Amnesty alleges rights abuses in Kashmir (Fourth Lead)

March 21st, 2011 - 4:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, March 21 (IANS) Coming down heavily on India for alleged human rights violations in terror-riven Jammu and Kashmir, global rights watchdog Amnesty International Monday called for immediate scrapping of the law used to detain suspects without trial for years.

The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), a “lawless law”, allows the state authorities to detain suspects up to two years “in an arbitrary and abusive manner” and without trial, “depriving them of basic human rights otherwise provided under Indian law”, an 82-page report released by the rights monitoring group said.

“Kashmir authorities are using PSA detentions as a revolving door to keep people they can’t or won’t convict through proper legal channels locked up and out of the way,” Sam Zarifi, Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific director, told reporters in Delhi.

Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, researcher Asia-Pacific Programme, and Bikramjeet Batra, campaigner India, said Amnesty “strongly” advocates “abrogation of the PSA as it provides immunity to troopers and officials involved in rights violations”.

The report said: “India has not only gravely violated their (suspects) human rights but also failed in its duty to charge and try such individuals and to punish them if found guilty in a fair trial.”

It estimated that 8,000-20,000 people have been detained under the law in the past two decades of armed insurgency in the state.

Between January and September 2010, “322 people were reportedly detained under the controversial act”.

The report is based on research conducted in May last year and “subsequent analysis of government and legal documents relating to over 600 individuals detained under the PSA between 2003 and 2010″.

It said the high court, in many cases, has quashed detentions but “the authorities consistently thwart the court’s orders”.

Jammu and Kashmir has since 1989 witnessed a bloody separatist war - which India alleges is being sponsored by Pakistan and militant organisations there - during which tens of thousands of people have been killed.

“Amnesty International acknowledges the right, indeed the duty, of the state to defend and protect its population from violence. However, this must be done while respecting the human rights of all concerned.”

The report said a police officer, justifying the detention system, told the Amnesty team: “What rights are you talking about? We are fighting a war, a cross-border war.”

On the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), another controversial law that gives sweeping powers to soldiers to detain, seize property and open fire on suspects, Batra said: “Amnesty International’s stand is clear, the act should be revoked forthwith.”

Batra also said they have sought an appointment with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to discuss the report. He said the team had March 17 met union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, who had assured them that PSA detentions would be brought down by 10-20 percent this year.

In its report, Amnesty International has recommended that India:

* Repeal the PSA and end practices of illegal and incommunicado detention and immediately put in place safeguards to ensure that those detained are brought promptly before a magistrate.

* Carry out an independent investigation into all allegations of abuses against those detained.

* Extend invitations and facilitate the visits of the UN officials and panels, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Separatist and rights activists lauded the Amnesty report.

Syed Ali Geelani, who heads the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference, said: “We are thankful to any organisation that points out atrocities being committed on Kashmiris.”

Moderate separatists Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik have also welcomed the report.

Pervez Imroze, chairperson of the Coalition for Civil Society, said: “Detentions under the PSA undermines the criminal justice system. The report is a welcome step and we have to see whether it makes any difference to the detainees.”

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