By Margherita Stancati and Tom Wright
Delhi:Pressure is mounting on India’s government to launch a full-scale investigation to identify over 2,000 corpses interred in unmarked graves across Kashmir and detailed in a recent state human rights commission report.
The existence of the graves, many of which hold the remains of civilians who died in a brutal insurgency in the state in the 1990s, has long been known by locals and was detailed in a 2008 report by a Kashmiri human rights group.
But the new report, the result of three years of investigation by police officers working for the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission, gives an official imprimatur to the existence of the graves and increases pressure on New Delhi to launch its own investigation.
The report found around 2,700 corpses in four districts of northern Kashmir and was able to identify 574 as those of local residents. It was first reported by the Indian Express on Sunday,
Now, Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group is pushing for India’s central authorities to preserve the evidence and allow impartial forensic experts to carry out investigations on skeletal remains in line with best practices laid down by the United Nations.
That builds on pressure from the authors of the new report for a more thorough inquiry and a collection of DNA evidence of the still-unidentified bodies. Amnesty quoted the report, which it has reviewed, as saying that failure to carry out such tests would imply that the central government “wants to remain silent deliberately to hide the human rights violations.”
The insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir began in 1989 and killed tens of thousands of people over the following decade, including many civilians. Pakistan, which also claims the Indian-controlled Kashmir valley where most of the fighting happened, fueled the insurgency by sending militants to fight Indian troops and also by providing training and arms to Kashmiri groups.
When the unmarked graves came to light, many on the edges of villages in the valleys near the defacto border with Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, local police said they were unidentified militants, a local code-word for Pakistanis.
Thousands of young Kashmiris also went missing during the fighting. Some went over to Pakistan for training and were never seen again. Others were picked up by Indian troops on suspicion of involvement with militant groups, something referred to locally as “enforced disappearances.”
India’s army and paramilitary police are shielded by special laws from prosecution in the state. The new report urges that authorities in the future properly identify anyone killed by security forces to avoid those laws being used to cover-up human rights violations.
The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, a Srinagar-based rights group which wrote the 2008 report on unmarked graves, estimates that around 10,000 people have gone missing in Jammu and Kashmir since the early 1990s.
Zahoor Wani of the group welcomed the report. But he said the government should now move to hold accountable those responsible for the killings. “Why is the government not taking any step against persons involved in enforced disappearances?”
Mr. Wani also said it’s too early to jump to conclusions on the identity of the bodies. “Enforced disappearances can be related to the mass graves but we can’t be sure” without DNA tests, he said. “Their families have been living in the hope of seeing them again. For them they are neither dead nor alive, they are somewhere in between.”
Jammu and Kashmir’s chief minister Omar Abdullah on Tuesday reiterated a longstanding demand for a South-Africa style truth and reconciliation commission for Kashmir, in which victims of human rights abuses could give testimony and perpetrators of violence could also appear without fear of prosecution.
This option was rejected by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a Kashmiri separatist leader, who instead called for the graves to be probed by a U.N. tribunal.
The Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission will Sept. 16 hold its first hearing on the unmarked graves, Tariq Ahmad Banday, the commission’s secretary, told India Real Time. Only after that will a final report and recommendations be filed to the state government, he said.
From the Wall Street Journal