Human rights groups decry the use of torture in J&K, seek UN probe

Human rights groups release first comprehensive report on torture in Indian administered Jammu & Kashmir; case studies find 70% of torture victims are civilians and 11% die during or as a result of torture.

Image Courtesy: AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan

Srinagar: The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) released the first comprehensive report on torture in Jammu and Kashmir titled Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir on Monday. The report focuses on the torture perpetrated in Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian State since 1990 and provides a contextual understanding of various phases of torture being perpetrated in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947. Using 432 case studies, the report charts out trends and patterns, targets, perpetrators, sites, contexts and impacts of torture in Jammu and Kashmir.
Due to legal, political and moral impunity extended to the armed forces, not a single prosecution has taken place in any case of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir.
Despite global attention and condemnation of torture following exposés of indiscriminate torture practised in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons, torture remains hidden in Jammu and Kashmir, where tens of thousands of civilians have been subjected to it. 
Torture is used as a matter of policy by the Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir in a systematic and institutional manner, like all the institutions of the State be it legislature, executive, judiciary and armed forces form a part.
The widespread use of torture continues unabatedly in Jammu and Kashmir. As recently as 19 March 2019, a 29-year-old school principal, Rizwan Pandith was killed due to torture after being illegally detained in the Cargo camp of the Special Operations Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police. Three days later, the Police filed a case against deceased Rizwan, alleging that he was trying to escape from the Police custody while no case was filed against Police officials under whose custody he was killed.
This report gives a brief understanding of the historical background in the use of torture in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947 to curb any dissenting voices, a practice which attained an unprecedented magnitude post-1990. The report categorizes the eras after 1990 during which torture and other human rights violations, while still being carried out by the Indian armed forces and Jammu & Kashmir Police, were also outsourced to different formations like Ikhwan and Village Defence Committees (VDCs).
This report establishes that the vast number of methods of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, as set out in the UN OHCHR Istanbul Protocol, have been and continue to be perpetrated in Jammu and Kashmir. The forms of torture that have been documented in this report include stripping the detainees naked (190 out of 432 cases studied for this report), beating with sticks, iron rods or leather belts (326 cases), roller treatment (169 cases), water-boarding (24 cases), dunking detainees’ head in water (101 cases), electrocution including in genitals (231 cases), hanging from the ceiling, mostly upside down (121 cases), burning of the body with hot objects (35 cases), solitary confinement (11 cases), sleep deprivation (21 cases), sexual torture (238 cases) including rape and sodomy, among others.
The report points out that a predominant majority of the torture victims are civilians: 301 out of 432, which include women, students and juveniles, political activists, human rights activists and journalists. Entire populations have also been subjected to collective punishments like cordon and search operations (CASOs) during which torture and sexual violence have been common.
This report provides an insight into how torture has ruined the lives of survivors with a multitude of them suffering from chronic ailments resulting from torture. Apart from the physical ailments, people who have been tortured or even witnessed it, have suffered from psychological issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 49 of the 432 victims of torture died post-torture, 40 of them as a result of injuries received during torture. Since many deaths due to torture-related injuries are not immediate but may occur after years or even decades, accurate figures of such fatalities and morbidity are extremely hard to estimate.
Torture has been associated with other human rights violations like custodial deaths and enforced disappearances. And it is only when a case of torture is accompanied by such human rights violations that it gets reported in the media. As a result, torture has remained unnoticed and survivors continue to suffer in silence. Since policies like ‘Operation All Out’ continue in Kashmir and the army is given a “free hand” as declared by the Prime Minister of India as recently as 15 February 2019, the armed forces are only emboldened to continue perpetrating torture. This report is an attempt by APDP and JKCCS to break the silence around such a penetrating violation.
The report recommends for an international investigation on torture in Kashmir, led by UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, besides urging India to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture and end the phenomenon of torture.
The Indian State’s response to the armed conflict in Kashmir shows the characteristics of classic counter-insurgency warfare, where military strategies are both ‘population-centric’ and ‘enemy-centric,’ the report stated in its executive summary. The disproportionate presence of Indian armed forces and Police in Jammu and Kashmir (between 650,000 – 750,000)4 is mainly to exercise control over the population. The widespread human rights violations, including the use of indiscriminate torture, is a tactic employed to break people’s will. This is reflected in the Indian Army’s Doctrine on Sub-Conventional Operations, which says, “The endeavour should be to bring about a realization that fighting a government is a ‘no win’ situation and that their anti-government stance will only delay the process of restoration of peace and normalcy.”
After the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, the present period has witnessed unprecedented cycles of State violence. In the last two years, Kashmiris have witnessed gross violations of human rights in the form of extra-judicial executions, injuries, illegal detentions, torture, sexual violence, disappearances, arson and vandalism of civilian properties, restriction on congregational and religious activities, media gags, and the ban on communication and internet services.
Unlike other forms of heinous human rights abuses like extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances or indiscriminate and excessive force exemplified by the use of pellet shotguns, torture is a state crime that often remains hidden even from the media, unless the victim dies as a result of his/her injuries. As many deaths due to torture-related injuries are not immediate but may occur after years or even decades, accurate figures of such fatalities and morbidity are extremely hard to estimate.
“Out of the 432 victims, 222 (51.4%) suffered some form of health complications after being tortured. Out of these 222, 209 (94.1%) people suffered health issues with long- term ramifications, and among them, 49 (23.4%) suffered acute ailments e.g. cardiac problems, nephrological issues, complete or partial loss of eyesight or hearing ability, amputations, sexual impotency, etc. and many of these people have been on regular (or irregular) medication ever since they were tortured. Documented studies of the early 1990s have previously noted that torture has resulted in people developing Rhabdomylosis and consequent acute renal failure,” the report said.
Survivors of torture have battled with psychological issues long after their physical wounds were healed. Of the 432 victims, 44 suffered from some form of psychological difficulty after being subjected to torture.
A study published in 2015 by Doctors Without Borders (known by its French initials MSF) said that 19 per cent of the population in the region suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Indian forces have faced criticism for excessive use of force, with the UN human rights body last year calling for an international probe into rights violations.
The UN Human Rights Chief had also called for establishing a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.
A COI is one of the UN’s highest-level probes, generally reserved for major crises like the conflict in Syria.
Rights bodies have called for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a law that gives forces immunity from prosecution.
The report, which documents cases since the start of the armed rebellion in 1990s, reveals many detainees were put under behavioural coercion where they were forced into activities that were against their “religious beliefs” like rubbing piglets on their bodies or forcing them to consume alcohol.
In some cases, it said, rats were put inside victims’ trousers after soaking sugar water on their legs.
“The prisoners are forced to eat or drink filthy and harmful substances like human excreta, chili powder, dirt, gravel, chili powder mixed water, petrol, urine, and dirty water,” it said.
Although India has been a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) since 1997, it has not ratified the treaty to date. In all three UPRs conducted by the UNHRC in 2008, 2012 and 2017, it was recommended that India ratify the convention.
In 2010, Prevention of Torture Bill was introduced in the Indian parliament but was not passed and it lapsed in 2014.
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 Wire reported on Monday.
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.



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