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Human Rights Developments

Human rights issues assumed an increasingly important place in public debate in India in 1992, as government officials found themselves pressed to respond to international and domestic criticism of India's human rights record. On September 15, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao formally announced to Parliament that the government would establish a national Human Rights Commission to investigate reports of abuses. At the same time, domestic human rights groups, journalists and other peaceful critics of government policy continued to come under attack by police and government officials throughout the year. Government security forces also engaged in widespread human rights abuses in their efforts to stem violent insurgencies in Kashmir, Punjab and Assam. Militant groups in these states also committed serious abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.

In the disputed state of Kashmir, human rights conditions continued to deteriorate. The government launched "Operation Tiger" in August-a campaign of surprise raids designed to capture and kill suspected militants and terrorize civilian sympathizers. In October, a joint mission by Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights (phr) visited the Kashmir valley and documented the summary executions of dozens of civilians and suspected militants who had been taken into custody and shot dead after interrogation. In one case, four students who were arrested during a search operation on October 14 in the Dal Gate area of Srinagar were shot dead that night and their bodies handed over to their families the next day. The security forces also broke up peaceful protests against these killings by beating, teargassing and shooting demonstrators.

The Indian army and the federal paramilitary Border Security Force (bsf) and Central Reserve Police Force (crpf) also murdered and raped civilians in retaliation for attacks by militant forces. On October 15, a man and woman were burned alive in Badasgam when bsf troops locked them in a shop and torched it and ten other buildings after mistaking a sonic boom for a militant attack. An army investigator later confirmed that the troops' action was "unprovoked." On October 1, militants ambushed a patrol near the village of Battekut, killing one. In reprisal, the security forces rampaged through the village, killing ten villagers, raping four women, and burning houses and grain stores. Eight women and an eleven-year-old girl were raped duringa search operation by an army unit near Shopian on October 10. On July 2, paramilitary forces opened fire in a crowded market area of Srinagar after mistaking the bursting of a bus tire for sniper fire. Seven civilians were killed. Officials later claimed they had been killed in "cross fire."

Throughout the conflict, the Indian army and other security forces in Kashmir continued to exhibit blatant disregard for international norms of medical neutrality. Hospitals were subjected to frequent raids, sometimes weekly, when security personnel forced doctors at gunpoint to identify wounded militants, who were then arrested, at times after disconnecting them from their intravenous feeding tubes and even removing one patient under deep anesthesia from an operating theater. Health professionals were routinely detained, assaulted and harassed for having discharged their duties. The security forces also deliberately prevented injured persons from being transported for emergency care, in several cases shooting ambulance drivers who attempted to remove the wounded.

Detainees were routinely subjected to severe and prolonged beatings, electric shock and other forms of torture. The Asia Watch-phr team documented a number of cases of renal failure caused by extensive use of the "roller" torture treatment, in which the muscle tissue is crushed, releasing toxins that cause serious, and sometimes fatal, damage to the kidneys.

Journalists were also attacked. On March 5, 82 journalists were beaten by police when they attempted to deliver a petition to state officials protesting government restrictions on reporting. On September 25, Yusuf Jameel, a stringer for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Reuters, and several other journalists were beaten by police in Srinagar when they attempted to obtain the names of five women who were being arrested during a demonstration against alleged deaths in custody. Jameel was clubbed in the head with a police baton, and a paramilitary officer threatened to shoot him. Although the government promised an inquiry into the incident, no investigation has taken place.

Militant groups in Kashmir killed suspected police informers and kidnapped, assaulted and murdered other civilians. They also threw grenades and detonated bombs in public places, killing and wounding civilians.

In Punjab, the long-postponed elections to the Parliament and state assembly were held on February 19, but intimidation by Sikh militants and protests by other Sikh parties resulted in a turnout of only about 22 percent statewide, and no turnout at all in some rural areas. The Congress (I) party formed a government, but real authority for all matters related to the conflict remained with Director General of Police K. P. S. Gill. Immediately after the election, Gill launched an all-out campaign against the militants, expanding a bounty system of cash rewards for police officials who killed top militants. By August, many of the militant leaders had been killed and the government claimed that "normalcy" was returning to the state. During this campaign, however, extrajudicial killings and disappearances of civilians and suspected militants escalated. Detainees in police custodywere subjected to severe beatings, crushing of the leg muscles with a heavy wooden roller, stretching the legs, suspension, and electric shock. The Asia Watch-phr team documented numerous cases of torture, disappearances and police killings that had occurred since the elections.

Militant abuses also continued. Before and after the polls, Sikh militants attacked Hindu laborers, shooting dead 65 between February 17 and March 18. In apparent retaliation for police killings of militant leaders, militants attacked the families of policemen, shooting dead at least 42 men, women and children in July and August. On October 30, militants shot dead 27 migrant laborers in the villages of Daburji and Silon Kalan near Ludhiana.

The right of free expression was under attack in India in several states. In Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, peaceful protesters who opposed a World Bank-funded dam on the Narmada River were illegally detained, beaten and subjected to other forms of physical abuse as part of a campaign by the state governments to prevent organized protests and restrict the dissemination of information about the dam's environmental and social consequences. Protests intensified in a number of villages near the dam site in early 1992 when officials attempted to evict villagers in anticipation of monsoon flooding.

Growing criticism about the project inside India and from international organizations prompted World Bank authorities to take the unprecedented step of sending an independent team, the Morse Commission, to examine concerns raised about the project. The team's report, issued on June 18, concluded that the project was deeply flawed and that, given the strong opposition to the project by local residents, completing it would "be impossible except as a result of unacceptable means."

On July 13, during a visit by World Bank officials, local authorities attempting to evict villagers from a tribal area called Talgoda, in Maharashtra, opened fire on demonstrators, killing one woman and injuring seven others. Peaceful demonstrations by villagers opposed to the dam were broken up by police on several occasions in August and September. Nevertheless, in an internal memorandum dated September 11, Bank President Louis Preston recommended that support for the dam be continued. The memorandum did not mention human rights concerns. On October 23 the Bank's Executive Directors voted 59 percent to 41 percent to continue support for the project, contingent on the Indian government meeting specific conditions, including a grievance procedure that would include human rights abuses. The U.S., Japan, Germany, Australia, Canada, and the Nordic countries voting against continuing the project. Its status will be reassessed in April 1993.

In April 1992, the government of Tamil Nadu launched a crackdown against the press. Local authorities confiscated and destroyed journals and newspapers critical of Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalitha's administration and brought law suits against reporters. Other reporters and editors received anonymous threats and were the victims of acts of vandalism and arson. Ganeshan, a printer at the weekly Nakeeran, was detained on April10 on sedition charges after the weekly published an editorial critical of the government's attacks on the press. After he was released on April 20 he told colleagues that he had been tortured. He died of a brain hemorrhage on April 27. Human rights groups have called for an investigation into his death but no inquiry has taken place. Beginning on September 18-19 over 4,600 people were arrested, mostly under preventive detention laws, in connection with a conference and rally in Madras in which political activists called for Tamil Nadu's secession from India. Sixteen political leaders were charged with sedition. On January 20, India began repatriating some 30,000 Tamil refugees who had fled from Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu (see chapter on Sri Lanka).

On July 1, at least 16 people were killed when police opened fire on a crowd of striking mine workers in Bhilai, Madhya Pradesh, India. The workers were striking to demand the arrest of industrialists believed responsible for the assassination on September 29, 1991, of Shankar Guha Niyogi, a human rights activist with the People's Union for Civil Liberties (pucl), and leader of the mine workers union. On July 2, 1992, Rajendra Sail, the organizing secretary for the local branch office of the pucl, was detained, apparently to prevent him from investigating the shooting. He was later released on bail. Another 89 persons who participated in the strike were also arrested. It is not known whether they have been released.

The Right to Monitor

In addition to Rajendra Sail, mentioned above, human rights activists came under attack in several states. Andhra Pradesh, in southern India, continued to be one of the most dangerous places to do human rights monitoring and investigative journalism. As 1991 drew to a close, Ghulam Rasool, a 31-year-old reporter for the Telugu newspaper Udayam in the state capital, Hyderabad, was shot dead in what police claimed was an "armed encounter." In fact, Rasool and a friend, Vijay Prasada Rao, had been arrested by police on December 27, 1991 and their bodies discovered the next day. Police alleged that the two men were members of a radical militant group known as the Naxalites, and had been shot in an exchange of fire with police. The bodies were cremated secretly. Asia Watch sources believe Rasool was killed because of his investigation into illegal land grabbing in Hyderabad, reportedly by members of the ruling Congress (I) party and a deputy superintendent of police named Rajaiah, among others. Following widespread protests, Rajaiah was transferred and a judicial inquiry into the killing ordered. No other action has yet been taken against the police.

On February 3, Dr. K. Balagopal, the general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (apclc), was detained by local police in Bhadrachalam, Khammam district, and held overnight under a preventive detention law. He was released the next morning after local human rights monitors protested the arrest. Later that day, after he arrived in the town of Kothagudem, he was assaulted by thugs reportedly hired by the police who beat him severely until local human rights activists intervened. Balagopal was then brought to the local clinic inKothagudem, where the staff provided first aid but refused to treat his serious injuries out of fear of the police. On February 5, Balagopal was brought to Hyderabad and was treated for facial fractures, cuts around his left eye, and other injuries. No one has been charged yet with the assault.

Ram Singh Billing, a journalist and member of the Punjab Human Rights Organisation, was detained by police in Sangrur, Punjab, on January 3. The authorities later denied he was ever in custody. He is believed to have died as a result of torture.

On April 3, Justice Ajit Singh Bains of the Punjab Human Rights organization was arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act after he made a speech which state authorities claimed was "seditious." Bains, who is 70, alleged that before his arrest he had received threats from the police warning him to cease his work with the Punjab Human Rights Organisation. He was released on bail on August 18. The charges are still pending.

U.S. Policy

Human rights concerns continued to be the subject of private interventions by U.S. officials and were reported to be a priority for the new U.S. Ambassador in New Delhi, Thomas R. Pickering, and his staff. In his written statement for the Senate confirmation hearings, Ambassador Pickering stated that human rights were among the difficult issues between the U.S. and India that he would take up.

At a January 31 State Department briefing, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Richard Schifter confirmed that U.S. concerns about deteriorating human rights conditions had been communicated to the Indian government and were considered a "very serious problem" for India, the world and "above all...for the people who live there." At hearings before the House Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations on March 4, Secretary Schifter reiterated that violations by security forces in Kashmir were a problem of "continuing concern" and that the U.S. government had expressed this to the Indian authorities. In a written statement supplied for the record, the administration added, "[W]e are concerned by the persistent and credible reports of human rights abuses by Indian security forces ...and have urged the Indian Government to refrain from the excessive use of force."

However, the strength of these statements was diminished when Schifter responded to a question about whether the Indian government had demonstrated a willingness to curb abuses by security forces in Punjab and Kashmir and punish those responsible. He commented that "the Central Government would wish that it did not happen but power is quite decentralized and at the local levels things happen that the Government probably finds embarrassing and wishes it could stop." The statement is ludicrous because in fact, authority for the security forces in Kashmir rests with the central government and even in Punjab, where there is now an elected state government, central government authorities are directly involved in determining policy. In both states, central government officials have longcondoned abuses by security personnel and, as the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in 1991 accurately notes, "little is done to punish those responsible for extrajudicial killing."

In the report accompanying the 1992 foreign aid bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee expressed concern about "persistent reports of widespread human rights violations by Indian Government forces and separatist militants in Kashmir and elsewhere." The Committee called on the Indian government to "establish an independent commission to investigate reports of human rights violations and to prosecute individuals who are responsible...[and] ensure that the rights of detainees are fully protected and that the International Committee of the Red Cross has prompt access to all detainees."

In fiscal year 1992, the U.S. government estimates that it gave India $37.4 million in development assistance, $96.9 million in PL480 food aid, $25 million in housing guarantees and $340,000 for the International Military and Training Program.

On July 13, Senators Patrick Leahy, David Obey and Robert Kasten wrote to World Bank President Louis Preston to express their concern about human rights abuses in connection with the Narmada dam. On October 23, the U.S. Executive Director to the World Bank, E. Patrick Coady, voted for suspension of the Narmada dam project.

In September, in a rare but significantly effective public rebuke, U.S. officials protested to India over the sale of chemicals used to make poison gas and other weapons to Syria. A shipment of the chemicals being transported on a German vessel was halted after American officials alerted German authorities, who ordered the shipment returned to India. The Indian government has since stated that it is investigating the company responsible. According to a report in The Washington Post, administration officials stated that the Indian government had enacted "rudimentary" controls in response to the complaint but was not enforcing them.

The Work of Asia Watch

In January, an Asia Watch researcher traveled to India to meet with government officials and investigate human rights abuses in Andhra Pradesh, the Narmada River valley, and Tamil Nadu. In a press release issued on January 18, Asia Watch called for a halt to the repatriation to Sri Lanka of Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu until protection for returning refugees could be ensured. In February, Asia Watch organized appeals on behalf of human rights activist K. Balagopal, who was detained and badly beaten in Andhra Pradesh.

Following meetings with senior Indian government officials, Asia Watch provided recommendations on the formation of a national Human Rights Commission.

On June 17, Asia Watch released "Before the Deluge: Human Rights at India's Narmada Dam." The newsletter was circulated widely among Executive Directors at the World Bank and released to coincide with the Morse Commission's highly critical review of the dam project. Because of Japan's influence at the World Bank,the press release was translated into Japanese and circulated among Japanese Diet members. Asia Watch also conducted extensive meetings with World Bank staff, congressional aides and Treasury officials to raise concerns about human rights abuses that have occurred in connection with the project.

In September, Asia Watch published Police Killings and Rural Violence in Andhra Pradesh, which documented attacks on journalists and human rights activists, "encounter killings" and other abuses against peasant activists, and attacks on low caste and tribal villagers by powerful landlords.

In December, Asia Watch will publish "No End in Sight: Human Rights Abuses in Assam," based on the finding of an investigation carried out by a consultant to Asia Watch in April and May.

In October, a delegation from Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights traveled to India to investigate abuses by government forces and militants in Punjab and Kashmir. The first of several reports on the mission's findings was published in December.

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