New Delhi: Three special rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) have written to India asking for details on steps taken to punish or provide justice to victims and their next of kin in 76 cases of torture and arbitrary killing in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990.
The letter to the Indian government, dated March 18, is written by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Dainius Puras and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer.
It was made public on the UNHRC website on May 18 after a scheduled interval of 60 days, along with India’s reply that refused to provide any clarifications.
The letter relates to 76 cases of torture and killings of civilians, which include 13 just in 2018. These 2018 cases included eight civilian killings allegedly by security forces, and the rest by militants.
“In all these cases, the authorities have reportedly failed to conduct thorough, prompt and impartial investigations, so as to ensure that the rule of law prevails, and justice is done and steps are taken to ensure the non-recurrence of the violations,” wrote the three officials.
Reminding that the Human Rights Council had given them the mandate to seek clarifications from members, the letter asks the Indian government to provide details on eight issues, ranging from the outcome of the investigation into the cases to the steps taken to repeal the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act.
The letter also had a line stating that it took “note” of the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Kashmir, released in June 2018. India had rejected the report and implicitly accused the then UNHRC chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of having acted on his “individual prejudices”.
A month later, India’s response to the letter of the three special rapporteurs focussed on the sentence referring to the UNHRC report.
“India rejects any reference whether implicit or explicit or any quote by any human rights mechanisms or bodies from the remote report published by the OHCHR on the situation of human rights in Kashmir in June 2018, India rejects the remote report and doubts on its credibility and objectivity. The Report begets the question whether individual prejudices should be allowed to undermine the dignity and standing of the high ofﬁce,” said the reply from the Permanent Mission of India to UN offices in Geneva.
Asserting that the report was “false and motivated”, India said that it was now a “closed chapter”.
Asserting that terrorism is the “grossest violation”, India stated that basic human right of “right to life is being constantly violated by cross border terrorism in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir”. “The heinous terrorist attack on a convoy in Pulwama in February 2019 has only served to underline the criticality of addressing the issue of cross-border terrorism,” it said.
Incidentally, the special rapporteurs did mention the Pulwama terror attack in the initial paragraphs of the letter. “We would like at the outset strongly condemn the suicide bomb attack against Indian security forces in the Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir on February 14, 2019, which reportedly killed over 40 members of the Central Reserve Police Force,” they said.
Indicating that it will not respond to the detailed questions from the special rapporteurs, the Indian reply harped on the mention of the Kashmir report as the reason to stop further engagement.
“India takes serious objection to using the already rejected report by the mandate holders that issued the communication AL IND 8/2019 dated 18 March 2019 to raise allegations against India. India, therefore, does not intend to engage further with these mandate holders or any other mandate holders on this issue,” said the letter dated April 23.
According to the special rapporteurs, the allegations were contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by India in April 1979.
They said that the eight cases related to security forces in 2018 “appear to be deliberate killings or excessive and careless use of firearms in the context of either demonstrations or social events”. There were also three cases last year of individuals being killed by militants, including one case of torture, as per the letter.
The special rapporteurs said that there was an anomaly in the filing of police complaints through first information reports in these cases. “It is not clear whether FIRs have been ﬁled or whether magisterial inquiries have been undertaken, both of which the Supreme Court has ruled are mandatory for deaths involving the security forces,” they said.