Human Rights Abuses in Kashmir
As human rights violations have assumed alarming proportions during the past three months in the troubled Kashmir region, top rights organizations have urged the Indian government to put an immediate end to wrongful detentions in the state.
In a joint statement released Saturday, Amnesty International India, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said that authorities in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) should end the use of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) to arbitrarily detain people, including children. They said that the PSA violates international due process standards and should be repealed.
Reports suggest that between 9 July – when protests and violent clashes broke out in the state following the killing of a rebel leader – and 6 October, authorities have detained over 400 people, including children, under the PSA.
The PSA is an administrative detention law that allows detention without charge or trial for up to two years in some cases. Following an amendment in 2012, the PSA expressly prohibits the detention of anyone under 18, said the rights groups.
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“The use of the PSA to detain people, particularly children, violates a range of human rights, and its increasing use in recent weeks undermines the rule of law and further entrenches impunity in Kashmir,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Director. “Police should end the use of the PSA; if people are suspected of committing offences, they should be properly charged and given fair trials.”
According to the rights organizations, Mir Shafqat Hussain, a lawyer representing many PSA detainees, said, “In a number of cases the families have not been informed about the grounds of detention. Arresting minors and booking them under PSA is definitely going to have an effect on their psyche. From schools and colleges, these boys end up in jails where they will be kept together with adults. It is definitely going to have an adverse effect on them.”
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“The government has a responsibility to address violence during protests, but indefinitely detaining people without charge only adds to the lawlessness,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director, Human Rights Watch. “Detaining children under the PSA is not only unlawful, but could have negative repercussions for years.”
The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – to which India is a state party – has stated that administrative detention in the name of security “presents severe risks of arbitrary deprivation of liberty.”
Amnesty International India, Human Rights Watch, and the ICJ say they oppose all such systems of administrative detention, as they invariably circumvent the protections of the ordinary criminal procedure.
The human rights groups suggest that the PSA contains vague and overboard terms such as “security of the state” and “public order” that are not precisely defined, and therefore do not meet the requirement of legality under international law. They add that the PSA does not provide for judicial review of detentions.
Further, it also protects officials from legal proceedings for anything “done or intended to be done in good faith”, which is inconsistent with the right to remedy for arbitrary detention or other human rights violations. The law has often been used to detain people on vague grounds for long periods, ignoring regular criminal justice safeguards, said the rights groups in their statement.
Amnesty International India, Human Rights Watch, and the ICJ believe that anyone detained under the PSA must either be charged promptly with a recognizable criminal offence or prosecuted in a fair trial, or else be released. Not prosecuting people suspected of committing offences can also violate the human rights of the victims of these offences, they warn.
The Jammu and Kashmir government is led by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also leads the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The PDP had criticized the PSA earlier, but the use of the law has continued under its administration, according to the human rights organizations.
“The central and state governments have spoken about following the principle of insaniyat, or humanity, in dealing with the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director at Amnesty International India. “But detaining children under the PSA is neither humane nor lawful.”
Over 90 people, most of them protestors, have been killed and thousands injured in the violence in Jammu and Kashmir since July. Security force personnel have been injured by stone-throwing protestors. Security forces have fired pellets from shotguns, teargas, live ammunition, and chemical irritant weapons.
Photo courtesy: Amnesty