State Government Should Repeal Immunity Laws for Soldiers
(New York), Feb 9 2009 – The newly elected Jammu and Kashmir government should hold security forces to account for human rights violations as an important confidence-building measure to promote lasting peace, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
Human Rights Watch called for an independent, transparent, and time-bound commission to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances. The commission should be empowered to summon members of the security forces to testify and to order forensic investigations to establish the identities of those buried in unmarked graves as unidentified foreign militants.
“The new government should break with past practices and ensure that those who commit abuses are investigated and appropriately prosecuted for their crimes,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “There can be no lasting political settlement in Kashmir unless human rights abuses that have fueled the insurgency are addressed.”
Human Rights Watch called for the repeal of laws such as the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, and the Public Safety Act. These laws provide the armed forces with extraordinary powers to search, detain, and use lethal force, leading to numerous human rights violations. They also provide immunity for security forces. Prosecutions of security force personnel, even where the facts are well established, are rare.
Human Rights Watch has, over the two decades of violence in Jammu and Kashmir, documented numerous failures to ensure protection of human rights. A September 2006 report, “‘Everyone Lives in Fear’: Patterns of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir,” found that the Indian army and paramilitaries, as well as the militants, many backed by Pakistan, were responsible for human rights abuses and that the political and legal systems in India and Pakistan had failed to end abuses or punish the perpetrators.
“There has been a routine failure of justice in Jammu and Kashmir,” Adams said. “Chief Minister Abdullah has a historic opportunity to show that his administration will be different.”