Indian Government's Comments on Asia Watch-Physicians for Human Rights Report "The Crackdown in Kashmir"

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Indian Government's Comments on Asia Watch-Physicians for Human Rights Report "The Crackdown in Kashmir"

Press release

By: Embassy of India, Washington, D.C.

Date: February 1993

Source: The Embassy of India. "Indian Government's Comments on Asia Watch-Physicians for Human Rights Report 'The Crackdown in Kashmir.'" Press release. February 1993. Reprinted in: Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights. The Human Rights Crisis in Kashmir: A Pattern of Impunity. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993.

About the Author: The Indian Embassy in the United States is located in Washington D.C. As of 2006, Ronen Sen is Ambassador to the United States. The Ambassador and his staff act as representatives of the Indian government in the United States. They work to facilititate relations, travel, immigration, and trade between the two countries. Communicating and explaining the policies and actions of the Indian government is also among their responsibilities.

INTRODUCTION

Ever since independence from British rule in 1947, the region of Jammu and Kashmir has been at the heart of a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. At the time of independence, British India was divided into two democratic countries—a Hindu-dominated India and a Muslim-dominated Pakistan. Both claimed the state of Kashmir to be a part of their country. Before independence, states in India had their own kings. Kashmir, though dominated by Muslims, had a Hindu king, Hari Singh. When the British granted independence to India, each king was given the right to choose whether his state would become part of Pakistan or India (or, with some restrictions, remain independent).

Kashmir was invaded by Pathan tribesmen intent upon coercing Hari Singh to accede to Pakistan. However, Singh signed the Instrument of Accession and acceded to India. Nevertheless, the invaders succeeded in capturing some of the northern territories in the state, thus creating an unofficial border between the two countries. The Indian Prime Minister at that time, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964), referred the dispute to the United Nations. Three wars later, the Kashmir region is still in dispute. Owing to its beauty and strategic location, both India and Pakistan consider Kashmir to be a prized possession.

For more than fifteen years, the Kashmir valley region has witnessed an increase in violence and militant activities. The Indian government accuses its counterpart in Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism in the Indian-occupied portion of Kashmir—Jammu and Kashmir. The Pakistani government, however, maintains that these activities are carried out by independent rebels fighting for freedom. Thousands have been reportedly killed since the first incidents of terrorism in 1989. Moreover, the insurgency has significantly affected the tourism industry of Kashmir—an industry that fuels the state's economy.

The escalation of armed violence led the Indian government to deploy army troops in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990. However, the government's campaign to end militancy in Kashmir has been under scrutiny, especially from human rights groups. In the past, the Indian Army has been charged with unlawful detainment of innocent civilians, civilian massacre, anti-secularism, and other cases of human rights violations. Some human rights organizations allege that the army has been promoting counter-insurgency by training local forces of captured militants. The government of India, however, has denied all such allegations stating that the recruitment of former militants is merely for rehabilitation. In 1993, the government of India also established the National Human Rights Commission with the aim of preserving human rights and civil liberties in the disputed region.

The primary source contains the official riposte of the Embassy of India in the United States to allegations of human rights abuses by the Indian Army in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Embassy states that the conclusions presented in the Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and Asia Watch report are flawed and unfairly interpreted.

PRIMARY SOURCE

The Indian Government had given detailed comments to Asia Watch-PHR on the findings in their Report on "The Crackdown in Kashmir—Torture of Detainees and Assaults on the Medical Community." Some of these comments have been incorporated, along with rebuttals by AW-PHR in the main body of the Report which is being released on February 28. A few of them have been distorted by AW-PHR to draw erroneous conclusions about Indian Government policy while some have been less than fairly interpreted.

In view of this it is felt necessary to respond to AW-PHR's observations on the Indian Government's initial response so as to put the facts in their correct perspective.

It is unfortunate that the Press Release starts with an attack against the Indian forces for having stepped up their "campaign of terror" against civilians. The use of the word "terror" to describe the difficult combat of the security forces against the large-scale violence in the Valley is all the more surprising because AW-PHR have carefully avoided using this word to describe the murderous activities of Pakistan-backed Muslim fundamentalist groups in Kashmir. To suggest that the only terrorism in Kashmir is the one at the hands of the security forces is to make a travesty of the real situation there. Apart from countless reports in the international media on terrorism in Kashmir by Muslim groups and recognition of this fact by several Governments, even the latest Report on Human Rights issued by the State Department has noted that the militants have maintained a reign of terror in the Kashmir Valley. The true picture is that the violence unleashed by the terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir has grown and in 1992, as compared to 1991, the total number of incidents of terrorist violence increased from 3,122 to 4,871 (Annexure-I). The question to ask is who is sustaining this growing terrorist activity? Where are the terrorists obtaining their arms and equipment, training and strategic direction from? What is the responsibility of the terrorists and their increasing activity in disrupting civilian life in the Valley, including health and medical services?

A claim has again been made that patients in hospitals have been disconnected from life sustaining treatments which had earlier been categorically denied. A similar claim has been made regarding shooting doctors on duty and torturing some others, which is also categorically denied. It is unfortunate that AW-PHR continue to make these groundless charges based on hearsay.

While dwelling at some length on the issue of medical neutrality and the Geneva Conventions, the Release accuses the Government of violations and denies that any legitimacy is being provided to terrorist groups, as indicated in our preliminary response. It goes on to say that as per the norms of medical neutrality medical personnel should be able to render medical care to all populations, on all sides of the conflict. While not entering into any argument on issues of principle, it may be mentioned that nowhere does the Report care to acknowledge the fact that treatment has been provided to the apprehended terrorists even in army hospitals, quite apart from the question that nothing in their Report or in our response suggests that the Government or the security forces as a matter of policy prevented treatment of injured terrorists in the hospitals.

A perturbing aspect of AW-PHR's Report is its tendency to reject evidence which may not fit in with the case it wants to project, or make categorical statements on matters that clearly they are not qualified to do as they cannot have full information with them. While the Release acknowledges killings of medical workers by the terrorists, it goes on to say that "there is no evidence that militants have done this" in the context of our observation that militants have used hospitals as sanctuaries and have even feigned injuries in this process. In fact, it claims that "hospitals are unlikely places for militants to seek refuge unless they are genuinely wounded." AW-PHR made this claim in the face of evidence of the recoveries made from the hospitals in the searches that were conducted in some of them. They assert that when security forces conduct such operations in hospitals in Kashmir, they don't do so on the basis of specific information. If such a format of reporting were to be acceptable, just about anything can be said and any claim could be made without there being any need for evidence for and to the contrary.

The Report says that while the authorities may prosecute health professionals for failing to provide information about persons in their care whom they believe may have committed crimes, they cannot physically abuse them for failing to do so. In fact, in our comments we had not referred to prosecution of health care professionals but to conditions in which most of them out of fear and some due to connivance, may not report medico legal cases as required under the law, which may lead to situations where it may become necessary to look for such criminals inside hospitals.

The Release says that the Report describes a number of incidents in which security forces opened fire inside hospitals, apparently to intimidate the medical staff to identify suspected militants. The Report mentions such incidents at two places and the number of times that a hospital may have been searched, but no specific incident has been narrated. The question of providing any explanation for such incidents, therefore, does not arise. However, in our comments, the incidents in which searches did take place in the hospitals were mentioned, including those cases where such searches may not have ended up in any recoveries. One specific incident taken out of our response and included in the Report, about firing from the premises of SKIMS, is only one of the numerous illustrative incidents that had been mentioned in our comments to show the type of activities that the terrorists have been indulging in from the premises of hospitals in Srinagar.

The Release also mentions two security laws currently in force in Kasmir, viz., The Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act and the Jammu & Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, and has stated that these acts explicitly promote the use of lethal force against people who are not combatants and who do not pose a threat to the lives of the security forces. It has also been claimed that these laws permit immunity from prosecution to the security forces. Elsewhere it refers to our claim that we are trying to fight the terrorist menace by civilian law and order methods and concludes that the Government, by saying so, attempts to justify and excuse acts of gross violations as legitimate means of "law enforcement." Such a conclusion is astounding, to say the least. The fact of the matter is that the security forces in Kashmir or elsewhere are not a law unto themselves and none of these Acts provide any immunity to them. What they require is prior sanction for prosecution as is also provided under India's Criminal Procedure Code (Section 197). In actual fact, as mentioned in our previous comments, action has been taken against over 100 personnel of the Army and ParaMilitary forces which includes officers. This shows that neither does the Government excuse violations nor is there any immunity for errant officers or personnel who may be acting even within the powers conferred under these Acts. The suggestion that Government policy condones excesses is totally baseless.

The warning of the medical catastrophe, unless the Government grants immediate access to the ICRC, is deliberately alarmist. All the details in the AW-PHR's Report together do not point to any impending medical catastrophe. Despite all the difficulties created by terrorist activities, the authorities will continue to do their best to meet their responsibilities for providing health, medical and other facilities to the population of the affected area.

Brief comments have been given above only with respect to some of the specific points mentioned in the Release. There are many others which are general and speaking about wide-spread torture, maltreatment by the security forces etc., on which no specific comments are being made again. We would, however, like to strongly state that we do not make any excuses for violations of Human Rights just because the terrorists may be indulging in abuses. At the same time, the extremely difficult environment created by the indiscriminate and massive level of violence perpetrated by the terrorists has to be understood to appreciate that it may not be possible to deal with the situation, under the normal laws. Over 500 security force personnel have been killed by the terrorists, apart form a large number of politicians, press persons, Government officials and innocent citizens in the State (figures have been given earlier). Even so, the Special Laws referred to in the Release are not passed by any ad hoc draconian fiat, but after full deliberation in the Parliament, and are only temporary measures. In the prevailing environment, there can be possibilities where harassment may be caused to the civilian population on account of security operations and there may also be occasional cases of excesses. At the same time, we reiterate that we do not hesitate to take action against security force personnel where deliberate acts of excesses and cases of gross negligence and over-reaction etc., come to notice. The swift and firm response in the recent unfortunate incident at Sopore would bring this out clearly.

Finally, we note that in the chapter "Conclusions and Recommendations" of the Report, AW-PHR have made several critical comments against the Government of India of an all-embracing political nature on the problem in Kashmir, but have no advice to offer militant groups to put an end to terrorist activities in the context of Human Rights, other than merely urging them to desist from attacks against health services and health professionals. Can it be concluded that SW-PHR encourage or condone all other forms of violent activities by Muslim fundamentalist terrorist groups?

SIGNIFICANCE

According to the Indian government, militant organizations operating in Jammu and Kashmir have often targeted government officials, reporters, armed forces, peacekeepers, and civilians, including children and the disabled. The United States and other countries have also endorsed the Indian government's allegations. For instance, a 1997 report published by the U.S. Department of State concluded that militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir were responsible for innumerable acts of terrorism in the region.

However, as mentioned earlier, international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have also accused the Indian Army of violating human rights in order to suppress terrorism in the state. An Amnesty International Press Release stated that Indian Armed Forces were responsible for the killing of 250 civilians in 2003 alone. On its part, the Indian Government alleges that human rights activists have ignored the role of Pakistan in sponsoring terrorism in Indian occupied Kashmir.

The Indian government's stated position regarding the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region is that Kashmir is an integral part of India and that Parkistani occupation of a portion of that region is illegal. Further, the Indian government wants the government of Pakistan to stop supporting militant groups using terrorist tactics in an effort to unite Kashmir with Pakistan. For its part, the government of Pakistan supports holding a plebiscite that would allow the residents of Jammu and Kashmir to vote on which country they want to join. India is opposed to holding a plebiscite.

Clearly, the events in the Jammu and Kashmir region have been subject to a variety of interpretations by the many parties directly or indirectly affected by the conflict. Reaching a balanced and dispassionate assessment of these events and assigning responsibility for any civil or human rights abuses is an ongoing challenge. Unfortunately, as of 2006, the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir appeared to be no closer to a resolution than it was when the British withdrew from the Indian subcontinent nearly sixty years ago.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Human Rights Watch. Kashmir Under Siege: Human Rights in India. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1991.

Ganguly, Sumit, and Lee H. Hamilton. The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes of Peace. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Web sites

Amnesty International. "India: Jammu and Kashmir Government Must Uphold Promises to End Human Rights Abuses." December 3, 2003. 〈http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/〉 (accessed April 29, 2006).

Committee on Government Reform. "Decades of Terror: Exploring Human Rights Abuses in Kashmir and the Disputed Territories." May 12, 2004. 〈http://reform.house.gov/WHR/Hearings/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=14204〉 (accessed April 29, 2006).

Crimes of War. "Kashmir and International Law: How War Crimes Fuel the Conflict." July 17, 2002. 〈http://www.crimesofwar.org/onnews/news-kashmir.html〉 (accessed April 29, 2006).

Embassy of India (Washington, D.C.). "Frequently Asked Questions on Jammu and Kashmir." 〈http://www.indianembassy.org/policy/Kashmir/FAQ-Kashmir.htm〉 (accessed April 29, 2006).

Human Rights Watch. "Violations By Indian Government Forces: State-Sponsored 'Renegade' Militas." 〈http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/kashmir/1996/India-07.htm〉 (accessed April 29, 2006).

International Committee of the Red Cross. "What Is International Humanitarian Law?" July 31, 2004. 〈http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/humanitarian-law-factsheet〉 (accessed April 29, 2006).

U.S. Department of State. "India: Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997." January 30, 1998. 〈http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/1997_hrp_report/india.html〉 (accessed April 29, 2006).

U.S. Department of State. "India: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2004." February 28, 2005. 〈http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/41740.htm〉 (accessed April 29, 2006).

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Indian Government's Comments on Asia Watch-Physicians for Human Rights Report "The Crackdown in Kashmir"

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