Marthoz 32.2.736.7838 (English, French)