Kashmir human rights report released, 391 killed in 2017. Here are the details.
Srinagar, January 3: Alleging an upward surge in human rights abuses in the statein the outgoing year,Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a local human rights group, here said that the year witnessed 451 killings including civilians, militants and security forces. Earlier, Hurriyat (M) led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq released Annual Human Rights Report here on December 30 claiming 391 killingsincluding civilians, militants and security forces during the same period.
In its annual human rights review, JKCCS here on December 31 claimed that torturecontinues to be the most ignored and under-reported subject in the state and violations at ceasefire line continue to claim lives of civilians. At least 13 civilians lost their lives due to cross Line of Control (LOC) firing and shelling in 2017, the report said. Apart from torture, JKCCS listed various other forms of human rights violations including killings, disappearances, unknown and unmarked graves etc. A brief overview of the JKCCS report observed as:
Torture was widespread and indiscriminate in the early 1990s, but at present, it is systematic and targets specific individuals, said the JKCCS report, adding that India is a signatory to United Nation’s Convention against Torture but it has not ratified it till date.Since 2010, there have been discussions in India on criminalizing torture however, the draft bill is still pending, it added. Over the years, Kashmir has seen cases where people die years later from health complications as a consequence of being tortured at an earlier stage in their lives. These people are not counted as torture deaths, mentioned the report.Torture, it said, continues to remain an underreported phenomenon and this year too very few torture cases came to the fore. The phenomenon has received very little attention and most survivors choose not to report the maltreatment meted out to them for various reasons, the report added.However, the cases which got publicised highlight the continuity of heinous forms of torture, it stressed.
According to JKCCS report 451 persons including 125 security forces, 217 militants, 108 civilians and one Ikhwani (pro-government militant) were killed in 2017. The year, it said, witnessed a spike in the killings of local militants as 86 militants belonging to different parts of the Valley were killed in various encounters withsecurity forces. Among 217 militants killed in 2017, 26 were identified as foreigners and 104 militants were unidentified, it added. The year witnessed the killing of 125security forces personnel, which makes the ratio of militant-armed forces killings to 2:1. The figures suggest that contrary to government claims that Kashmir’s insurgent movement is ‘under control’ and that they have almost wiped out the remaining militants in Kashmir, the fact remains that the graph of security forces killings have increased in the Valley suggesting that militant assertion has grown, observed the report. The comparison between militant and security forces killings in last four years reveals that while 560 militants have been killed in the given period, the security forces have lost 365 personnel to militant violence and the ratio of militant-security forces killings has been close to 2:1 for the last four years, the report further added.
The killings of civilians at encounter sites in 2017 has been the highest ever recorded, as at least 19 civilians have been shot dead by security forces at different encounters in the Valley, including five women, who have been shot dead bysecurity forces during different encounters in the Valley, the report said.Pertinently, there was a spike in civilian killings at encounter sites, the report said, after the provocative statement made by the Army chief Bipin Rawat, which was echoed by the state police chief regarding intolerance for civilian ‘interference’.
Among the 108 civilian killings - 20 people died in cross LOC shelling, 19 were killed near encounter sites by security forces, 22 were killed by unknown gunmen, 16 persons were killed by suspected militants, nine were killed by security forces during Parliamentary by-elections and four died in pellet firing including one who was injured in 2016 and succumbed to his wounds in 2017. 14 out of the 108 civilians killed this year were minors.The four districts of south Kashmir accounted for most of the civilian killings with Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian jointly recording 51 killings and three districts of Jammu division; Rajouri, Poonch and Jammu recorded 15 civilian killings. Nine non-local civilians too lost their lives in violence in the state in 2017, the report added.
There continues to be no trace about the fate of more than 8000 disappeared persons in the state and their families suffer incessantly, maintained JKCCS report. Even though cases ofdisappearances have reduced significantly over the years, the phenomenon continues to exist, it added.Ironically Director General of Police (DGP) SP Vaid, on December 10 at a seminar organised by State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) here claimed that since 2015 there have been no cases ofdisappearance but the DGP’s claim is far from truth and appears to be made with an aim to obfuscate the ground reality, the report emphasized. There has been a significant increase in the abduction of civilians, many of whom after forced disappearances were killed extra-judicially, it said, adding seven reported cases of abduction, disappearances establish the continuance of disappearances in Kashmir and to belie the police chief’s statement. Out of the seven cases of abduction and disappearance, the report said, dead bodies of five victims bearing bullet, torture and other injury marks were later recovered from various clandestine locations and two of the victims continue to remain disappeared. These cases, the report stressed, establish re-surfacing of the phenomena and practice of disappearances in the state.
The report further said that during India’s review under UPR (Universal Periodic Review) at the UN Human Rights Council in 2017, the Government of India despite the recommendation by various UN member countries, refused to accept the recommendation for ratification of International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances which India signed in 2007.
The relatives of the disappeared continued their appeals to the government throughout the year to appoint an independent impartial inquiry commission to investigate into the cases ofdisappearances and urged them to inform the family members about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones, but the government continues to be in denial to acknowledge the phenomenon of disappearances in Kashmir, the report emphasized.The victims’ families continue to suffer endlessly and the government has not established any policy to rehabilitate the victims of disappearances, it added. Besides social and economic problems, the families also undergo various psychological problems. Amid relentless sufferings, the families of disappeared carried on their struggle for truth, justice and reparations through various campaigns and activities throughout the year.
Unknown, Unmarked Mass Graves
Despite the widespread international call for an investigation into unmarked graves, the Government of India continues to decline any investigation into unmarked and mass graves of Jammu and Kashmir and evade the alarming issue of disappearances and mass graves in Jammu and Kashmir, said the report. SHRC yet again urged the government to investigate the presence of 2080 unmarked and mass graves in twin districts of Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu province. In response to a petition filed by Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) regarding the presence of 3844 (Poonch with 2717 Graves and Rajouri with 1127) unmarked graves in Poonch and Rajouri districts of the state, the Commission in its order on October 24, 2017 once again acknowledged the presence of unknown, unmarked and mass graves in the state and directed the state government for a comprehensive investigation including DNA testing, carbon dating and other forensic techniques, the report added.
Using Civilians as Human Shields
According to the JKCCS report the practice of using civilians as a shield by security forces is not new to Kashmir as there were scores of human shield incidents in the past where civilians were used during military operations by counterinsurgency forces. Human shield incidents in 2017 were a reminder of the infamous 2004 Chattibandi human shield incidents in which five civilians were killed, it said. On February 7, 2004 in Chattibani in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district Army used five civilians during a counter-insurgency operation and all five died in the crossfire between Army and militants. During Parliamentary by-polls on April 9, 2017 Farooq Ahmad Dar, 26, son of Abdul Rahim Dar, Chill Brass Tehsil Khan Sahab in district Budgam was first tortured and then tied to an army jeep bysecurity forces led by Major Gogoi. It was through video footage, which went viral on social media that the use of Dar as human shield came to the fore. The incident invited not only large-scale local condemnations but international organization’s issued statements against it as well.Despite the hue and cry, the Army Major Gogoi involved in the incident was awarded the Chief of Army Staff's Commendation Card for his ‘sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations’. The award for Major Gogoi was seen as a backing for the action of the officer belonging to the 53 Rashtriya Rifles even as the army maintained that a court of inquiry (CoI) into the incident is “under finalisation”.Dar was accused of being a leader of stone pelters and the restitution recommended by SHRC to the victim was denied to him.
Dar’s is not the only case of a Kashmiri civilian being used as a human shield by security forces. Since the early nineties, Kashmiris have routinely been used as human shields during search and armed encounter operations, and many have died as a result. Even Kashmiri legislators and bureaucrats have accused the army of using them as human shields, the report added.
Use of Pellet Shotguns
Fatalities caused by pellet guns as established by doctors and the enormous damage caused by its indiscriminate and widespread use in last two years in Kashmir warrants a strict ban on this lethal weapon, the report emphasized. A lot was said about introducing alternate crowd control weapons in place of pellet guns, but on the ground there appears no apparent change in using pellet guns against civilian protesters.Four persons were killed in 2017, including a person who was injured in 2016, after being hit by pellets and scores were injured - many of whom lost eyesight. The horror that pellet guns unleashed invited large-scale condemnations at local and international level. Amnesty International India in September 2017 released a report titled Losing Sight in Kashmir highlighted the damage caused by pellet guns.
Arrests and Detention
Arrests under Administrative Detention
According to JKCCS report the authorities continue to use Public Safety Act (PSA) as an instrument to suppress dissent. PSA detention orders /dossiers failed to stand the judicial scrutinyand consequently courts quashed scores of detention orders in 2017, it said.Despite a noticeable improvement in the situation as claimed by the government, there seems no end to the practice of detaining people without charges under PSA, observed the report. Most of the people booked are either political workers or youth booked on charges of stone pelting, it said, adding many PSA detainees were suffering from multiple ailments and prolonging of their detention only deteriorated their health condition. There were scores of cases were a person was re-booked without release to prolong his detention once the court quashed their previous detention orders, it said. “It appears that the authorities have open and readymade PSA dossiers available to them almost like a standard copy which they use against anyone they deem a threat to the ‘public security’. People of all age groups young, old, sick and handicapped were booked and re-booked under PSA.” Unlike in 2016 there is no exact data available on how many people were booked and re-booked under PSA in 2017, the report said, adding that the frequency with which PSA has been applied in Kashmir can be gauged by the statement made by the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on September 23 wherein she said that the police have prepared 1059 dossiers in the past three years to detain people.
Arrests by National Investigation Agency (NIA)
National Investigative Agency (NIA) in July 2017 arrested seven Hurriyat leaders on charges of fuelling unrest in the valley and other alleged ‘terror funding’ charges. The NIA also arrested and detained for questioning several trade-body leaders, Kashmir Bar Association head, businessmen, a Kashmir University scholar and a photo-journalist to investigate what it called ‘funds from Pakistan used to fuel unrest in the valley in 2016’. The NIA arrests came on the close heels of the announcement of ‘Operation All Out’ by Army and the arrests were widely condemned in the valley. The NIA arrests were seen by people to keep Hurriyat leadership behind bars and punish them for their role in 2016 uprising, said the JKCCS report.
Apart from administrative detentions and NIA arrests, police in Kashmir routinely arrests youth in illegal detention and charges many of them under CrPC 107 and illegal detentions of youth accused of stone throwing and of political activists are quite common in Kashmir and are done to target youth and activists, the report added.
Most of the probes ordered by the government were under the compulsion of public pressure and not by its choice or commitment to act against the perpetrators, the JKCCS report said.Referring to the case of Tufail Matoo, a teenage boy, killed by police in 2010, and the one man Commission appointed by the then government, in 2014 refused to share the copy of the enquiry report to Tufail’s father on a weird pretext. A copy of the enquiry report was submitted to the government in December 2016, but its contents have not been made public. This could be sufficient to understand the seriousness with which the government conducts probes and then shelves the reports in secret cupboards, the report emphasized.
Cordon and Search Operation (CASO)
Cordon and search operation (CASO) is a practice wherein security forces and police cordon an entire area (a village or a town) and start searching the houses of the civilian population. During early nineties, CASO’s were accompanied by crackdowns, during which the adult male population of an entire area, or a mohallah, were asked to come out of their houses and made to sit or assemble at one place and paraded before a masked informer, the report said, adding that the frequency of cordon and search operations in 2017 was not only alarming but suggested a return to the past. It was during these CASO’s that most of the militants were killedand on occasion accompanied by civilian killings as the civilian population would try to break CASO’s resulting in clashes.This year, as per data collected by JKCCS and media reports, at least 540 CASO’s were carried out in the state, which is more than one CASO per day. The frequency and violent nature of CASO bust the government’s claim that anti-militancy operations have come down, it said. The bulk of CASO’s were mostly conducted in south Kashmir’s Pulwama, Shopian, Anantnag districts and in areas like Tral, Pampore and Awantipora, as more than 500 CASO’s were conducted in these areas. The rest of the CASO’s were conducted in Budgam, Hajan in Bandipora district and some areas of Baramulla in north Kashmir.
Killing and Harassment of Political Activists
Workers and activists associated with mainstream political parties continued to be under attack in south Kashmir areas, with gunmen barging into their houses and asking them to shun their political activities. Nine political activists were killed by suspected militants for their allegiance to mainstream political parties. Among the nine killed, three were ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) activists while two were former PDP workers, two were from National Conference, one was a Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) youth leader and one was a Janta Dal-United (JDU) activist, the report said. Many mainstream political activists were attacked by the suspected militants to pressure them to snap their ties with their respective political parties. A video was also released where the gunmen were seen asking the activists to raise anti-India slogans and declare that they have disassociated from their respective political parties, it added.
Targeting Families of Militants and Policemen
The year has been tough for families of policemen and militants as they were being targeted by warring groups. Evenpolice issued an advisory to its men to avoid visiting their homes following incidents of attacks by militants on their houses. At many places, militants attacked and ransacked the houses of serving policemen for their role. This triggered panic among their families.Reportsof raids and harassment of militant families by police andsecurity forces also poured in and the raids on militant families were protested by the people, the report said.
Suicides and Fratricides in Security Forces
The report also referred to the suicides and fratricidal killings among security forces deployed across the state. It said that the continuous incidents of suicides among ranks of security forces are an indicator of their poor psychological health that demands an immediate attention of the government. Nine incidents of suicides and one incident of fratricidal killings were reported in 2017. Among the soldiers who had committed suicide six were from Army, one BSF, one CRPF and one policeman, the report added. In a fratricidal incident, an Army soldier shot dead his Major over an altercation over the use of mobile phone in Uri along LOC.
Violence against Women
Twenty civilian women were killed in different instances of violence in the state in 2017, including eight women Amarnath pilgrims who were killed when suspected militants attacked the bus of yatris in Anantnag in south Kashmir on 10 July 2017, mentioned the report. Among the 20 killings of women, five women including a minor girl were killed near encounter sites at various places in the Valley.While four women died due to cross LOC shelling, one woman in valley reportedly died due to suffocation caused by intense teargas shelling bysecurity forces in south Kashmir’s Pulwama. One girl died due to injuries she suffered from a grenade blast in Tral town in September, while another woman was killed by unidentified gunmen at her home in Seer village of Tral in Pulwama district, the report added.
Incidents of Hair and Braid Chopping
According to JKCCS report the people of Kashmir believe that there was nothing mysterious about the braid choppers who targeted women and chopped off their braids. As many as 150 cases of braid chopping were reported in September-October. Braid chopping incidents first started inSeptember and the frequency of such incidents increased inOctober throwing Kashmiri population in a tizzy. There were incidents which indicated the involvement of thesecurity forces and /or covert intelligence agencies behind the braid chopping, it said. Braid chopping incidents were a chilly reminder of the early 1990s when mysterious ghosts believed to haunt the civilian population during nights. Many believe braid chopping was another part of the state design but this time in a different way, it added.
Braid chopping incidents were spread across Kashmir. At various places, people alleged wherever they were able to catch hold of the assailants (braid choppers) the army and police, mysteriously appeared to rescue these persons. Many people were injured by security forces actions and the unabated braid chopping incidents in later part of the year injected deep fear among people. Majority of the women folk chose to take a male member along whenever they would move outside their houses. The incidents also hit the education of girl students many of whom chose not to go to colleges and schools for fear of being targeted, the report said. Nevertheless, by the end of October, the braid chopping incidents substantially declined and then stopped altogether. The police’s lacklustre approach in acting against the braid choppers has buttressed the peoples’ doubt about state agencies. The failure of police to act and nab the braid choppers gave birth to vigilante mobs in towns and villages that caught and severely thrashed many innocent people suspecting them to be the braid choppers, the report further added.
Persecution of Kashmiris outside J&K
According to JKCCS report the “politically motivated” persecution of Kashmiri community in various states has increased manifold in last few years. There were series of incidents of Kashmiris being targeted in 2017 merely for being from Jammu and Kashmir. The perennial harassment and assaults on Kashmiris re-confirm the upswing of vulnerability and dangers the Kashmiris community faces in variousstates. Be it a student or businessman, under trail or a patient from valley visiting the hospitals, they had to face serious harassment and at occasion fatal attacks despite the repeated assurances of their security fromstate and central government. Kashmiris have been arrested and booked for expressing their views on social media.A sizeable number of victims chose not to report the maltreatment done to them, as they chose silence over agitation for reasons well-understood, it added.
Assaults on Media
The JKCCS report highlighted assaults on local journalists by state forcesas well and the same has seen a steep risein 2017 inviting condemnations and boycotts from media-fraternity. The repeated government assurances to the media fraternity of their hassle-free functioning never seem working on the ground especially in volatile situations, it added. This year there were shocking incidents of assaults on media-persons by police and security forces while covering the political situation, the report added. Since the break-out of armed insurgency in Kashmir in the early nineties, the media fraternity has trodden a precarious path while covering the conflict. The media in Kashmir has faced killings, attacks, kidnappings and threats from both sides. At least twenty-one journalists have been killed in Kashmir since the early nineties. In September 2017 a Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yousuf was detained by NIA for his alleged involvement in ‘stone pelting’ incidents. The young journalist continues to be under judicial custody in New Delhi. Even a visiting French journalist Comiti Paul Edward was taken into custody by police and booked for allegedly violating visa norms. A trial court in Srinagar however, acquitted him and directed authorities to return the seized passport and other accessories to him.
Restrictions on Internet and Social Media
It is another attempt of authorities to prevent information from reaching to the public. Often the bandwidth is reduced considerably, making it difficult for people to post or download any information of public interest. Whenever there is an incident of killing of civilians at the hands of security forces or clashes between civilians and security forces or encounter between militants and security forces, one of the first responses of the authorities is to snap the internet services and thus choke the flow of information. The frequent internet shutdowns have not only impacted the functioning of media in Kashmir but have gravely affected businesses and the education of children. JKCCS has documented 42 instances of unreasonable curtailments and total suspensions of telecommunication and internet rights from 8 July 2016 till 31 December 2017 on the basis of news reports and first-hand knowledge. Suspension of telephone services as well as blanket and indefinite suspensions and restrictions of internet rights have been particularly frequent in 10 districts of the Valley. They amount to the arbitrary, indiscriminate and prolonged collective punishment of a population, jeopardizing lives, livelihoods, and causing grave hardships in carrying out normal business, educational, and social activities, said the report.
In a time of curfews and restrictions on mobility, bans on television channels and newspapers, accompanied by civilian killings in crowd firings, arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detentions, such blanket and indefinite shutdowns fuelled a climate of rumours, social insecurity and anxiety, the JKCCS report added. In addition to preventing public access to information and news, these restrictions, particularly those imposed on social networking sites seek to prevent all forms of political mobilization, expressions of dissent and political opinions that criticize the administration here. They have been used in conjunction with censorship measures by private corporations such as Facebook and Twitter to target social media activists and commentators; and criminal charges on grounds of sedition and incitement to violence under the Information Technology Act, 2000 on Kashmiris for social media posts, the report added. “They severely impede efforts to seek access, communicate or disseminate information on human rights violations in the region.”
Curbs on Religious Freedom
People in 2017 were prevented from offering prayers in the historical Jama Masjid in old city for 18 Fridays out of 52. People were disallowed from taking part in Muharram processions.
Freedom of movement and assembly
The JKCCS report stated that around 20 statewide and 40 partial/district-based curfew like restrictions and about 22 shutdowns and approximately 100 partial/district-based shutdowns were observed during the year. Frequent shutdown of schools and colleges were also witnessed during the year particularly after students’ agitation in April.
Around 200 CCTVs are to be installed at 53 locations in Srinagar as per police to keep an eye on peoples’ activities, said JKCCS report. The Government of India is considering issuing a special “hybrid smart card” for residents of Jammu and Kashmir, according to media reports here on December 2. The Home Ministry plans to annul all other identity cards in the state and introduce the smart card to have access to data of each citizen of the state. The proposal includes having a unique identification code for the state’s citizens, which can be used to access their data anytime, the report said. However, a ruling PDP leader said they have no accurate information about the purpose of the card, it added.
Vandalism of Civilian property
According to JKCCS report an independent and in-depth survey is required to establish the property damaged by security forces and losses incurred upon by civilian population. In absence of any professional survey or study of the amount of property damage, it becomes necessary to rely on local media coverage of the incidents of vandalism of civilian property, the report added.